The urban resurgence of Richmond has drawn a new player to the local architecture scene.
Washington, D.C.-based Hickok Cole is building a presence locally with its first Richmond outpost, setting up shop in the recently opened Gather co-working space in Scott’s Addition.
The move marks the firm’s first physical expansion southward, after nearly 30 years focused in D.C., Maryland and Northern Virginia. The 100-person firm focuses on architecture and interior design services for commercial, residential and mixed-use developments.
Mark Ramirez, an associate principal with Hickok Cole, said the amount of redevelopment occurring in Richmond and the depth and variety of its building inventory attracted the firm to establish a presence in town. While its D.C. headquarters is just a couple hours away, Ramirez said it was important to plant its flag locally.
“Boots on the ground is always important,” he said. “Two hours away is not that far, but it’s important to have people here.
“What excites us as architects and designers is the urban infrastructure: these older buildings that have a lot of character,” he said. “As D.C. architects, we don’t get a lot of that – the city’s turned over so much that buildings have a 30-year lifespan and they’re gone, where Richmond has an amazing stock of that.”
Leading the firm’s entry into Richmond is Jessica Zullo, a Richmond native and Deep Run High School graduate. Since joining Hickok Cole in 2012, Zullo, a Virginia Tech grad with a bachelor’s degree in interior design, said she has been pushing the firm to expand to her hometown.
“I’d been watching the Richmond market while I was in D.C. and wondering, ‘Hey, no one’s really touching this yet; is this something we could really tap into and benefit from?'” Zullo said.
“I want to be a part of that, and it didn’t take too much convincing for these guys to understand that this is a real thing and we need to get down here before other people do.”
Zullo has spent several months developing contacts in town and laying foundations for the firm’s first local projects. Thus far, work has focused on designing tenant space for Spy Rock Real Estate, primarily for its mixed-use development underway on the site of the former Symbol Mattress Co. in Scott’s Addition.
The firm is designing the space for Brenner Pass, a new restaurant planned at the Symbol site by the owners of Metzger Bar & Butchery, as well as a market space next door and other retail spaces in the development’s commercial section. It’s also designing a 20,000-square-foot space that will be the new home of Dominion Payroll Services.
Ramirez said the firm also is conducting about a dozen feasibility studies on sites throughout Richmond for a number of different developers, including mixed-use, creative office, retail and housing developments.
In and around D.C., Hickok Cole has designed commercial projects like the new headquarters for National Public Radio, the Center for Strategic and International Studies building, and the LED-illuminated Silverline Center in Tysons Corner. On the residential side, the firm designed the HOLM apartments in Logan Circle, the mixed-use Fort Totten Square in northeast D.C., and several other multifamily developments.
Ramirez said the firm focuses primarily on multifamily housing, commercial office and corporate interiors. It also has a design group focused on the hospitality industry, further broadening the firm’s exposure to new trends that he said it would bring to the Richmond market.
“We think that we can bring a different perspective here,” he said. “In particular how we handle the street: we focus on the whole building, but the bottom of the building is particularly important, and you have to treat it differently than the rest. How a person interacts with the retail or the building entrance, and how you interact with a street – I think those things are very important.”
With Zullo established locally, the firm is relocating a second interior designer from D.C. to Richmond and plans to hire two architects for its Richmond studio by the end of the year. Zullo said the group would remain at Gather for the time being, but added that growth could lead to a designated office space someday.
“We need to stay flexible,” she said. “We’ve grown faster than I think we expected to, so it’s a good module for us to stay in for the moment.”
Zullo said she’s excited to help bring the firm to her hometown, which she said is going through a resurgence that isn’t seen in larger cities.
“It’s energizing the community, and the civic pride that has risen in the past two years is awesome,” she said. “You don’t really see that in larger cities because they’re so spread out; but in Richmond, it’s like everyone’s working towards a common goal and we know where we want to be; we’re just figuring out how to get there.”