Photos by Michael Evans Bowen
Among the charming older red-brick buildings that define downtown Hendersonville, a new two-story office has added an entirely different color: green. Biz 611 — with an exterior of towering glass windows, reclaimed brick and earth-toned stucco — houses a fully functional sustainable work environment that has little in common with the typical American office. The owner of the building, former software developer Jonathan Butler, created it as a business incubator for tech startups and green companies.
Butler says he got the idea after serving on the board of the Charleston Digital Corridor Foundation in his hometown of Charleston, S.C. “We reclaimed two buildings that were designed to be business incubators for the ‘knowledge industry,’ mostly tech, but we also had a number of green companies that started up in there, and it has just gone so incredibly successfully,” Butler says of the Charleston Flagship buildings.
In Hendersonville, Butler first purchased the neighboring structure, Landmark Condominiums, several years ago, hiring local architect Ken Gaylord to help renovate the space for a home for his family. After the Landmark’s completion in 2009, there were still two other buildings on the property. Built around the 1950s, the structures had been abandoned for a number of years and had foundation problems.
Considering his options, Butler decided to replicate the Charleston Flagship model, incorporating as many reclaimed materials as possible from those buildings and others — from bricks to furniture to door handles. Start to finish, Butler reports, Biz 611 cost a little more than $1 million to build. Chris Kaselak is the general manager of BlackHawk Construction, the integrated contracting arm of Ken Gaylord Architects. He says the firm had incorporated sustainable building practices into previous projects, but never as many as Biz 611.
“We’d done parts and pieces,” says Kaselak. “One client would like to do some solar panels, another client wants to do a green roof, but Jonathan’s a little different, where he wants to do as much of that as he possibly can. He, more than a lot of owners, is willing to make the investment in the different systems that actually improve energy impact and environmental impact.”
Inside, the 10,000-square-foot space is flooded with light that beams through two-story glass windows. Solar tubes illuminate the stairwells (so the regular lights are rarely used). Toilets are flushed using rainwater collected through an elaborate rooftop harvesting system. Rather than drywall or sheet rock, a special sandblasting treatment allowed for exposed cement-block walls. Many of the offices are flexible spaces with sliding walls and exchangeable wall panels.
“I think it’s sort of a game changer for Hendersonville and Western North Carolina,” says Gaylord, the architect behind the project. “It’s a completely different approach to creating workspace or office space that doesn’t emphasize the separation and privacy of individual businesses, but instead invites collaboration.”
Gaylord notes that the building does not attempt to hide its green features, or tuck them away in a utility closet. Instead it uses solar panels as awnings and visible cisterns to collect rainwater. He said one of the most overlooked aspects is that Biz 611 is an urban infill.
“We didn’t clear a cow pasture or forest to put up a building and pave a parking lot. We took an existing downtown site that was very tight. That was probably the greenest thing that we did,” explains Gaylord. “We are reusing all the things that create an urban environment — the utilities, the sidewalks, the roads. We’re also lending vitality to the town by doing that.”
Outside, a two-story living wall designed by a local landscaper faces the busy traffic of Church Street. As the wall grows in, Butler’s tenants will be able to go outside and pick edible fruits and vegetables from it for lunch. The green wall is fastened to an exterior that incorporated 9,000 reclaimed bricks from the previous building. In fact, Biz 611 has just been selected to receive a Brick Industry Association design award at a reception in September.
Butler’s first tenants have all been hand-selected, including the Environmental & Conservation Organization, a Hendersonville-based nonprofit. Butler calls them his “beta-testers,” to see how the space is functioning. He says he’s now ready to rent.
Biz 611 has about 16 spaces for lease, with five or six already spoken for. Butler has hired a property manager and says rents will run anywhere from $200-$1,100, depending on the size of the office. A large conference area on the first floor can be rented out separately for different businesses or organizations. He also hopes to feature art exhibitions in the main lobby area.
“You want to have events and different reasons for people to come here, but you also want the building to sort of educate in and of itself,” notes Butler.
Gaylord says the building is part of a new wave of office space. “The architecture is supportive and encouraging of interaction between entrepreneurs,” he says. “I think there’s a new movement in this country to realize the best entrepreneurial activity comes from interaction, not isolation.”