Thursday, October 28, 2010

"Charlotte's Connecting With Its Creative Side" by RON STODGHILL

Charlotte Observer article- 24 October 2010

The revelation was bittersweet: There were Michael Williams and Mike Standley, Charlotte's hot-shot architect duo giving me a glimpse of their crazy, futuristic rendering of the now-mothballed Eastland Mall.

The designers of the U.S. National Whitewater Center say they're eager to explode Charlotte's mall culture by rebuilding old Eastland into an environmentally sustainable facility devoted to, of all things, "urban agriculture."

"It's time to think beyond the same mall and town-center concept," Williams says. "It's just a matter of someone stepping up and taking the initiative."

The pair's big idea came on the heels of a smaller one I encountered a couple weeks ago. At a swank cocktail party in NoDa, I watched as mega-event planner Clarke Allen and his newly hired COO, Leslie Palmer, worked the room explaining to some 130 guests that they were not actually at a party, but rather a "social experiment."

They then herded guests over to large charts, and began diagramming the relationships in the room. The goal: Deconstruct Charlotte's networking circles and prove, a la "Six Degrees of Separation," that this "small big city's" business relationships can be leveraged more efficiently and productively in this downturn.

While very different in scope, both experiences suggest that on any given day you can witness Charlotte's creative capital being put to work in ways large and small.

What's also apparent is that we now face the uphill battle of proving to outsiders - and to ourselves for that matter - that we've actually got a fully functioning right brain.

Charlotte is slowly awakening to the fact that we're good for a lot more than a credit check and bank loan. We've got some hot ideas of our own.

Of course, we can thank this dark economy for this epiphany. After years of heady growth, for example, Williams and Standley, co-owners of Liquid Design, hit the proverbial brick wall in 2008 as the banking crises brought construction projects to a virtual halt. The firm was forced to not only lay off several employees, but to rethink its overall market strategy.

As Williams deadpans: "Even a seasoned developer can't borrow $50 to fix his own house right now. We can't keep waiting on the side of the road, waiting for developers to get some money."

These days, along with designing modern single-family custom homes, Liquid Design is rolling out a new business unit called Motus (that's Latin for motion, earthquake, influence). Motus shifts away from Liquid's traditional model in that it bypasses developers and markets really big ideas such as the "urban agriculture" directly to investors.

"I'm a realist," says Williams. "I know that something of this scale will not happen overnight but it's important to start thinking about projects of this nature today."

Built in 1975, the now-empty Eastland Mall is a 1 million-square-foot behemoth occupying 95 acres on the city's east side. One of the mall's new owners recently proposed reviving a chunk of the mall by using a Latino theme with small stores and merchant stalls.

But Liquid Design says it has been pitching an "urban agriculture" project to investors interested in sustainable development. The firm proposes: 300,000 square feet of solar technology through a Duke Power cooperative; more than 2 million square feet of agriculture; corporate headquarters for a life science company; and multi-family dwellings.

Modeled after a fledgling program in Detroit, urban farming aims to create a healthy new food source by planting gardens on unused land and space in inner cities, while also using the farm to educate communities on the virtues of a sustainable environment. Says Standley: "What's terrific about our Eastland idea is that it's all off the grid."

Williams says that his firm has wrapped up its conceptual design process, and it has interest from two progressive investor groups (one based in the U.S. and another overseas) that are vetting the economics of the project. If Liquid Design can secure initial financing, the next step would be to seek support from the city, which has been vocal about turning Eastland Mall back into an economic driver.

Clarke Allen's networking experiment finds its roots in author Malcolm Gladwell's bestseller, "The Tipping Point," which, among other things, explored whether human connections are merely random or the result of an elaborate interlocking web.

Anyone who knows Allen also knows his grandiosity. Not so long ago, when big galas were all the rage in Charlotte, Allen's event planning company, Charlotte Arrangements, threw parties that would have made Gatsby blush. Of course, in today's killjoy economy, the mood - and market - for lavish soirees has all but disappeared.

His "Six Degrees" experiment grows out of his new reality. Allen invited 30 contemporaries from the hospitality industry and asked them each to invite six people from the business community. His goal, he says, was to offer a more fruitful antidote to today's frenetic, superficial networking, LinkedIn, Facebook-obsessed business culture.

Charlotte is only two degrees of separation.

"We're getting more high-tech, but we need more high-touch," Allen says.

"The point is that we're all connected somehow," says Palmer, a former Mitsubishi Motors operational exec Allen hired in June to help him expand his brand and business. "Because people don't have jobs and they don't have sales and they don't have advertising, the old way of networking isn't working anymore."

Allen plans to roll out his "Six Degrees" program to business groups, from local chambers of commerce to social networking sites, across the country. The firm has already signed up a corporate client that will use the model in a private networking event later this year. Says Allen: "I just spoke with a guy who came to my event. He says he's had five meetings because of it, with three potential pieces of new business."

Whatever comes of these ideas, I like how architect Michael Williams characterizes the movement: "We're all trying to survive the New Economic World Order. But for the first time, I feel like the recession has given Charlotte's creative community a louder voice."

Only time will tell whether anyone is really listening.

