Commercial real estate firm shows the versatility of office space with a Lego-style design
Written by Madoline Markham
Photography by Edward Badham
Derek Waltchak had always wanted to work with shipping containers, so when his commercial real estate firm, Shannon Waltchak, purchased a warehouse building near Railroad Park to use for office space, it was time to bring his vision to life.
Working with architect Richard Carnaggio of Cohen Carnaggio Reynolds, Shannon Waltchak transformed 20- and 40-foot shipping containers into individual offices. “It was an interesting and fun challenge,” Waltchack says. “It was like building out of Legos.” What results speaks of the firm’s creativity—no words necessary.
Numbers marking the containers all have some significance to the company. 3014BL commemorates their first office address on Blue Lake Drive. Another is a zip code where a partner grew up, and still another marks a sales goal figure.
At the project’s outset, Waltchak envisioned a space that was happy and spoke to the future of their young firm. The offices themselves are relatively small, allowing for more space for staff to get out and interact in what they call “creative collisions.” In the back of the office, a bumper pool table sits atop a putting green adjacent to their kitchen. A two-story silo rounds out the space on its edge. At the opposite end of the building, garage doors on the sides of two conference rooms open to create a larger meeting or event space when they need it.
“It shows (our clients) what you can do with real estate,” Waltchack says. “Their office can be an asset that works for themselves even when they are not selling. It opens their eyes to what’s possible and how it can work for them.”
The rest of the office fits with the recycled material theme as well. The space isn’t LEED-certified, but Waltchack thinks they might be the most green office space in town without the designation. Using a newly acquired portable band sawmill, Waltchak’s team had Gray’s Tree Service send them hardwood from Birmingham yards that otherwise would have gone to landfills. They cut the wood on-site and dried it out over the summer in a solar kiln they built. From that red and white oak and poplar, they made desktops and the wooden skins that divide office spaces.
Running down the center of the firm’s space, railroad ties line a boardwalk of distressed dark wood, and the exterior of the cinder block structure boasts a herringbone pattern of rusty metal chicken house siding a contractor sourced in Alabama.
One shipping container takes different form from the others in the office. It is hung vertically at the office’s entrance so that you can look straight up the sides of it to see the sky through an opaque skylight (see the top of page 36). One of its walls also forms a section of the building’s exterior that will soon bear the company’s primary sign.
In the middle of the office space, wiring on a staircase leads to a second floor where the company will expand and add new glassed-in offices on top of the shipping containers that will be connected by a catwalk.
The happy tone Waltchak envisioned is perhaps seen most strongly in the orange paint on the shipping containers’ exteriors, which was inspired by Waltchak’s recent visit to the Golden Gate Bridge. When the company rebranded after moving in, they incorporated the hue as well.
The space is also distinctively Birmingham. When you first walk into the office, a projector displays black and white photos of historic buildings like the Redmont Hotel and Paramount and of the evolving skyline—all mixed in amongst news clips about more recent developments in the city. Still within view of the slideshow, an 1885 bird’s eye view map of Birmingham lines the wall of the small conference room. Working with a digital file, Carnaggio tinted the map and added a few “Where’s Waldo?” anachronisms to it: The Stockyard building and its parking lot as well as subtle depictions himself and Waltchak.
The specific location of the Shannon Waltchack office, in a building known as The Stockyard they share with Scout Branding, was also key to the company’s space. The firm helped kick off redevelopment in the area just after Railroad Park was complete—back before Regions Field was a certainty—by moving their offices into the 1914 National Biscuit Company building that would become Railroad Square back in 2010. “People loved it and flocked to it,” Waltchak recalls of the building, which was featured in the New York Times in 2013.
But the firm was growing as their neighbors were, so they bought an empty warehouse building at the corner of 16th Street South and 2nd Avenue to allow space for expansion. Unlike Railroad Square, where they revealed the original beauty of wood beams that were there, they were working with a cinder block walls, so instead they focused on bringing in interesting elements with the shipping containers and recycled wood. The firm moved into The Stockyard in January 2015.
“It’s invigorating to be in the bull’s eye of Birmingham’s renaissance,” Waltchak says. Plus, he notes, creating spaces that show off creative things happening in Birmingham makes for a better city and helps retain Millennials.