October 2, 2018Comments are off for this post.

Building the Gig Economy in America’s Heartland

Think the future of tech is confined to Silicon Valley? Think again. Businesses and startups are coming to Chattanooga for the fast internet and staying for the quality of life.

Why Chattanooga?

If you were to name America’s top tech cities, Chattanooga, Tennessee might not come to mind, but the small city is experiencing an economic rebirth fueled by fast internet. In 2010, Chattanooga built a government-owned fiber-optic cable network and became the first U.S. city to supply its residents with ultra high-speed internet service. Affectionately nicknamed The Gig, the fiber-optic network supplies the metro area with internet speeds of up to 10 gigabytes per second—faster than what you’ll find in most of the world’s largest cities.

Tech firms like San Francisco’s Code Science and logistics companies like Chicago’s Coyote have opened offices in Gig City, while homegrown businesses like Bellhops and SIGNiX are also starting and staying there. While job opportunities are drying up across many places in small-town America, Chattanooga had the nation’s highest wage growth in 2014, and unemployment is currently below 5%.

Chattanooga has a trove of industrial buildings undergoing conversion into collaborative workspaces. Local firm Hefferlin + Kronenberg (HK) Architects has been leading the renovation and conversion of the city’s landscape. While their clients include startups, independent businesses, and established corporations, their aesthetic is less Silicon Valley and more rust-belt restoration. Materials like two-foot-thick masonry walls, steel-riveted beams, and heavy timber might cost $250-$300 a square foot in today’s market, but in Chattanooga, they already exist, waiting to be restored.


The Wheelhouse by HK Architects, a creative village on Chattanooga’s Southside

Working Together to Build Businesses

Located on the edge of the Southside of Chattanooga, along with the historic Tennessee Valley Railroad line, is the Wheelhouse, a creative complex of workspaces. It’s a model of a new way to work, with companies sharing space, services and projects. Housed in a former manufacturing complex that went through many incarnations, the Wheelhouse was once a Standard Oil Vehicle Repair Shop, then a textile mill, then a printing company, and now it’s a creative village.


HK Architects purchased the 30,000 square foot property, 17,000 sf of which they own and 13,000 sf of which their partner, Set In Stone, owns. They reused existing materials—including steel, brick, and concrete—and used the shared space to create a communal conference room, corridors and artists’ lofts. The HK offices are on the ground floor, and they collaborate on projects with other tenants, including a marketing firm, real estate agency, film editing group and a lighting manufacturer. The Wheelhouse now has a waiting list of tenantsit’s an embodied example of Chattanooga’s thriving entrepreneurial culture.


Bellhops office at Warehouse Row designed by HK Architects

Bellhops office at Warehouse Row by HK Architects

Creating Shared Spaces

Not far from the Wheelhouse, on Chattanooga’s Southside, Warehouse Row is a collection of early 1900s storehouses converted into shopping malls in the 1980s. HK Principal Craig Kronenberg designed a master plan for the site that engages the complex with the surrounding city, while Architects Heidi Hefferlin and Clif McCormick redesigned the buildings, using a central mall to create unique collaborative workspaces.

Conventional office buildings contain 8-10% common areas, while Warehouse Row buildings have a common area ratio of 20-25%. To make the most of available shared space, HK designed solutions like glass conference rooms, open lounges and sliding doors that allow spaces to be separated when needed. Connections to shops, dining, and the surrounding city create a vibrant urban center, helping companies attract and retain talent.


Code Science tech offices by HK Architects

Code Science tech offices by HK Architects

Sustaining Quality of Life

Code Science is a San Francisco-based technology company who chose to open a satellite office in Chattanooga. They wanted access to high-speed internet, a lower cost of living, and better quality of life. For their satellite office, they chose the Southside neighborhood, a creative and walkable community with an active bike-share program. They leased the ground floor of a building that had once been an electrical supply house.

Previous owners had divided the space, and when HK took on the project, they gutted it to restore the building’s open layout and large windows. To complement the minimal aesthetic, HK incorporated exposed brick, reclaimed barn wood and polished concrete floors, paved with carpet tiles that define work areas. The layout combines open offices, communal break rooms, huddle spaces and meeting rooms for a balance of open and private workspaces. These flexible layouts invite people to bring their laptops to a sofa, chair or table, while also allowing desks and workstations to expand and contract as needed.


SIGNiX tech offices by HK Architects

SIGNiX tech offices by HK Architects

Planning for Economy

Local tech company SIGNiX provides patented, secure e-signature technologies for legal documents. When they moved their offices to Warehouse Row, they needed to reflect a modern presence within the historic, industrial context of the building. Economy and simplicity were paramount.

HK left the majority of the existing envelope unaltered and exposed, including the brick and timber ceiling joists. The infill was kept as minimal as possible, in contrast with the existing building. New elements—including furnishings, custom workstations, and a branded entrance—utilized a clean aesthetic that complemented Warehouse Row’s industrial palette. Reusing existing materials to design a simple, streamlined workspace, HK brought out the best in both the building and the business.


