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Function after form: from old auto repair to live/work space

Two decades ago, architects David Yocum and Brian Bell were new to Atlanta and looking for an abandoned building that they could “reimagine”. They found their opportunity in a crumbling former auto repair shop. Yocum bought it for $40,000 and spent the next three years working nights and weekends to make it into a home for himself and his wife.

Most of the roof had already collapsed so Yocum removed what remained over the front half of the building and created an open courtyard. Since the remaining building had no windows, to add light, he installed a wall of glass doors for the front and skylights. To insure that the back of the building- at the time the bedroom and living room- wouldn’t be too dark, he didn’t build any solid walls inside the structure. Instead the rooms in the middle of the space- the kitchen, mechanical room and bathroom- have “slivers” for walls to filter light from the front to the back.

“If we had solid walls and no skylights it would be quite oppressive,” explains Yocum. “So if you imagine the idea of a skylight where you’re cutting a hole to the sky, the same attitude was taken with these walls. Instead of having solid walls we would have just a series of small slivers.”

Yocum and Bell began their architecture practice (BLDGS) in the front of the building, but eventually, both the firm and Yocum’s wife wanted more space, so the couple moved out and today the entire space is an office.

The exterior of the building still retains the abandoned look, mostly due to the sealed-shut windows, and the architects like keeping it anonymous. “It’s in the heart of the city, but it’s also a bit of an oasis”.

Inside, now that the courtyard is exposed to the elements, the walls change with the years: paints falls off, the metal windows develop more and more patina. For Yocum and Bell, this aging is a beautiful thing.

“Beauty can be found in a lot of places,” explains Yocum who thinks the reimagining of buildings can be done more often. “It’s no different from a city that’s been around for 600 years, is that you find ways to reuse structures and you discover what you can and you turn it into something new. It’s a very natural approach to things. I think what’s interesting is that it can lead to unexpected situations. ”