After more than 20 years in the industry, Chattanooga architect Wayne Williams found that if he wanted to work at a company with values like his, he’d have to create it himself.
“It’s about pursuing architecture as a craft,” the founder of Workshop Architecture said. “It’s recognizing that we aren’t just designing a building for a client, that there are other, larger issues that are addressed. Every building we build engages the outside world.”
Williams started the firm, which has an office on Main Street above Velo Coffee Roasters, in 2016, and recently grew his team with three new architects — Aaron Cole, Jared Hueter and Sarah Page.
The growth is a direct response to an increased demand for contemporary design and improved energy efficiency in homes and businesses, Williams said.
“It’s hard to find those features in the current market, so people are choosing to build their own custom space,” he said.
Though the team’s experience includes work on practically every type of project from home remodelings to landmark institutional buildings, Workshop Architecture is focused on modern single-family and multifamily residences, as well as commercial renovation and adaptive reuse projects.
The smaller multifamily units — buildings that aren’t giant apartment complexes but also aren’t suburban single homes — are something the city needs more of, Williams said.
“[People] build suburban single family houses … or they build big multistory condo-type rentals,” Williams said.”We need more of those things in the middle.”
And after a little more than two years in business, clients are seeking out Workshop Architecture for small “funky” multifamily units and net-zero energy projects, the team said.
In addition to a responsibility to a client, there’s a responsibility to be environmentally conscious, Cole said.
Focusing on the “missing middle” projects and environmental issues addresses occupational and societal needs, and it also benefits Chattanooga, he said.
Then there’s the price point. The team aims to provide the best product and value for a reasonable price.
And Williams said that making a profit and maintaining their values doesn’t have to be a conflict.
Hueter said he has heard Williams turn down projects if they weren’t a good fit for the firm.
“It’s refreshing to be somewhere where the principles actually mean something,” Hueter said.
The team spends some time in their Main Street office, which sometimes smells of coffee thanks to Velo, debating and discussing architectural issues that they see locally and nationally.
They are interested in how their work affects the world, and they are all committed to community involvement beyond their day jobs.
Cole, who has also been an organic farmer, has worked on civic, religious and higher education building types.
Hueter, who started his career in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, has professional experience in designing public schools, single family residences, multifamily housing and museums.
He has served as AmeriCorps VISTA member, is on the board of the Glass House Collective and is president-elect of the Chattanooga chapter of the American Institute of Architects. He also developed and codirected Chattanooga’s Passageways 1.0/2.0.
Page, a recently licensed architect with four years of experience, has worked on single/multi-family residential, educational and commercial projects.
She has also served on both the local and state boards of directors for the American Institute of Architects.
At the state chapter of AIA, Page started a program to recognize firms that excel in developing the professional and leadership skills of their young staff. She also runs a program in Chattanooga to help young designers achieve their license.
Their passion for the community, open office discussions, the company’s core values and the fact that they all like each other help elevate their work, the team said.
“That’s the only way true collaboration can happen is it has to be deep-rooted in mutual respect and some level of shared values,” Hueter said. “Wayne is good at selecting the team. Picking the right people is the first step to having collaboration.”
Each got into architecture for different reasons, but they’ve all come together now to be a part of shaping the city’s future growth, which they want to be smart.
“There’s an opportunity to really get ahead of it and to develop the correct way,” Hueter said.