We begin this story with a stroll down the sidewalk. On one side of the street is an apartment complex with an accompanying swimming pool. A few feet away, excited patrons spill out of a brightly lit café and onto the patio to enjoy the crisp fall weather. Across the street, careful landscaping complete with beautiful flowers complements the front doors of an old train station-turned-museum. Do all of these elements make this a neighborhood you want to live in?
Our designers think so, and their familiarity with creating living spaces that people actually use and enjoy makes them skilled on the art of branding a neighborhood. Put simply, branding a neighborhood lies in the details. Branding (or rebranding) is about identifying the story of a place and rewriting it to meet a need. Burt Pinnock, Principal at Baskervill, and a team of our extremely talented architects and designers are redefining this process, known to some as placemaking.
Placemaking describes the careful process of planning, designing and managing public spaces, and it often capitalizes on the current assets of the local community. To rebrand a neighborhood, designers and architects have to find a balance between both inspiring the existing community by creating places that will promote neighborhood well-being, and driving a new population to the area.
This concept surfaced in the early 1960’s when architects began exploring groundbreaking new ways of designing cities that actually catered to people. It describes the process of personalizing a neighborhood with attractions like town squares, parks, and fountains that make the city interesting and entertaining. In other words, making it a place where people want to be.
Branding a Neighborhood
Three years ago, the area of Roanoke, Virginia, now known to locals as “West Station” had a less-than- ideal reputation. At the time, the area was known not as a welcoming residential neighborhood, but as an old train hub and the home of the Virginia Museum of Transportation. The area’s small number of residents did little to contribute to the growth of the community and it yearned for some tender loving care. While adding residences over the years made it livable, the neighborhood still lacked attractions that would appeal to a new population.
Real estate developer Bill Chapman saw potential where no one else did. He knew that something big needed to happen to completely change the way people viewed this neighborhood. He knew that by adding modern housing, complete with new features and amenities, people might begin to gravitate toward the area.
Today, Baskervill is working with Chapman on his fourth project in this Roanoke neighborhood. 416 Salem, a mixed-use residential and retail project currently in design, builds on the success of previous collaborations including the neighboring Lofts at West Station, Fulton Motor Lofts, and Parkway 301. Getting it right in this neighborhood meant, from the beginning, understanding the place itself, what it was missing, and what it needed to grow.
Understanding the Context
“We had to acknowledge the existing pattern of the city,” says Burt Pinnock, Principal at Baskervill. “That allowed us to determine what we could work with and what needed to be created from scratch.” This may seem like an obvious step, but in order to effectively plan its transformation the architects had to dive deep and really get to know the neighborhood they were working with.
One of the greatest challenges designers face at 416 Salem Ave is how to maintain the historical integrity of the neighborhood and the physical buildings themselves while also incorporating the contemporary, modern vision that Bill has in mind. The solution? A combination of adaptive reuse and revitalization techniques that gracefully marry contemporary design with hints of the past. Luckily, the team had plenty of experience in this area following the completion of their first three residential projects in West Station. Elements like exposed brick, unfinished floors, and distressed wood were incorporated into the designs of the buildings to match the existing historical infrastructure of the buildings and the neighborhood itself.
At 416 Salem Ave, the design will contain nods to the transportation focus of its neighborhoods history, but unlike its predecessors, this building will incorporate natural elements like fresh greenery, and additional natural light to channel more of an agricultural balance. Using the city’s existing pattern as a guide, the team knew they could revamp sidewalks and street parking to give the neighborhood the needed pedestrian-friendly vibe that did not previously exist. The addition of a community garden at 416, plenty of outdoor foliage and spacious outdoor seating adds subtle agricultural components that were not present before.
Making it Livable
The neighborhood’s first major project, the Lofts at West Station, put these tenets to the test. “You can give people a place to live, but you also have to give them something to do,” says Ben Winn, architect at Baskervill. The team did exactly that by incorporating a trendy restaurant under the lofts, as well as a swanky lounge, a high definition Movie Theater, and a full-service cardio center—all within the residence. The result? Full occupancy before it even opened its doors.
Following the completion of the Lofts in 2013, the team had an example to follow when preparing plans for re-imagining 416 Salem Ave, an abandoned garage and warehouse, right down the street. 416 Salem follows a similar approach by integrating residential units and community amenities that provide not only a fresh, new place to live but also a thriving neighborhood vibe. The addition of community gardens and outdoor terraces makes 416 Salem Ave a unique “urban farm” that nods to the city’s urban atmosphere while incorporating its agricultural roots. With what is being called “a live grow community at West Station,” the new residences, scheduled to complete in 2017, will bring added value to the community through its urban-gardening initiative. Each apartment will feature it’s own micro-farm and outdoor living space that promotes sustainability and growth.
What’s in a Name?
Beyond the addition of amenities and increased housing, the rebranding effort in Roanoke included creating a name that matched the identity of the neighborhood. The moniker “West Station” references the area’s location along the railway—the western-most stop—and captures the city’s historic focus on transportation. This important part of the rebranding process gives people a reference point for the newly created area, seeing it for what it could be, not what it was. In Roanoke, West Station can now easily be identified by the appropriately named, Lofts at West Station, as well as by the unique and consistent designs of its buildings. The accompanying buildings, Fulton Motor Lofts, Parkway 301, and now 416 Salem, which will be appropriately called 416 Micro-farms, where given unique names based on their own history. However the reference to the entire neighborhood as “West Station” was one that stuck, and has become the locals preferable way of referencing the entire area.
Engaging the Existing Community
To effectively rebrand a neighborhood, existing residents need opportunities to be engaged and addressed, as neighbors and community members see rebranding as a sign that bigger and better things are in the works. After the completion of the first project in the West Station neighborhood, and the anticipation of other projects on the horizon, the rebranding process became easier because new residents and businesses helped the neighborhood to organically brand itself. In fact, when design work began on 416 Salem Avenue, our designers surveyed the success from West Station, Fulton, and other area projects, and used that information to jumpstart planning for the new development.
“The idea has always been to create a community with amenities that people actually use,” says Winn. “In the end, it’s about making the people who live there feel good about themselves and the community.”