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New Life in the Old City

An exterior makeover enhances a revitalized downtown

Frederica Feb19 2 Ap Imagery
Photo: AP Imagery

The scene is a decaying downtown in a mid-sized American city. It could be Peoria, Ill., or Des Moines, Iowa, but it’s Owensboro, Ky., and the community is working hard to bring back businesses, retailers, residents and tourists to what was once the heart of the city. In Owensboro, city leaders have built a new convention center and lured the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame and Museum. With those community investments, businesses are seeing new opportunity and the decline is slowly being reversed.

Architect Ben Grove, AIA, senior architect at AXIOM Architecture, Owensboro, says, “Owensboro is going through its rebirth right now.”

A great example of what is being done to revitalize the commercial area was accomplished by Grove’s firm at 234 Frederica St., on the corner of Third St. An old, brick-clad, five-story building whose previous tenant was a BB&T Bank branch, found new life with a dramatic facelift, and a gutted and refinished interior.


Photo: AP Imagery

“We did the entire building and the interior spaces as the leases became available,” says Grove. “The developer wanted to completely re-skin the building and create a more contemporary building; one they felt they could attract clients to. At this point, all but a small area on the ground level is completely leased.”

A Nod to the Past

Only three blocks from the Ohio River, the new building looks completely different from the dated structure beneath the contemporary metal and glass façade. There are, though, touches that refer to the old aesthetic. “We did want to keep part of that memory of the original building with the new design,” Grove says. “The areas that are shrouded in the gray metal panels that have the tall, ribbon windows are mimicking part of the original design. We wanted to maintain a little bit of the original history of the building.”

The new skin allows much more light into the interior of the building. Three sides of the building are mostly glass, surrounded by a variety of metal panels. The glass opens up the interior and makes the space more modern and more likely to attract clientele. Today’s office workers and their employers are less than excited about working in dark, enclosed spaces without access to natural light.

Photo: GDG Photography

The rear façade, though, overlooks public parking and uses mostly horizontal metal panels. By limiting the glass in this area, AXIOM was able to keep the cost of the project lower and meet energy codes. “The rear wall is all metal panels. We saw that as an opportunity to do a design," Grove says.”

Horizontal white panels match the width of the gray panels on the corners and are broken up either every two or three rows vertically by light gray panels. To further break up what could be a monotonous and intimidating façade, Grove used light-blue accent panels in random places. It is a simple effect that allows the eye to define the space in smaller, more digestible sections.

More Light and Lighter

Opening the façade to allow more light in on the other three façades involved removing quite a lot of brick, which had the added benefit of taking away a lot of weight hanging on the structure. The only modifications to the structure were to account for the loads of a rooftop balcony area, and because the fifth floor was more enclosed after the retrofit.

Photo: GDG Photography

The vertical lines of the ribbon windows not only mimic the old façade, but create a verticality that makes the structure appear taller by drawing the eye up. Those windows are broken up with horizontal windows that are pulled out from the building and cantilevered over the sidewalk.

The whole structure employs a variety of PACCLAD metal panels from Petersen Aluminum Corp., Elk Grove Village, Ill. In total, there are more than 18,000 square feet of paneling, but their variety, placement and palette create a framed and refined aesthetic. Flush panels in darker colors blend with the fenestration, and vertical panels across the bottom offer a platform for the façade to perch on. Light paneling around the ribbon windows frames them.

In downtown Owensboro, as more aging, dated buildings begin to get contemporary upgrades, the attraction for businesses will increase and the vitality of the city center will build. Such a move can attract residents and nightlife and tourists. The rebirth of the building at 234 Frederica shows what can be accomplished with a new refinement and hope.