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Overcoming Obstacles: The Blacksburg Project

The Blacksburg project, spanning back to 2006 is in the final stages of approval. It’s taken nearly 12 years with countless revisions and staying ahead of competing design proposals to get here. Now it’s time to reflect.

We spent some time with one of the main designers on the project, Jeremy White (pictured left), to talk about this experience and how we can use the knowledge when working with other clients in cities with different regulations.

What challenges did you face while designing this project and how were they overcome?

The Old Blacksburg Middle School site is one of the most highly studied and politically driven sites in all of Blacksburg, VA. Given its proximity to both Virginia Tech and Downtown Blacksburg, Student Housing has always been part of the discussion as to what is the most appropriate architecture to live on the site. That, in conjunction with the Town and University heavy involvement in the entitlement/planning of the site, has led to some of the most significant challenges faced while working through the design process.

What has been key throughout the process is clear and concise communication between all parties involved. As simple as it sounds, clear communication, especially with as many moving parts as this project has, is by far the most important component to breed success.

“We have been very deliberate in serving the client, the Town and the University in this project from planning and budget to branding and market research,” says White.

Through this process, BSB Design has forged a relationship with all parties and is proving to be a great success story for multiple projects coming our way in the Blacksburg area!

Why has the plan taken so long to get approved?

Spanning a good portion of the past decade, the Old Blacksburg Middle School site has had a multitude of concepts pitched to the Town of Blacksburg; however, not until we decided to work closely with the client, Town, local business partners, and the University through various design workshops, land planning meetings, and zoning/architectural work sessions did the process begin making significant progress.

What are the key factors of this design that add value to the area?

Again, because of the close proximity to Downtown Blacksburg and the Virginia Tech campus, housing and on-site amenities were the main focus. The Town was very clear that this would be “one of the most important planning efforts in their tenure in Blacksburg” and that a sense of community for housing, shopping, and working would be needed…which immediately gave us a very clear directive and responsibility in ensuring that the site was planning in such a way to allow for all aspects of the community to co-exist.

What is the challenge when creating mixed-use, multifamily communities, and how are they overcome?

The most challenging aspect of developing a mixed-use community is just that…mixed. When designing and planning the site, it is very easy to start by allocating space for each separate program piece; however, this immediately creates a problem since mixed-use inherently wants a collage of uses to be truly successful in the long-run. That said, a good understanding of vehicular, pedestrian and biking circulation to, from and on the site was paramount to make sure access and usability were established.

Also, allowing for the appropriate separation of functions without segregation and isolation on the site was key. Knowing how the program components on the site work together was also one of the key factors, especially since the site is being designed for a hotel, library, retail/office building, police department, parking structure, brownstone townhouses, cluster townhouses, apartment flats with integrated parking, senior living apartments, duplexes, and a 5-acre public park!

BSB Design has a track record of being committed to our clients’ work and through to the final approval stage. More often than not in architecture, there are challenges within the site, city or existing design, and we are dedicated to putting our all into overcoming these challenges.