Architect Transforms a Neighborhood Eyesore into his Magnificent Design Studio
Charleston Auto Restoration Shop in ruins reconstructed into a modern industrial architectural office space conceived to inspire creativity and foster teamwork.
When my architect husband, Matteo Rapallini, AIA, and I, his business partner and design enthusiast set out to look for office space we never thought that we would end up buying a vestige, designing and rebuilding it from the ground up, and revitalizing the community in the process. But that’s exactly what happened.
Our office is 3,200 square feet and it used to be Pete’s Body Shop which was not just a car shop but a community hang-out spot since the 60’s in Maryville, a historically predominantly African American neighborhood here in Charleston. The fact that this spot was once an automotive-restoration shop was important to Matteo, who used to be a body shop mechanic before going back to school to become an architect. He decided to incorporate his auto body shop background into the design of the building and its details, thereby honoring their mutual roots.
I leave the rest of the project to be described in the Architect’s own words. He is in the habit of naming his projects, and he decided to name our office “The Roadster”.
“Appearances are a glimpse of the unseen”
As you approach anything or meet anyone for the first time, first appearances are always important.
One day after visiting a dilapidated space, which was soon to be our future office, we sat over lunch discussing how incredibly unique our future office space would be. While waiting for our food I kept talking a doodling, doodling and talking, about all of ideas and vision which would make this building someday soon, what someone would call later "an object with incredible curb appeal". Exactly what I meant I thought. As I sketched, I imagined the space which for many years had been an automotive restoration shop; as I drew I thought: "I want it this building to have the same character of a Hot Rod, I want it to resemble a great classic. I want its facade to be timeless and distinct, with personality, with many layers; its elevation will resemble and express the strength of a great automobile. Imagine a 1938 Buick Special Coupe. We will craft the materials and restore it, we will make a Hot Rod of this historic American classic."
The facade of this building presented us with several major issues. There were originally two buildings — the old schoolhouse building of the 1800's was later tied to a 1950's grocery shop. How do you make two volumes like these coexist?
After many years, the two elements were part of each other, they belonged together; it made sense to the community and to the historical context of the neighborhood.
As I contemplated this dilemma, I concluded that the materials would help us achieve this synchronization. I brainstormed that a rain-screen system should be employed and that we ought to layer the materials like a Hot Rod: Its fenders and hood would be centrally framed by a grille — i.e. the cement fiberboard knuckle which encases the wood.
Its headlights would be depicted by the two tall donated Brombal units which at nighttime turn on as we leave the space to head home. I wanted part of that philosophy to reach over and embrace the adjacent space — the cement fiber board departs to one side (the building was not symmetrical after all), and reaches over to embrace the added volume. At this time they still looked different, they were two individual volumes with different characters. However, I conceived that the portion of the rain screen layer which departs from the main volume and reaches over brought the two elements together. I fantasized a motorcycle with a sidecar as the harmonizing concept.
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Conceptual Sketch for our Adaptive Reuse
StudioMa's Lobby: "As you continue through the lobby, I wanted visitors to separate this experience from the rest, I thought this is a special place…Before the building ever appeared to have a Gable style facade, it had been a hip roof building many years before. Its lobby, was once a porch Facing North West in the beautiful Fall, Winter, and Spring evenings of of The South East." - Matteo Rapallini, AIA
Main Studio Space
Main Studio Space: "I decided that the main studio would be an inspirational space where design is celebrated. I yearned to create an atmosphere that would encourage production. The workstations for the employees are symmetrically displaced into the main space -- if this were a Roadster, the main studio would function like the engine block; at the workstations, architects and interns would function philosophically as running pistons at the core of the propulsion system."
- Matteo Rapallini, AIA
Studio view from passageway
Conference Room: The Box
Conference Room: "The conference room is another experience altogether. In the back of the old shop there once existed a small supply room, a kitchen once when the main building was a school house. I wanted to extrude this dimension and slide it into the main space; once again I felt that this was another realm — I wanted this element of the program to be of importance and not just tucked away as a door to access that had once been punched through a wall. I visualized that this would be an excellent space for our conference room, a place where people meet and where people cerebrate. We extended this space and wrapped it with recycled cladding materials. I wanted it to sit on the floor like a jewelry box; a box that would contain a surprise within, another experiential space to be discovered as one would open its doors." - Matteo Rapallini, AIA
Break Room View
Break Room: "The Break Room cabinetry comprises of a series of toolboxes assembled in a very frugal and efficient manner. One can pause here, look outside the big windows which are rescues from a missed order. They are arranged in a funky way to pay homage to the original hodgepodge of recycled building material and car parts which once stood in their place." - Matteo Rapallini, AIA
Exterior View into Break Room
Conference Room featuring Breuer Cesca Chairs and custom-made conference table made in Italy.