BEHRE COLUMN: Landscape work makes building pop
When John Witty began reworking the building at 65 Gadsden St. for his son's business, Advantage Media Group, he had two seemingly conflicting goals.
First, he wanted to give the property some pop -- fresh visual appeal that it had lacked for years.
But he also wanted to preserve the modern 1950s building with only gentle changes, so an ambitious architectural makeover was out.
"The BAR (Board of Architectural Review) was insisting we maintain the character of the building," he says.
Witty says this is one of the city's first medical arts buildings where doctors offered services outside a hospital. (An accompanying lab building just to the north was converted to a residence years ago).
He worked with Coast Architects, but their efforts largely focused on the inside, shifting around walls and making the interior more functional and appealing.
Coast recommended Witty contact landscape architect J.R. Kramer of Remark because upgrading the site's landscaping offered even more potential to improve the property's curb appeal.
Kramer says the site -- which floods during heavy rains and high tides -- has three mini-ecosystems, and his design addressed each of them.
This is a different drainage basin than the one the city is fixing along the Septima P. Clark Parkway, so a permanent solution to the flooding will be many years, possibly decades, away.
The corner at Gadsden and Bennett streets is the wettest, so Kramer's design essentially planted a marsh there, complete with Spartina grass. The curves of the planting beds also are inspired by a marsh.
But Kramer notes they also contrast with the straight, modern lines of the building's architecture.
"Using that contrasting element was key to the project's success," he says.
Where runoff from the parking lot had caused a drainage issue, Kramer's design removed about 3 to 4 feet of soil and replaced it with soils better able to absorb water without pudding up. A river rock bed just off the parking lot guides the runoff to the spot.
While Kramer says the plant palate was kept simple -- only about 10 different species -- and native. "We didn't want to get too overbusy with plant material," he says, adding that the selections also were based to provide some seasonal variation.
To further green the building, a series of cables were strung up on its southern facade so Confederate jessamine could climb up them and prevent the building from getting so baked in the summer sun.
The building's exterior also changed as its handicap ramp moved from the southern to northern side, and it's built of steel and cables instead of wood. There's a treated concrete walkway resembling stone, plus a new monument sign, too, to keep the building's facade less cluttered.
In the back, a new fence clarifies what had been a blurred no-man's land with the neighboring property on Bennett Street, and two large potted plants help hide the building's utility boxes.
A doctor and dentist on the building's second floor remained during the conversion, and their longtime patients might have provided Witty with the best affirmation as to how the property has been freshened up.
"They could find the building," he says. "They said, 'It looks so different.' They were used to coming up to the same drab place with overgrown shrubs."
Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771 or firstname.lastname@example.org.