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Friday, August 27, 2010

Uptown Condo Mania

Check out this shameless plug by a realtor for a very cool condo that he is trying to move for his client. Very interesting how the news organization conveniently turns a condominium sales pitch into news worthy segment by weaving Michael Jordan and his new condo into the story line. In this housing market, who can blame a realtor for exploring every angle.

We at Liquid Design feel that this would be an easier sale if the realtor would have just let everyone know who the architect was and left Michael Jordan out of the story.

Liquid Design worked meticulously with our client on his 3rd floor condo to create a spacious floor plan that delivered an "urban modern" solution. From the detailing and layout of the master bathroom to the expressive concrete structural system of the existing building, it is a condo worthy of its asking price no matter who the neighbors might be. Although having MJ as your neighbor is a nice extra detail.

And regarding Michael Jordan and his new condo.... Stay tuned for a more relevant story line from Liquid Design on that in a future post.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

I know it’s been a while since our last post.But we have been very busy this summer. Unlike most design professionals during this recession we have not been hiding under a rock and waiting for the good old times to come back around. We have been busy creating great design and reinventing the way we deliver our dedicated design for our clients.

How? By working with our clients on several new and exciting modern homes in our region, spending some time traveling around the country looking at new and fresh materials and continuously exploring better ways of detailing these exciting materials.

But for the most part, we have been focusing all of our studio production time in the Building Information Modeling, (BIM), world. This new “Revit” software is helping Liquid Design produce a more thoughtful design solution. When you live in the modern vernacular design world, this technology helps us to visually explain the complexity of modern design to both the client and contractor. “Revit” is providing the contractor with the necessary building information in a 3D modeled solution, thus allowing a complex design to be better understood in relation to the constructability side. This allows the contractor to provide a more accurate price for construction and a better understanding of the final design solution early in the process. But before we even head into the production process with “Revit” we first work with the client in another 3D modeling tool called “SketchUp”. We have found that this program is very useful during the early conceptual and schematic stages.

Below is one example of this 3D design world that Liquid Design is residing in as we continue to provide unique design solutions. This modern residence called WhiteHaus is on the lake just outside of Charlotte.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Trust: A Modern Urban Condo

It's not everyday that you get a chance convert an old mid-rise downtown bank building called The Trust into luxury condominiums. Actually in this case we had the opportunity to design 8 custom condominiums, ranging from the contemporary style to the modern style. It helps that the building is located in "Banktown USA", (Charlotte, NC). Where, if we are not careful, there could be several bank buildings ripe for conversion if the banking industry doesn't correct itself. Below are some images from one of the upper floor residence. Notice the great views of the towers surrounding The Trust. If you truly want to live in Charlotte's urban environment I can't think of a better address. We opened up the plan to give it a large urban loft feel that was desired by the client.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Celadon is now a LEED certified neighborhood

It's official Celadon has been awarded LEED status. To be exact, Celadon is now a LEED certified neighborhood. Cheers to everyone involved in exceeding this project original goals and expectations. Stay tune; more details to come regarding this achievement......

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The "Finacial Mirage in the Desert"?

We all have seen the latest headlines regarding the Dubai World meltdown and the need for the capital city of Abu Dhabi to help stem the unease of their country’s potential financial collapse. Many have dubbed the United Arab Emirates, UAE, as the “Financial Mirage in the Desert”.

Is anyone really surprised? With the global economic downturn it was just a matter of time before that downturn would blanket the current king of development. Unfortunately the UAE was growing on the plan that the rest of the world would be buying and renting space, both residentially and commercially, from them. Liquid Design was in Abu Dhabi this time last year working on our portion of a $40 billion recreational lifestyle resort and community. To be honest I have never seen a project more ambitious than this one. Not only due to its extensive large scale mixed-use program, which was packed full of “one of a kinds” and “the world’s largest”, but the fact it was going to be built on a mountain range in the middle of the desert. Yes, I said mountain range; the Jebel Hafeet mountain range is located on the boarder of UAE and Omen.

Looking back on my trip I remembering sensing an underlying concern of, “have we as a county built too much to be sustainable?” But that concern seemed to be tempered with, “if we hurry up we can beat the other guy out of the ground and then he will be left holding the bag”. Classic developer 101….

So, needless to say our project was put on hold shortly after conceptual design. With the hope that once the world corrects itself the project will ramp up again. Our design responsibilities covered about $700 million worth of construction spread over 3 phases. Our piece includes 3 resort hotels, condominiums, retail, and the world’s largest man-made whitewater facility loaded with the latest technology. And yes, we were incorporating the latest “earth- green design strategies” for a holistic sustainable design solution. The program outlined above is only the tip of the “iceberg” for this larger than life project. Like all things in today’s world only time will tell if the UAE is truly a “Financial Mirage in the Desert”.

2 pictures outside of my hotel room.

4 images of Jebel Hafeet.

Our conceptual design layout.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

2 more Design Awards

Liquid Design has just won 2 American Institute of Architects (AIA), Charlotte Chapter design awards. It was an honor to receive them and it goes to show you that staying current with the latest strategies in sustainable design, employing the latest technologies to ensure a coordinated design delivery and focusing on quality modern design principles is the best strategy to gain some recognition.

The awards were the "2009 AIA Design Honor Award" and the "2009 AIA Sustainable Design Award". Both awards were for the Celadon project completed earlier this year.

Enjoy our “over the top” graphic poster. We are gearing up to have some fun in 2010.