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Columbia Business Monthly

WestLawn to spur commercial business, transform key Columbia corridor

By L.C. Leach III

Rendering courtesy Perkins and Will

While making money and turning a profit are the prime functions of commercial real estate, its intrinsic value sometimes extends into the realm of civic improvement – such as the example of the WestLawn Building currently underway in Columbia, S.C.

With a completion date expected in the first half of 2022, the new, the new 5-story, 79,000-square-foot office building is part of what is known as the largest urban redevelopment project on the East Coast – to redevelop 181 acres of The BullStreet District’s South Carolina State Hospital campus into a vibrant, mixed-use lifestyle district.

“WestLawn will be the largest office building of its kind in S.C.,” said Chandler Cox, project manager with Hughes Development Corporation, master developer for the BullStreet District. “It’s BullStreet’s second office and retail project, which shows the strength of the office market in Columbia right now.”

WestLawn’s first floor will house retail stores, and the top four floors will offer Class-A office space totaling approximately 56,000 square feet.

Sitework is currently underway, and the first tenant will be the law firm of Robinson Gray Stepp & Laffitte LLC, which will occupy more than 28,000 square feet on the top two floors, including a private rooftop terrace on the 5th floor.

“As our law firm continues to grow, we look forward to elevating our client services and experience, using the latest in technology and sustainable design,” said Cal Watson, Robinson Gray’s managing member. “We are excited to move into this vibrant environment that will seamlessly blend life, work, leisure and community.”

Other amenities and uses will include:

  • Ground floor retail with outdoor patio seating.
  • 10-foot-tall windows encasing the building to maximize natural light.
  • Adjacent parking garage to be constructed simultaneously with a covered walkway.

Once completed, WestLawn will also be the first office building in Columbia to be constructed of mass, cross-laminated timber.

This material is renewable and sustainable, first developed and used in Germany and Austria in the early 1990s.

It most often appears as a wood panel, made with three layers of solid sawn wood that are glued together.

Rather than glass and steel, cross-laminated timber combines modern architecture with the look and charm of old Southern buildings that have withstood the test of time and aesthetics. It can not only support efficient construction, but utilize environmental responsibility amidst comfortable living.

“Cross-laminated timber is the only primary structural material that grows naturally,” Chandler Cox said. “It can be used in walls, roofs or ceilings – and carbon dioxide is sealed within the wood, helping to purify the atmosphere.”

Because the material is prefabricated, entire building sections, such as floors and walls, can be fully manufactured before reaching the job site, potentially shortening construction timetables and lowering overall construction costs.

“This building…sets a new standard for green office building design in Columbia,” said Robert Hughes, president of Hughes Development.

And, since the timber can incorporate a variety of designs, WestLawn’s look will also feature natural exposed wood ceilings and detailing as well as an exposed steel structural system of columns and beams.

“The design of WestLawn reflects our emphasis on preserving historic buildings alongside modern architecture, essentially taking the best of the old and new,” Hughes said. “A clean and safe workplace has never been more important than it is right now, and WestLawn is being designed using every best-practice in our industry to create the best possible work environment.”

So far, based on a report in the autumn of 2020 by The New York Times, there are only 384 other large mass timber buildings in the U.S. The first one was built in Montana in 2011.

But if its use for WestLawn achieves as much success in transforming the BullStreet District as hoped and planned for, it could not only launch a new popular form of architecture in South Carolina, but make the BullStreet area a model for other state cities to consider.

“The addition of WestLawn shows the forward-thinking and sustainable practices that are being incorporated into the vision of BullStreet,” said Columbia City Councilman Howard Duvall. “Converting a huge deteriorating and desolate property into a growing and vibrant community that’s creating jobs, contributing to the tax base and adding immeasurably to the region is what I personally hope to see here in Columbia.”