Urban Hip on Tap
Hands-on design and fabrication is a specialty of the BILT in Alabama team who transformed the Good People Brewing taproom into a marquee example of the urban-reclaimed look.
The remodeled Good People Brewing Co. in Birmingham, including its jazzy new sign out front, is the handiwork of Justin Brown, R.A., and Matthew Finley, owners of the Birmingham architecture and specialty fabrication firm BILT in Alabama.
Design Alabama recently recognized Brown and Finley for their efforts in transforming the brewery’s taproom and adjacent areas during the past few years. Several other small projects at the brewery complex are in the works, but the BILT-led design update is 95 percent complete, Brown says.
The Good People makeover uses a combination of contemporary urban design features, including reclaimed wood and metal. The new bar, for example, is made from steel dunnage from the Mercedes-Benz plant in Vance. “We were fortunate to come across a good source for that,” Finley says.
Using recycled materials has been a hot trend in the past five or six years, Brown says. “We really began noticing the combination of rustic and contemporary four or five years ago, as the slow food movement started growing in popularity across the country,” he says. “Using reclaimed materials is a great way to soften an industrial look, and you’re seeing it from coast to coast.”
The urban-reclaimed look got started mainly in large cities where warehouses and other industrial buildings were being converted for use in retail, entertainment and housing, Brown says. Using recycled construction materials was an economical choice, but the aesthetic has grown so popular that new construction now mimics the urban-reclaimed look, he says.
Birmingham, which is going through an architectural rebirth downtown, with billions of dollars of construction and renovation, is manifesting its fair share of the trend. The urban-reclaimed look is even popular in small town Alabama, where numerous historic downtowns and warehouse areas are being creatively renovated and modernized. “The look is definitely part of our culture now,” Brown says. “It won’t stay popular forever, of course, but it will likely be with us for some time to come.”
The Good People taproom originally opened in August 2011 across the street from what would become Regions Field, home of the Birmingham Barons. For the taproom remodel, which began in 2013, BILT had the Good People building completely gutted, except for the brewery. As part of the makeover, BILT manufactured the steel windows, doors and other aspects of the Good People facility’s detailing. “We were hoping to finish the remodeling of the taproom for the opening of Regions Field, but didn’t quite make it,” Finley says. “Since then, we have done a lot of additional work.”
Work has been ongoing in part because numerous changes to beer law have allowed Good People to expand its offerings to customers. There is now an area for take-away beer sales, for example, and the complex also now includes a front and side patio.
The new Good People signage, which BILT fabricated, was erected this past July 3, just in time for July 4th celebrations. The design of the sign could be called a modern take on a vintage movie marquee. The sign’s graphic lettering beams with neon-like intensity at night. “We were a little nervous about the change, because of Good People’s high-profile location across from the stadium, but it’s worked out well,” Finley says.
Future upgrades for Good People, including the possibility of creating a beer garden and changes to the brewery itself, are being discussed, Brown says. “They are always looking for ways to create spaces that better serves their customers,” he says.
BILT’s office is located one block behind Good People, which has made their work at the brewery convenient, Brown says, but the proximity is coincidental rather than planned. “We do a lot of work downtown, so it makes sense to be located here,” he says.
Brown and Finley started their firm three years ago, working on the Avondale Brewing Co. The two had previously worked on several projects together, including the We Talk Dog canine boarding and training facility in Irondale, while Brown was with Brown and Green and Finley with Green Bottle Workshop. The two enjoyed collaborating. “At a certain point it just made sense for us to join forces,” Finley says.
Both hands-on creators contribute to both design and fabrication, but Brown, who is a registered architect, generally takes the lead in architecture, and Finley in his stronger suit: fabrication.
The two find a synergy in bringing together their skills working on site. “It’s great to be hands on with a project and have the ability to design on the fly, with the owner’s approval of course, when we encounter unexpected challenges,” Brown says.
Such has been the case a number of times with the Good People project, when the two have uncovered unknown and unforeseen structural and other infrastructure obstacles that necessitated changes to the original design. “The Good People folks have been great to work with us and allow us to create solutions right there on the job site,” Finley says.
As construction and architecture move toward a more design-build partnership and as urban and reclaimed material trends continue, the BILT partners believe they will stay busy in the years to come. Their ability to manufacture distinctive design details gives them an edge. “Our clients don’t always choose us for the fabrication, but they often do,” Finley says.
Brown and Finley work on a number of projects incorporating different design styles and don’t always incorporate reclaimed products. They commonly employ three other contract architecture and fabrication professionals to help them with their projects. “We want to stay versatile, and sometimes a different approach is what a specific project needs,” Brown says. “You don’t want to pigeonhole yourself and limit the kinds of work you are able to do.”
The BILT group is currently working on a new townhouse project on Morris Avenue in downtown Birmingham. “Downtown Birmingham is going through an exciting period of renovation and new construction,” Brown says. “There’s a lot of great building stock from years gone by and more of it is being repurposed for modern uses. We are constantly amazed at all the changes we are seeing to downtown on a weekly basis.”
Kathy Hagood and Cary Norton are freelance contributors to Business Alabama. She is based in Homewood and he in Birmingham.