WRNS Studio has been named a Fast Company 2024 World’s Most Innovative Company

WRNS Studio has been named a Fast Company 2024 World’s Most Innovative Company

We are #6 in Architecture for giving new life to “obsolete” buildings. WRNS Studio embraces a spirit of reuse over replacement to honor the past while minimizing carbon and waste. Revitalizing aging infrastructure advances our mission to address the climate crisis by minimizing greenhouse gas emissions.

How do we do this? Recent projects for Amazon, Cal Maritime, and Princeton University Facilities show how we transform historic buildings for modern use. 

 A New York Landmark: From Aging Department Store to Modern Workplace

How does an aging department store—in this case, New York’s landmark Lord & Taylor Building—become a great modern workplace for Amazon? Department stores have large floor plates for a reason—to orchestrate a journey through their curated spaces, one that offers escape from everyday life into an experience of luxury and decadence. However, their large floor plates do not typically pull in a lot of daylight light and fresh air, key ingredients for a healthy, comfortable, and inspiring workplace that is also energy efficient and low carbon.

In response, WRNS Studio inserted a nine-story monumental stair that stretches from the second floor to the rooftop courtyard, capped by a transparent “lantern.” The stairwell repeats the footprint of the rooftop courtyard to channel natural light into the deep floor plates while encouraging employees to move about the building. The design team custom tailored a VS-1 system to produce this all-glass lantern volume within the historic rooftop courtyard and incorporated circadian lighting fixtures to enhance the sense of natural ambient sunlight. With operable windows and easy access to amenities, employees enjoy comfortable and personalized work environments that offer choice and a sense of domain.

Throughout the building, historic artifacts have been repurposed for new use. Tiles from the former flower market now frame the signage for a restaurant that pays homage to Dorothy (Dot) Shaver, the first woman to lead a major retail company in the United States. Wood panels originally imported from a Scottish castle grace a new fireplace and brass lintels salvaged from the old elevators are now part of a sculpture. Likewise, some historic elements have been revealed and given new life. Cast iron arches and glass windows that once framed the building entry now “fold” down into an arched banquette while the new solarium features a renewed original chamfered skylight. Terracotta found in the ceilings and column capitals, bearing layers of details, have been left exposed.

A Dated Campus Treasure becomes a Center of Student Life

Mayo Hall is one of the most historic and beloved buildings on the California State University Maritime Academy (Cal Maritime) campus. It was constructed in 1945 as the Memorial Gymnasium to honor World War II’s fallen cadets. Before the renovation of Mayo Hall, cadets lacked ample spaces in which to hang out, socialize, collaborate, or simply unwind on this land-locked campus. The completion of Mayo Hall represents a pivotal moment in the campus’s evolution, offering invaluable college experiences and fostering a sense of belonging. The project retains the historic fabric of the existing structure while creating a new campus center for student life and services. The program includes lounge, study, meeting, leadership, and student services spaces—ample spots for cadets to make their own.

The project required a highly calibrated approach to meet carbon and energy goals while complying with the requirements of the Secretary of Interior’s Standards for Historic Rehabilitation and the State Historic Preservation Office. Key elements needed to remain intact, from window patterning and materiality to large-scale structural components. Likewise, technical intervention was required to make the building safe, energy-efficient, and comfortable.

After running a performance model, the design team determined that there was sufficient thermal mass in the existing concrete and brick walls to avoid additional insulation while meeting energy efficiency and waste reduction objectives. Approximately 80% of the interior finishes are composed of the existing concrete and wood structure. Likewise, the existing exposed wood deck was preserved in its original state and structurally insulated panels were added on top of the existing gabled roof deck to preserve the interior character of the exposed wood, providing an upgraded structural diaphragm and thermal insulation where it was most needed. 87% of construction and demolition waste was diverted from landfills.

The exterior of the building was modernized while retaining the building’s traditional Colonial Revival architectural style with red brick cladding, painted wood windows, and pitched roofs. A rebuilt roof features ridge vents, operable clerestory windows, and high-performance glazing to enhance natural ventilation, solar control, and reduce glare, contributing to an anticipated energy cost savings of 86.5%. New windows installed below the sill height of the existing windows (previously too high to look through) flood the interiors with natural light and offer views of the San Francisco Bay. This design allows the historic character of the original building to maintain its presence and integrity while providing a transition into the modern era.

A Culture of Wellbeing at a Campus Crossroads

Currently under construction, the new Frist Health Center will help the University advance a culture of health and well-being on the Princeton campus.

The project includes both new construction and the adaptive reuse of a former laboratory building constructed in 1924, Eno Hall. Through the adaptive reuse of Eno Hall, the Frist Health Center integrates with the campus’s architectural legacy while extending two modern wings along key pedestrian routes.

The heart of the Frist Health Center is an atrium. As the building’s main point of entry, accessible from three different sides, the atrium welcomes the campus community with a gracious lounge and informal social space. The interior of this triple-height space is distinguished by the former façade of Eno Hall, a Victorian Gothic building. The brick combines with the new mass timber construction to create a rich and warm material palette, imbuing the Frist Health Center with a residential feel.

Reuse of Eno Hall is part of a broader sustainability strategy to help Princeton University meet their goal for net-zero carbon emissions by 2046. Additional design strategies include a geothermal heating and cooling system, mass-timber framing, green roofs, and native plantings for storm water retention.

While we celebrate being named a Fast Company World’s Most Innovative Company, we’re particularly proud to be doing our small part to help address the climate crisis. We hope that our achievements, and those of our peers, raise the bar on what is expected from a good architecture firm.