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Columbia Business Monthly

Studio 2LR helps historic buildings write a new architectural chapter

Nov 09, 2018 09:43AM ● By Kathleen Maris
By Richard Breen

For Tripp Riley, every building has a story.

“It’s a lot of fun to learn about them,” says Riley, a vice president with the Columbia architectural firm Studio 2LR Inc.

Formed in 2005, the firm has made its bones by helping to rehabilitate the good, old bones within buildings around the Midlands.

“We can drive all over the place and see what we’ve done,” says Wes Lyles, Studio 2LR president.

Riley, Lyles, and Vice President Gretchen Lambert have earned praise and awards for their work to give historic buildings a new lease on life.

“We like a good challenge,” Riley says.

The Brennen Building certainly fit that bill.

“It was in pretty bad shape,” says Robin Waites, executive director of Historic Columbia, a preservation advocacy group.

Sitting on Main Street a block from the Statehouse, Brennen was one of the first downtown buildings constructed after the Civil War. From its early days as a saloon to its later years as home to the Capitol Café, Brennan had been a spot for Columbia’s power brokers to congregate.

But by the time Studio 2LR was called in, some wondered whether the termite-infested building should be torn down.

“It was about six months from falling in,” Lyles says.

The firm and Hood Construction Inc. worked with historical researchers, and state and federal tax credits helped with financing. Brennen reopened in 2013 with offices for First Citizens Bank, the building’s owner.  Studio 2LR also worked on the bank’s First Citizens Café, as well as the Cajun-Creole restaurant Bourbon.

“They’re interested in understanding the stories of these places,” Waites says. “They have the technical skill. They also have the heart for it.”

Lyles, Riley, and Lambert were colleagues at another firm before deciding to set out on their own. Lambert says they had to quickly get up to speed on non-architectural duties such as payroll, taxes, and billing.

“I find the business aspect so interesting,” says Lambert, an entrepreneur at heart who runs a small bakery in her spare time.

While the firm is best known for its work on historic commercial buildings, its portfolio includes homes, as well as new-construction industrial and military projects ranging from Clinton to Orangeburg to North Carolina.

“We’re a very broad-based firm,” Lyles says. “We don’t do cookie cutter.”

Studio 2LR designed a facility for Orangeburg County’s Sigmatex, a carbon fiber textiles manufacturer, in addition to a neighboring spec building in John W. Matthews Industrial Park.

“They understand the importance of curb appeal when it comes to economic development, but they’re also mindful of cost and budget,” says Gregg Robinson, executive director of the Orangeburg County Development Commission.

Hunter-Gatherer Brewery & Alehouse selected the firm to help them upfit a renovated historic airplane hangar at Jim Hamilton-L.B. Owens Airport in Columbia.

“I couldn’t find a nicer group to work with,” says Kevin Varner, the brewery’s owner. “The most important thing an architect can do is find out what the client wants and then figure out the best way to achieve that.”

The firm has now grown to nine people, but the partners say they don’t think it will get much bigger than that.

“We don’t want to get to where we have to have a lot of structure in place instead of focusing on design,” Lambert says.

Other notable jobs include a pair of buildings in the BullStreet District. The Ensor Building was built on the state mental asylum campus in 1939 and is now part of the Spirit Communications Park footprint. Robert Hughes, president of BullStreet master developer Hughes Development Corp., says Ensor was not on their original list of buildings that would be preserved.

“We realized we could save and incorporate the building into the ballpark plaza design,” he says.

Bone-In Barbeque now occupies the first floor of Ensor, with office space upstairs. Hughes worked with Studio 2LR and Buchanan Construction Services on the renovations.

“We kept a lot of the exposed brick and existing floors,” he says. “We wanted the building to reflect its history.”

Parker Annex, which was built in 1910 to house black, male patients at the asylum, is now home to the S.C. Department of Natural Resources’ archeology center.

“There’s lots of architectural integrity left in the building,” says Meg Gaillard, Heritage Trust archaeologist with DNR’s Land, Water and Conservation Division. “As archeologists, it’s perfect for us. We feel like we’re extremely lucky.”