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400 S. Wells is a design-build-develop partnership for the adaptive reuse of a 59-year-old, mid-century building located in a neighborhood that has struggled with vacancy in recent years. The project, currently home to the architect’s studio, was vastly more involved than a simple adaptive reuse. Creating a new program beneficial to the contemporary cultural values of the changing neighborhood, celebrating its mid-century history, and working with the City of Reno to help re-write the local Zoning Code were all elements executed by the architect for this project. With careful consideration in bringing programmatic resiliency to the building, openings were cut to fit new overhead glass doors on the south façade and roughly 800 sf of second story floor was cut and removed to create a beautiful atmosphere with double height, well-lit spaces. The original floor-to-ceiling, 180-degree casement and hopper windows were restored and weather sealed. While very little of the interior could be saved except the original stairs, new interior walls were kept to a minimum, allowing passive cross ventilation through each of the spaces. All of this offers functional and cultural relevance to a beautiful mid-century design while reimagining the use of workspace in today’s society.
Rethinking the Existing - 400 S. Wells was designed by a locally celebrated mid-century architect and built by the region’s local hospital. The building served many medical uses over the years but, given changes in the building code relating to accessibility and because the building was also in need of other substantial renovations, the hospital decided to sell the property. A group of six, including the architect of record, formed a development team to purchase and renovate the former mid-century gem on a very frugal budget. We needed to reimagine how the building could function for its long-term viability. A complete redesign of the programmatic space into two units on the upper floor and two units on the lower floor [including a new elevator] created a functionally resilient and accessible layout. While the former use for this building was medical office, the architect envisioned a mixed-use future incorporating professional office, restaurant/retail, as well as a research and development space on the ground floor accessed by a new service ramp. While the building’s zoning technically allowed these uses, it could not meet required parking standards to change its use. The architect identified this as one of the barriers preventing this and many other adaptive reuse projects from becoming realities leaving these buildings underutilized, vacant, or blighted. In an effort to utilize existing non-compliant structures, the architect volunteered on the City of Reno Technical Advisory Group to help overhaul the antiquated standards of the zoning code. These changes have allowed existing structures to flourish in their new adaptations, helping revitalize the surrounding neighborhoods. More, Better, Different; Expanding the Role of the Architect - Having the architect assume the roles of fabricator and part developer provided a seamless transition from design to conception, greatly reducing the time of coordination and cost of construction. This allowed for more creative and unique solutions, providing the building and its spaces with custom elements tailored to the user. The custom-fabricated floating shelves at 400 S. Wells replaced the need for a guard railing on the second level of the space. The clean detailing creates a light profile and the appearance of delicate construction, allowing unobstructed views to the split-level entry below. Another architect-fabricated element included the ¾-pivot conference door made from salvaged materials. While subcontractors were present, there was not always a clear line separating the construction activities of subcontractors and the architect. The architect either assisted or entirely fabricated kitchens, bathrooms, flooring, decks, doors, trim, lighting, and furniture. Every staff member from the architect’s firm buckled on tool bags to assist with the fabrication and construction of this project. Below the studio on the ground floor is the architect’s 3,500 sf R&D space that houses a CNC-equipped wood and metal shop for the fabrication of architectural assemblies, furniture, models, prototypes, and art. While this space is acoustically separate from the rest of the building, its double height volume and glass walls couple its program with the studio upstairs.
Sustainable Design & Materials
Health, Emotions, and Interaction - “The greenest building is the one that already exists.” – Former AIA President Carl Elefante, FAIA 400 S. Wells inspires a workplace of fluidity and collaboration in a physically and mentally healthy environment. The lack of barriers between team members within the building envelope places an emphasis on communication and interaction. Maximizing operable glazing and access to the exterior creates a light-filled space with ample natural ventilation to promote the health, safety, and wellbeing of all users. The office operates around a single communal workstation fabricated in-house and made from FSC certified wood and food-safe finishes. The intent of this was to help remove hierarchical stigmas among those within the business, and encourage communication as everyone – including principals – work together at the same desk. Members are positioned 8’ away from one another, providing optimal workspace as well as social distancing for safety. The design of our workstation coupled with the design of the building’s envelope creates amazing visual connections to the beautiful surrounding mountains that can be seen from every seat. While we have a “work from home at your desire” policy, we find that team members prefer to spend their time together in the studio.
Green Building Designation(s)
Date of Completion
400 S Wells Ave, Reno, NV 89502, USA
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