DSGN’s reuse of a midcentury engineer’s office glories in the building’s rigid structural grid and flexible interior space. A slight alteration opened the interior to the site, which includes a vegetable garden.
The midcentury, characteristically systematic architecture of 115 West Greenbriar is a direct reflection of original client Darwin Renner. A prolific Dallas engineer, Renner developed the first Magnetic Anomaly Detector, a tool used to save countless vessels from being sunk by German U-Boats at the height of World War II. In the 1960s, Renner would found his own company, Geotronics. The office, a testament to precision and engineering, served as Geotronic’s home until circa 2004. The space sat vacant for ten years before DSGN purchased the space in 2014.
Dallas architects Prinz and Brooks designed 115 West Greenbriar on a 16-ft organizational grid. Attending to proportion — down to the details of the thinly articulated storefront and rigid structural system — created an open framework in which to fit a flexible program. The building’s full basement, a feature rarely seen in Dallas, was rumored to have been Renner’s own personal bomb shelter. An exterior CMU screen buffered the office space visually from its surrounding Kessler Park neighbors.
DSGN’s renovation marked a return to the structure’s roots. The interior was gutted, leaving only the shell. DSGN allowed the original grid to organize the spatial layout, allocating half the building to studio functions and reserving the other for entry, conference room, and support spaces. Color, fixtures, and industrial furnishings pay further respects to the existing exterior shell and subtly cue the company’s brand identity. Removing the (dated) CMU screen highlighted refreshing views of the West Kessler neighborhood and the office garden, a change the staff celebrated by opening the doors to let in a cool cross-breeze.
“The primary reason for maintaining the integrity of the shell was rooted in our preservation ethic, which includes the reuse and recycling of whatever one can of the original building,” says Robert Meckfessel, FAIA. “We also believe that preservation is viewed far too often as something limited to elaborate ‘jewel box’ buildings (think Old Red, Swiss Avenue, the Magnolia Building, etc.), but there is another layer in the urban fabric of overlooked buildings that were more humble when they were built, and don’t necessarily catch the attention of a casual passerby. However, these buildings have real value in their own right, as the matrix that glues our city together in the spaces between the jewel boxes.”
DSGN’s renovation is a coming-together of architecture and preservation that successfully unlocks an existing structure’s unrealized potential: The office environment becomes the connective tissue between studio and neighborhood, blurring workspace and site in a new way. It’s a trait the studio is extremely proud of. The cucumbers, picked by Meckfessel from the office garden, are a testament to that.
Michael Friebele, Assoc. AIA, is a project designer at Perkins+Will Dallas.