By Haley Miller
There were a few items on the must-have list that Context Design, a landscape architecture firm, was searching for in a new home: Open space inside the office, a tight-knit surrounding community and unique architectural elements such as exposed brick or tin ceilings.
First and foremost, Context Design was looking for a space with authentic character.
“We wanted to have a story behind it,” Managing Principal Alyssa Prazeau said.
Fort Benjamin Harrison’s old army prison building, constructed in 1907, was a perfect match. After 21 years in Fortville, Context Design relocated to Lawton Loop in Lawrence on July 8.
The decision to move wasn’t made lightly. As a growing firm, Context Design wanted a building that would suit its expansion needs while maintaining the community-focused mission of the company.
“It was really (about) finding a smaller community where we could become involved, but also the architecture being very character-rich,” Prazeau said. “So, this became a really good fit for both of those things, in terms of getting involved with the neighbors and the community. And the history of the area is pretty amazing.”
Prazeau said the design team restored the historic building to its origina layout but injected a “modern twist” by opening the floor plan. They took out the drop ceiling – the conventional grid ceiling that is used in many office spaces – and left the original tin ceiling in its place. They also preserved two jail cells on the lower level in deference to the building’s history.
As the former home of an insurance agency, the office contained many closed spaces. Context Design wanted the opposite effect to create a feeling of openness.
“With design, you want to collaborate and work together and have a lot of visuals with other people and interesting things to look at while you’re working,” Prazeau said.
Since its founding in 1998, Context Design has completed 1,366 projects, from urban streetscapes to playgrounds to apartment rooftops. The team wants to continue growing while maintaining its relationship-based model. With the new building, Prazeau said the firm can do just that.
“It’s definitely a space that the company can grow into,” Prazeau said. “We have a lot more spaces for meetings and collaboration and storage of the materials that we want to have on hand to make design decisions.”
Already, Prazeau noted, the Lawton Loop community has been welcoming. Residents and neighboring businesses were “amazing” in their expressions of support when Context Design moved in.
“I think the tranquility of (Lawton Loop) is very alluring to me,” Prazeau said. “It’s just very peaceful. If you’re having a tough day, you can just step out there and sit in the rocking chair for a few minutes, and you just feel better.”