Assembly is nothing less than a flagship presence in downtown Norfolk for creators and technology innovators with globally relevant products and services. By design, Assembly is more than the sum of its parts. And its parts are pretty exceptional. Currently at 80% occupancy, the curated community of tenants includes Grow, WPA (Work Program Architects), 757 Startup Studios, Ario, Have A Good Day, Rise, Lynch Mykins, Istoria and Three Ships Coffee.
Located in the old Ames & Brownley building (c. 1919)—attached to what was Sears & Roebuck and its warehouse—Assembly is the brainchild of Drew Ungvarsky, Grow founder and CEO. The beautiful space, with architectural design by WPA and interior design by Campfire & Co., is an office-building-meets-sophisticated-co-working-space where inspiring businesses can offer a “compelling employee experience,” he says.
One where connections, “collisions,” and access to shared world-class resources, spaces and amenities are baked into every aspect of its DNA, from its expansive use of glass to its grand central staircase and its impromptu thinking/working/meeting spaces around every corner. Window seats, phone booths, a podcast/recording booth, and more offer maximum flexibility for the inherently diverse and creative work in which these businesses are engaged.
The remainder of the historic campus, which once enjoyed a decades-long run as Rice’s department store, will be built out in Phase 2. In the meantime, for reasons of logistics, cost and synergy the purposeful design of Phase 1 allows everyone to “go further faster.” Its five stylish stories boast 15,000 square feet of shared spaces from A to Z, or maybe T: an atrium, bicycle storage, and conference rooms…a kitchen, library, and meeting rooms…and a rooftop deck, showers, and transitional zones. Though Assembly was conceived pre-COVID, says Ungvarsky, a smaller business footprint makes sense post-COVID.
Says Mel Price, principal and co-founder of WPA, for this historic adaptive reuse project, her firm’s architectural directive was to “restore the building to a period of significance.” In so doing, they created a look that she describes as “timeless and classic” by re-imagining the iconic building as an open, bright, and airy space, infused with sunlight.
The soaring central atrium and commanding staircase, Price explains, were designed to “connect everyone visually” and facilitate “accidental collisions” that expand business capabilities exponentially. The glass skins allow employees and clients to see and feel the world-class creative technology at work in every square foot of the space. In respect to her own business’s needs, she sees architecture as “an old and slow moving profession” and is energized by the opportunities to learn from her Assembly colleagues how to “push the design profession forward.”
Campfire & Co.’s interior design—with the majority of the casework by Campostella Casework—is clean, uncluttered, and fresh, while celebrating some of the original architectural details like terrazzo floors.
The arc of design is long and right now skews towards furnishings with Scandinavian and mid-century modern bones. Assembly embraces this direction with a fresh sensibility and a keen understanding of line, volume, scale and texture.
From floor to ceiling, every thoughtful design decision bows in the direction of both form and function, with each rug, artwork, light fixture and piece of furniture subtly embracing design motifs that celebrate the union of art, science, and technology. But it avoids taking itself too seriously. In the old fur vault, now a conference room, display and storage solutions playfully nod to coat hangers. Elsewhere, recreations of vintage signage and shopping bags serve as handsome graphic reminders of the roots of commerce in downtown Norfolk.
For Assembly, the challenge is not attracting businesses to the 1,500 square foot offices, 500-750 square feet suites, and expansive amenities. Rather it is choosing and vetting like-minded companies who are committed to the vision: the formation of a connected community of prolific and aspiring creative and technology companies, startups, and freelancers dedicated to sharing both tangible and intangible resources, not the least of which is energy and inspiration.