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  • Writer's pictureGM Shay

Our Design Narrative

At GMShay, we love making good (sometimes great) buildings and places. But in a world-class city like Savannah, just being good is not enough. Our creations here must be better than the work we see from design firms from other cities that are competent, and at times imaginative.

One way that we do better stems from our commitment to what we think of as “ensemble architecture”—creating buildings and places that are not only beautiful in their own way, but also help make their surroundings look better. We learn from our surroundings, then try to give back more than we take. In this way, we make buildings that people enjoy both as new spaces and as an improvement to a city with a long and distinctive history and heritage.

Another way we approach design begins with a narrative. Our successful designs always have a story to tell. They also have a backstory that reveals itself as the story is told, and a secret that inspires what Lou Kahn called “a sense of wonder.”

An example of this would be The Florence, a restaurant we helped Hugh Acheson create at One West Victory. The mostly repurposed, rehabilitated and recycled building and space reveals a wonderful story. By keeping the character of the old industrial building, and reusing elements that would otherwise have been demolished, the restaurant has both an authentic and deconstructed feel that fits perfectly with the way this world-class chef presents his cuisine.

The backstory often told by the staff and patrons of the Florence is that this was Savannah’s first commercial ice factory (one of the first in the world, actually). The thick, heavy plank floors insulated the ice from melting, and the huge hoist beams upstairs were used to lift giant blocks of manufactured ice onto wagons for delivery.

During demolition, great lengths were taken to preserve the old floor scales that weighed the ice once sold in tons. To this day air conditioning is still measured in “tons” of capacity, and another word for a refrigerator is an “ice box.” The old scales are prominently displayed, but have no interpretive signage. They intentionally make one wonder: “why are those old scales here?” and “why does this place seem so fitting?”  It is a secret.

In upcoming installments of this blog, we will reveal more of our process for creating narrative in our designs. Like our best work, it is an interesting story…


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