These building projects changed the face of Birmingham—the behind-the-scenes story


Williams Blackstock Architects
When Williams Blackstock Architects moved downtown in 2002, they were pioneers. Photo via Greg Hursley

For more than 25 years, Williams Blackstock Architects has been working to change the face of Birmingham. They’ve done this with historic preservation and adaptive reuse projects, new buildings and projects at UAB. We talked with Principal Architect Joel Blackstock to get the behind the scenes story.

1. Williams Blackstock Architects: Historic Renovation + Adaptive Reuse

The firm’s downtown work began with their investment in an adaptive reuse project downtown for their own office.

Once upon a time, the Rotary Trail was known as “the Cut.” It was a broken down concrete culvert full of trash, and nearby was a triple-x movie theater.

In 2002, Williams Blackstock Architects (WBA) took a chance on the area because they believed in Birmingham’s potential.

They renovated an old plumbing warehouse on First Avenue South and moved in. At that time, they partnered with the City of Birmingham to redo a block of sidewalk. New lighting, street trees, brick pavers and streetscaping sent a message. The goal of this project was to transform the neighborhood.  

Transform it, they did. That single project sparked developments from Pepper Place to Railroad Park. Now, so many architects have moved into the area that it has been dubbed “the Design District.”

Loads of older buildings have been fixed up, new ones have been built and “the Cut” is now Rotary Trail.

Over the years, WBA continued with many more adaptive reuse projects, bringing new life to once empty buildings.

  • Location: 2204 1st Ave S, #200, Birmingham, AL 35233

Other historic renovations and adaptive reuse projects that changed the face of Birmingham

  • Innovation Depot
  • The interior of Innovation Depot
  • Federal Reserve
  • Federal Reserve interior
  • rendering for the redone Greyhound Station
  • The inside of Bayer Properties
  • Retail Specialists at 2200 Magnolia Ave
  • Lewis Communications

For a more in-depth look at historic renovation and adaptive reuse projects, check out this piece we did on event venues, including Dread River and The Florentine, and this one on the remodel of the old Greyhound station.

2. Concord Center: New Buildings

Williams Blackstock Architects’ work also includes many new building designs that have changed the face of downtown Birmingham.

The Concord Center, which opened in 2002, was one such new building. Built on the site of the historic Jefferson County Courthouse, it was the first high-rise office tower built downtown in 14 years.

It took the place of what was an empty parking lot since the Courthouse was torn down in 1937, reestablishing a presence on this important corner of the city.

The Concord Center took its name from the public-private concordance between the city of Birmingham, the developers and the YMCA which made the project possible.

This high rise office tower, built on an empty street corner, dramatically revitalized the streetscape in downtown Birmingham.

  • Location: 2100 3rd Ave N, Birmingham, AL 35203

Other new buildings that changed the face of Birmingham

  • Children's of Alabama Lee Building
  • Bham News inside
  • Birmingham Parking Deck #3

3. The UAB Rec Center helped change the face of Birmingham

UAB Rec Center, Williams Blackstock Architects
Talk about a unique profile. Photo via Rion Rizzo

WBA’s work has also changed the face of Birmingham on the UAB campus. 

For years, much of UAB’s campus was mainly composed of rectangular red brick box-like buildings.

In 2005, UAB’s new Campus Recreation Center opened, bringing a new look and feel to the campus’ main drag: University Boulevard.

This was one of the first buildings on campus where the design opens up the inside of the building exterior. You can see a the interior functions of the building (like fitness equipment) from the outside. And, the second-floor running track extends outside of the building.

Many of the new buildings at UAB incorporate glass and open up to the campus outside. This brings more vitality to the campus and helped transition UAB from a commuter campus to a pedestrian-oriented campus with sidewalks, plazas and green space.  

“With the new designs, it’s like we took a can opener to the brick boxes and opened them up to the campus and to University Boulevard,” said Blackstock.

Later, WBA worked on the Comprehensive Cancer Center (2013), the School of Nursing (2018) and the School of Business (2018).

Taken together, these buildings provide a new, dynamic face to UAB.

  • Location: 1501 University Blvd, Birmingham, AL 35233

Other UAB projects that changed the face of Birmingham

  • Collat School of Business
  • Staircase at Collat School of Business
  • UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center

These three and more have helped change the face of Birmingham, bringing The Magic City of the past into a new and brighter future.

Are you as excited about all these buildings as we are? Follow Williams Blackstock Architecture on their website, on Facebook or Instagram.

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Sharron Swain
Writer, Interviewer + Adventurer | Telling stories to make a difference
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