Design that works: History lives in a modern workspace

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In the renovated Signature Financial office space on Water Street, the hallway provides "jewel-box views to the staff, while inviting shared sunlight into the hallway," said architect Maggie Schubert. Photo: Christian Hommel In the renovated Signature Financial office space on Water Street, the hallway provides "jewel-box views to the staff, while inviting shared sunlight into the hallway," said architect Maggie Schubert. Photo: Christian Hommel

There’s no architectural union more typically Charlottesville than the marriage of new and old. And the project of marrying a historical legacy to a fresh, modern sensibility isn’t limited to the residential world. At the Water Street offices of Signature, a financial management firm, past and present combine in an upscale office that honors its 19th century roots.

“Our Norfolk office is a very different building—it’s a big modern office building,” explained Wistar Morris, principal. “We wanted the two offices to echo each other, but for this to have the feel of downtown Charlottesville.”

The solution to this puzzle, as imagined by architectural firm SMBW, lay in exposing the bones of the King Building, a onetime grocery warehouse, while inserting modern materials and forms.

“The space reflects Signature’s forward brand through the insertion of transparency and crisp detailing,” said SMBW architect Maggie Schubert.

Having moved in last summer, Signature’s employees are reveling in their stylish space (and waving, Morris said, to train conductors on the tracks behind the building). “People react to the warmth of the brick and the history of these huge old beams,” said Morris. “It’s just very pleasing.”

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