Liberty Lofts | Honoring a Building’s Past

ANN ARBOR, MI – In designing Liberty Lofts, the architects’ goal was to capture the “Honest, industrial motif of the existing building,” according to Robb Burroughs, vice president of Ann Arbor’s Hobbs and Black Associates, architects for the project.

The development, at 315 Second Street, combines a 70,000-square-foot, five-story early 20th-century concrete industrial building with a 40,000-square-foot addition, resulting in 68 lofts which range in size from 844 to 2,337 square feet.

From the 1920s to the 1980s, the building housed the operations of the King-Seeley Company, which made automotive instruments, and the King-Seeley Thermos Corporation.

Liberty Lofts partner Ronald Mucha said the geometry and structural integrity of the building lent themselves to adaptive reuse.

“Although there was no shortage of technical challenges to overcome, we knew that the building was structurally sound and that it was an important anchor to its neighborhood,” Mucha said.

“With lofts, the perception is that of an open, exposed manner of living,” Burroughs said. “The primary systems are up front and center and become part of the esthetic expression of a space instead of being hidden and subservient.” The vertical supports in the original building are mushroom-shaped concrete columns, and “Each space gets an equal view of that history. You get that sense of history right there at your touch,” Burroughs said. The new portion of the building did not have such columns but does use other elements from the historic portion — ceiling height and material, volume and the use of visible systems — as esthetic tools. “We were not trying to replicate the existing space, just suggest it through the consistent use of the material and spatial palette,” Burroughs said.

The Hobbs and Black team chose “Brutally honest” materials in the Liberty Lofts public spaces. Burnished block concrete walls in alternating courses and exposed and stained concrete floors continue the industrial esthetic. While some lofts have terraces, others have suspended balconies, which were designed to complement the existing architecture and proportions. Burroughs said the balconies are relatively transparent, designed with exposed steel as the dominant material choice, continuing the industrial motif.

Industrial esthetic dictated choices for decorating materials, too. Handrails and elevator doors are exposed, brushed stainless steel, and that material is referenced in finishes on decorative light fixtures.

Replacement windows in the old portion replicate the original steel sash windows. “The hardship in doing something like that is truly making it look similar while giving it the contemporary insulating qualities that are required,” Burroughs said. The windows are “low-e” glazed, with all the insulating qualities of any contemporary building. While the general appearance is of small, subdivided windows, the windows are actually sheets of glass, overlaid with a steel grid.

Geology as well as history dictated many of the material choices on Liberty Lofts’ ground floor. The building is in a flood plain. No, the Huron River is not going reach it, but it once was the site of two creeks, long since diverted into underground drains. Water still naturally migrates to that point, and federal standards dictate how that space can be used and finished. Terrazzo and concrete in the ground floor public spaces were chosen both for esthetic reasons and because of their flood proof qualities, Burroughs said.

The flood plain location limited the placement of the building’s electrical service equipment. Architects either had to put it on an upper floor, or encapsulate it on the ground floor. They chose the second option, and ultimately had to use a submarine door on the electrical room to meet federal standards.

Founded in 1993, Morningside Group is a real estate development firm that specializes in creating premier mixed-use and multi-family developments in urban locations throughout the Midwest. Long recognized as a leader in the design and construction of highly acclaimed buildings, Morningside Group has built an enviable track record of successful public-private partnerships.

Morningside’s incomparable work ensures that each new development will join a growing portfolio of prized buildings which includes, in Michigan, SkyLofts Royal Oak and SkyLofts MarketSquare in Royal Oak and, in Illinois, Arbor Court and Prairie Town Center in Oak Lawn, Crescent Court and Museum Square in Elmhurst, Morningside Square in Downers Grove, The Glen Astor in Glen Ellyn and buildings in Evanston and Skokie.

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