2WR+Partners • Architects & Designers • Projects with Purpose

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014

In 2001, Sam Andras, Scott Allen and Michael Starr opened a Georgia office as a branch of a Montgomery, Ala.-based architectural firm, 2WR Architects, Inc.  In 2010, Andras, Allen, and Starr bought the Georgia office and restructured to a Georgia based corporation as 2WR of Georgia Inc.  In 2012 the trio opened a second location in Denver, Colorado as 2WR of Colorado, Inc.  The firm is branded under the umbrella of 2WR+Partners. Despite playing off of the original firm’s name, a brand they had developed locally, 2WR no longer has ties to the original Alabama firm.

The three Senior Principals of the company are Andras, Allen, and Starr. There is also a junior partner in Columbus, Bradley “Lee” Martin and an equal partner, Geoff McKinney, in Denver. “We all came from different walks of life and different areas of the country,” said Andras. “In early 2001 the three of us met and talked about what we wanted to accomplish as an architectural firm.” The discussion began with goals and vision. “It all came together that it all focused around producing projects of purpose,” said Andras. “It wasn’t about us, it was about our clients. What was about us was more about commitment and dedication, not just to our own firm but to our profession.” The commitment and dedication to their clients was to provide projects that met their expectations, goals, needs, and budgets. “We talked early on that it would be accomplished by doing whatever it took to make it happen,” said Andras. “That became a slogan for us, ‘Whatever it takes.’”

Andras and Starr first met in 1995, while working together in Tallahassee, Fla. “Later, when I was given the opportunity to open this office, I called Michael and asked him if he wanted to be a part of it.” About that same time, Andras met Allen who was working as a lead designer at Stanley Beaman & Sears Architects in Atlanta. Allen has a Bachelor in Interior Design from Auburn University and a Master of Architecture from North Carolina State University. Starr is a graduate of Tulane University with a Master of Architecture, and Andras holds a Bachelor of Architecture from Florida A&M. 

The team soon came to recognize that each member had his unique strengths. “Scott brought exceptional interiors and design capabilities, which brought the aesthetic quality and the understanding of space and how space plays into the overall environment,” explained Andras. “He has a unique ability to understand clients’ thoughts and ideas and aesthetically transform them to build environment. Michael brings the understanding of materials and methods and how those things interface to create a building that is cost-effective, low-maintenance, and a solid, durable, long-term facility – something that, when you turn it over to the owner, it’s not just within their budget at the beginning, but over the life of the building operations and maintenance costs are within planned parameters without the burden of unwanted surprises.” As for Andras, he said his strength comes from his construction background, having grown up in a family of general contractors. “I bring the ability to look at very complicated plans and come up with feasible approaches to constructability, as well as controlling costs,” he said. “We are kind of a three-legged stool – each partner brings something unique to every project.”

2WR places a strong emphasis in environmental sustainability in the site, construction, and ongoing maintenance requirements of the structures they design. Their standard is the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system. The LEED system awards certifications for environmental sustainability at a number of levels, including Platinum, Gold, Silver, and Bronze.

The designations are awarded by professionals who have become LEED Accredited inspectors in various building disciplines. Buildings seeking LEED certification are submitted to the Green Build Council for environmental certification. “The City of Columbus, Ga., has made a major commitment to sustainable buildings and has decided that most buildings should be developed to at least the minimum LEED Silver level,” said Andras. “The school system is also striving to develop buildings to LEED Silver.”

Andras said his firm believes that even if the client is not looking to build a structure that will be certified at some level of LEED, as architects and designers, it is their professional responsibility to be good stewards of the environment. “The principles of LEED influence every building we design, beginning with site orientation and site use of the facility,” said Andras.

Many small communities have yet to “follow the LEED,” according to Andras. One reason may be that small towns and county seats have courthouses and city halls on the National Register of Historic Places, and were built long before anyone even knew or cared about environmental sustainability. Andras said LEED has an entire rating system for renovations, including historic buildings. Andras said his firm would work with any client who wanted to do new construction, renovation/retrofit, or historic preservation to ensure a desired level of LEED certification. “One of the things communities should think about is how important it is for them to be good stewards of the environment,” said Andras. Within the firm, McKinney, Starr, and Martin are all LEED Accredited Professionals.

What defines a successful project for 2WR? “For us, a successful project is one that we have completed on time, within budget, and along the way, we managed to exceed the client’s expectations in the service we’ve provided,” said Andras. “It means we have produced a facility that meets all of the goals, needs and functional requirements, and is done in a way that is aesthetically inspiring and contextually sensitive; it provides something not just for the client but for the community. Ultimately, it will be a building that will be, throughout the course of its usable life, durable and low maintenance.”  

When 2WR worked on the John P. Thayer YMCA in historic downtown Columbus, the client wanted a building that spoke of the growth and the future of the YMCA. However, being anchored in the historic district amid the classic brick-and-mortar of many generations ago, the façade had to blend consistently with the broader historic surroundings. The Thayer YMCA, is situated at the corner of Broadway (the most historic road in the downtown area) and 14th Street. One façade faces historic Broadway and an adjacent façade faces the ultramodern Total Systems campus. “We had the opportunity to make this two-faced building, playing off of the components of the historic architecture in a little more up-to-date way,” explained Andras. “Then, you turn the corner and it becomes this much more vibrant, alive, expression of the future of the YMCA.” Andras said the real success of the Thayer YMCA project was that, while the Y had recently completed a five-year strategic plan for growth, the first year’s growth after the building opened exceeded what had been projected for a five-year period. “It was a success, not only for the YMCA but for the City of Columbus,” said Andras. “It showed that the people of Columbus wanted more; they want a vibrant city with spaces that inspire.”

2WR+Partners was recently awarded a $10.5 million project for a 100-unit Marriott Courtyard in Loveland, Colorado. “It’s the new generation of Marriott Courtyard and we’re excited about it,” said Andras. “It’s going to be one of the first in the country.  Over the past year and a half we’ve completed nine hospitality renovations with eleven currently ongoing in Texas, Colorado, Indiana and California.  Most of the work in our Colorado office has been renovations thereby the new Marriott Courtyard puts an exclamation point on the positive growth.”  When asked what’s been key to the success of Colorado Andras says “The Colorado office is built on the same core values, the same mission, as Georgia.  Our clients recognize and appreciate the commitments we bring to every project.  Those commitments ensure the success of their projects which ensures the success of the firm.”