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Latest addition to Columbia's BullStreet: Office building that swaps wood in for steel

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COLUMBIA — The next building coming to the BullStreet District will rely more on a natural material, wood, and less on the concrete and steel that supports most office structures.

A five-story building that uses laminated mass lumber to reduce its need for concrete or steel is coming to the district, the huge redevelopment project being built on the former Department of Mental Health site.

The WestLawn building, announced Thursday, will feature retail space on its first floor and four stories of office space above. Local law firm Robinson Gray Stepp & Laffitte will take 28,000 feet on the top two floors, including a private terrace.

The building will use laminated masses of timber as part of its structural support. The timber, first used in the 1990s, allows the construction of buildings with a renewable resource rather than steel and concrete.

Timber production also has much lower impact on greenhouse gas emission than other building materials and also produces less waste product. Less than 400 large buildings nationwide have been built using it as a structural material, and this will be the largest one to date in South Carolina.

"The design of WestLawn reflects our emphasis on preserving historic buildings alongside modern architecture, essentially taking the best of the old and new," said Robert Hughes, president of Hughes Development, master developer for the district.

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Discussions with the law firm made such an unusual building material the right choice for this project, Hughes said.

"This building not only reflects their commitment to excellence and sustainability, but it also sets a new standard for green office building design in Columbia,” Hughes said.

The building, located close to the new REI outdoor store and the Starbucks that is under construction, should be complete by the first half of 2022.

It is a needed step forward for that BullStreet project, which has faced major challenges in 2020. The coronavirus pandemic delayed the opening of REI until late summer and canceled the baseball season of the Columbia Fireflies, leaving Segra Park mostly empty. 

The first full-service restaurant on the site, Bone-In Barbeque, closed early in the year. In September, fire damaged much of the central structure of the Babock building, though Hughes has said he is optimistic that a plan to convert the historic building into apartments can move forward.

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