Dynamic Distillery

Form follows process. This is contemporary bourbon maker, founder and CEO of Rabbit Hole Distilling, Kaveh Zamanian’s vision for life and for his Rabbit Hole Distillery manufacturing building in downtown Louisville, Ky. This very modern, innovative 55,000-square-foot bourbon distillery, completed in July 2018, exemplifies this vision. The judges for the 2018 Metal Construction News Building and Roofing Awards were very impressed with both the distillery’s form and process, with two of them even saying that if they saw it from a distance while out driving, they would want to drive toward it to learn and see more about it.

The Rabbit Hole Distillery takes the Grand Award

By Mark Robins
Photos courtesy of pod architecture + design, Rabbit Hole Distilling, and Prodigy Construction

“The Rabbit Hole Distillery project is a new contemporary building for a new bourbon manufacturing product in an otherwise traditional industry,” says Douglas V. Pierson, AIA, LEED APBD+C, co-founder/partner, architect and design principal at pod architecture + design, Carrboro, N.C. “A design strategy of transparency was our way of showcasing in a modern way the complex process of bourbon making for all to see, and, while standing on the shoulders of giants, ridding any expectations of secret recipes and obscure traditions.”

From a farmer’s delivery of grain to the final bottle, the distillery’s design sequentially showcases bourbon’s complex process of milling, cooking, fermenting, distilling, barreling, bottling and everything in between. Via an open floor plan, a tour lets visitors see each of these processes unfold step by step, and share in the context of the architectural expression of metal, glass and wood surfaces.

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“The facility repurposes an old warehouse for back-of-house operations (with large windows for allto see), and positions new construction all around it to house an entry and retail area, a cantilevered event space above the warehouse, a blackened wood louvered glass atrium [glazing was provide by WR Cole & Associates Inc., Louisville] for manufacturing, executive offices, and an interior skylit ‘street’ for visitors to view every process as it unfolds,” Pierson says. “[The] blackened wood louvers honor the charred barreling process and the full-glass atrium allows for full transparency along with great views.”

“We could only keep about 35 percent of the original warehouse,” says Youn Choi, co-founder/partner and design principal at pod architecture + design. “But it became an unmistakable presence in the overall project narrative. We repurposed other parts of the warehouse as well. For example, the steel that we had to remove from the old warehouse became the steel trellis at the main entrance.”

Expressive, Integrated Materials Palette

Pierson believes the distillery’s contemporary design strategies, such as the atrium and louvers, could not have been successful without a solid material counterpart: metal. He says critical to the design process was an understanding of metal’s use throughout the project as an expressive wall material.

“Pod a+d worked directly with Louisville-based Metal Sales Manufacturing Corp. to develop details for a new exterior skin with a concealed fastener and a fin at each joint, allowing pattern rotation and color changes in the same skin system,” Pierson says. “The joint angle itself was inspired by the angle of the label on the Rabbit Hole bottle. The result is an innovative system of parts that turns a standard metal wall material into a formalized metal skin system adapted uniquely to the project (and product) itself.”

The distillery features over 13,500 square feet of Metal Sales’ new concealed fastened wall panels along with its flush panels in five standard colors throughout the building. Applications include exterior vertical and horizontal wall panels, breezeway flush ceiling panels, soffit panels and the perforated aluminum stairwell panels.

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“As a company, we take pride in our ability to work closely with the design and construction teams to ensure a successful project,” says Scott Bacon, vice president of sales at Metal Sales. “The design features one of our newest products, our Empire Series concealed fastened wall panels. We feel privileged to be part of this project, especially since it is in our hometown of Louisville.”

“Once we started the metal wall design process, we felt we needed natural ‘sister systems’ to reinforce the narrative,” Choi says. “So, we researched the use of exposed metal decks [supplied by Sentry Steel, Inc., Louisville] as an architectural finish for the ceilings of the atrium and passageway.”

Metal decks were kept free of fasteners and left exposed throughout to show the underside pattern of this often covered-up building material in another light. “By specifying a lock-seam deck system, we found we could avoid the unsightly screws that typically penetrate the deck and leave the deck open for all to see,” Choi adds. In the atrium, the high metal decks cascade over angled bays to form an open tapestry, allowing for rapid exhaust and air exchange in the humid manufacturing atrium. “We spent the better part of a year working out every exposed piece of structural steel to ensure that it would reinforce the process of bourbon making visually,” Pierson says. “It was a very deliberate act.”

Metal panel shapes were also coded to form visual cues for the transition between the adaptive re-use warehouse to new construction. Metal panel surfaces were used as a display material for the pod a+d designed graphics and way finding, including a serrated, two-direction sign that changes graphics depending on the viewing angle.

The bourbon experience is highlighted by the 48-foot-tall still and a wide outdoor staircase clad with Metal Sales’ perforated aluminum panels ushering guests to the Overlook Tasting and Hospitality space above the atrium. Pierson believes metal played an active role in the overall architectural expression of the project’s campus. “Metal allowed us to successfully integrate into the design process an expressive and integrated materials palette where each material is co-dependent of the other,” he adds.

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Its general contractor was Prodigy Construction, Louisville, and its metal installers were Dunn Roofing & Sheet Metal, Louisville, and Metal Sales. Its structural/civil engineer was Luckett & Farley, Louisville. A skylight was provided by Newman, Ga.-based Gammons Skylight Systems. The glazing contractor was Efco Glazing, Monett, Mo.

Distillery Details and Touches

2018 Metal Construction News Building and Roofing Awards judge Ryan D. Martin, AIA, NCARB, vice president-director of design hospitality architecture, LEO A DALY, Dallas, admires the distillery’s different details and touches. He says he has never seen anyone pay this much attention to detail for a brewery. “The way it comes together celebrates the mechanics of the process,” he says. “It’s not trying to cram a bunch of things into a small space. The way the louvers finish and end on the building is gorgeous. I love the ‘passing planes’ and like to incorporate that into my projects; it’s fun to see others do it. The logo looks like the perfect application. It looks very tailored and manicured; that’s why it jumped out at me.”

Awards judge James E. Theimer, AIA, LEED AP, principal, TRILOGY Architecture, Redding, Calif., says the distillery seems to be the building type of the 21st Century. “[This building type] is starting to pop out especially in Europe,” he says. “[The United States] may be picking up what is happening across the sea. Many metal buildings don’t respond to their site, this one actually consciously responds to its context. [Also, thedesigners] thought this through not as one big space, but as a whole series of forms and spaces that go together.”

Awards judge Lewis McNeel, AIA, associate, Lake|Flato Architects, San Antonio, called it a fantastic, attractive place with a sheer variety of textures, and spatial and visual experiences that happen within the architecture. “I appreciate the standard products that are used in an elegant and beautiful way as a whole,” he adds.

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