In its conversion of the tobacco drying shed, Baskervill and developer Fulton Hill Properties linked the structure to the five-story, former food-distribution warehouse at the other end of the block facing Canal Street and the restored canal’s ribbon park. These two buildings have been connected by a newly constructed lobby that adds considerable pizazz as well as a rare, semipublic interior space in the Bottom. This trio of quite different building types is more than the sum of its parts.
The boxy brick warehouse building was built in 1916 and designed by Carneal & Johnson (who also built such distinctive industrial buildings as the Richmond Dairy Building in Jackson Ward). It uses no-nonsense skeletal concrete to create nine bays along Canal Street and five bays along 15th Street. These are in-filled with brick and wide, steel-casement windows. Now, with the exterior brick cleaned and the concrete painted a sandstone color, the interior is occupied as an office building.
The corrugated shed building at the north end of the block, reclad in corrugated-steel, is surprisingly elegant. But its restoration offered challenges. First, daylight was not needed for tobacco curing but is in most restaurant and office settings. Secondly, the building’s architectural integrity had to be maintained for tax credits.
The brilliant solution was found in using a perforated, corrugated steel material that reads from the outside as solid, yet allows ample daylight to pass through. There are few examples locally where preservation requirements and new technology mesh better.
The all-new connecting structure, entered from either the east or west end of the building, functions as an interior street. At each end, a curtain glass rises about 40 feet. Looking out toward the east, are train tracks and the Interstate 95 bridge — infrastructure that gives the Bottom much of its character. Visible through the western glass wall are still-unrestored warehouses, their Roman arches and weathered brick suggesting the antiquity that also makes the Bottom unique.
A central lobby stairwell rises like an abstract sculpture and has bridges that connect to the upper office floors. On the western end of the lobby, on the second floor, is a conference room that serves the Baskervill firm. Appearing to float above the lobby below, it is an exhilarating space.
The various lobby walls are painted mustard and orange. The only disconcerting features of the lobby are its ceramic tile floors: These are too smooth, too decorative. Slate or brick or either polished or untreated concrete would have been preferable as a salute to the industrial aesthetic of this space as well as to the Bottom.
One of the great successes of this rethinking of an urban space is the way the three structures meet the city sidewalk and surrounding streets. On the 15th and Canal street sides, a terrace raised a few feet above the sidewalk encircles the building. This is ringed, appropriately, with industrial-issue railings. The terrace provides an attractive view of the canal (incidentally, now in its fourth growing season, the landscaping has come into its own and is attractive).
Canal Crossing is important because it adds another building to the canal waterfront and serves as a key transitional point between the restorations of Shockoe Slip and those of the Bottom. This project is preservation and adaptive reuse at its best. S
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