Interior of the Wheelhouse by HK Architects

Interior of the Wheelhouse by HK Architects

What’s Next?

Chattanooga’s influx of business has created an entrepreneurial environment. Startups are coming, staying and capitalizing on the city’s advantages, including fast internet, quality infrastructure and lifestyle. HK’s vision of the future rests squarely on the renovation of Chattanooga’s industrial landscape. Every project we undertake embodies one or more of these five drivers:

    • Renovation and Restoration: Reuse of Chattanooga’s infrastructure
    • Economy: Economic use of space, resources, time and materials
    • Collaboration: Focus on open spaces and varied environments for teamwork
    • Simplicity: Layouts that decrease distractions and increase openness
    • Sustainability: LEED and energy-efficient projects pay back dividends to owners and tenants

As neighborhoods like the Southside thrive, the potential for renovation and restoration expands to areas like the City Center, where new businesses are opening. It’s not one project, but the ecosystem that excites us. We may form a building, but it’s the city that forms us.




October 1, 2018Comments are off for this post.

Learning the Lessons of Good Business and Design

Written by Clifton McCormick, Principal at HK Architects


Good business can teach us how to better design schools. Concepts like collaboration, ROI, and future thinking can unlock the potential within educational institutions.


Managing Collaboration to Improve Outcomes

Like business, educational design is all about collaboration. When you’re renovating or building a school, you’re always working with a big team. There may be a president or principal, school board, department heads, student groups, and community organizations. Each person or group has a different perspective, and they may have different — or even opposing— goals. It’s the architect’s job to find solutions that work for everyone.

In our work with Chattanooga’s Horticultural Complex at the Tennessee College of Applied Technology (TCAT), the site shared a campus with Chattanooga State Community College. The Community College’s campus aesthetic plays a vital role in their student experience, and they required a sense of monumentality. The TCAT Horticultural Department had a long list of utilitarian needs, including a yard to house industrial equipment.



Working with the presidents of both schools, as well as the head of horticulture and other stakeholders, we designed the layout and exterior finishes to meet everyone’s goals. We placed the greenhouse—the most beautiful part of the building—at a prominent point on the site, carefully orienting it to fit the geometry of the campus. We located the yard in back, where a textured, poured-concrete rear wall hides industrial equipment from view while creating a feature wall for TCAT students. The end result is a building that feels at home on campus and gives students all the tools they need to learn their trade.


Building ROI into Education Projects

As architects, we’re careful to use available resources — time, money, and materials — to their utmost. For an education project, that might mean using daylighting to minimize heat loss and maximize light, or designing spaces to accommodate portable technology that can be easily updated when needed. Most often, it means working within tight schedules.



For Sale Creek Middle High School, we oversaw a renovation and addition, all while keeping the school operational. The existing one-story school was overcrowded and located on a small site, with little room to build. We designed a 40,000 square-foot, two-story expansion and created a schedule that allowed the school to remain in session during renovations. First, we moved a set of portable classrooms to create space for an addition. We built the addition and completed construction before Christmas break. After the break, the school moved its students into the new addition while we renovated the existing building. Working in concert with the school’s schedule, through semester transitions and holidays, we made every deadline. Within two semesters, the entire renovation and addition were complete.


Master Plan for Ivy Academy by HK Architects

For Ivy Academy— an environmentally focused charter school — we worked on an even tighter schedule. While most education design/build projects take an average of two years, they gave us just seven months from design commencement to move-in. We suggested working collaboratively with a contractor and created a Construction Manager at Risk (CMAR) relationship. As we designed, the contractor built. With both processes happening in parallel, we came in on time and within budget.



Designing for the Future

Deep ties to Chattanooga — and a strong sense of who we are and where we’re from — make us partially responsible for the health and prosperity of our community. As architects, we seek to improve quality of life, and education is integral to that goal. As people, we do what we can — I’ve personally participated in Chattanooga’s Big Brothers Big Sisters program for over a decade. The future of our community depends on our schools, and Hefferlin Kronenberg Architects seek to create spaces in which students feel valued.

Sometimes, we achieve that through design decisions, like creating a cafeteria that connects to the outdoors for Sale Creek Middle High School. Sometimes, it has to do with meeting schedules and delivering a building on-time and on-budget, so students can learn without disruptions to their day-to-day routines. Sometimes, it involves sustainability that makes sense from a cost-benefit perspective, whether we use daylight harvesting, LED lights, ground-source heat, or just plain, smart building orientation. Often, it’s the small things that make the biggest difference: details like a thoughtful color scheme, good daylight, and a gracious entry.

All these things add up to create an environment that supports and engages students. Future employment depends on high-skilled vocational jobs, and those jobs depend on improving our schools. We’re proud to be a part of Chattanooga’s transformation, and we look forward to building for this generation of students and those to come.

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