Set in Stoneware

Set in Stoneware

Two hundred years ago, a pottery company in Kentucky helped settle the American frontier. Louisville Stoneware owner Steve Smith likens his company’s products to early Tupperware that kept food safe in the untamed country—Louisville was the last civilized stop-off on many journeys West.

But how does an early 19th-century stoneware operation stay relevant in the 21st century when the majority of its competition is made overseas at a fraction of the cost? Smith enlisted a team of architects, planners, and landscape architects led by Los Angeles– and New York–based architecture firm wHY to find out.

“All together a year ago, our team did a charrette with Louisville Stoneware to explore ideas,” noted wHY principal Kulapat Yantrasast. “Of course we focused on Stoneware, but the goal is the rejuvenation of an entire area—the Paristown Pointe neighborhood. With the master plan that we have, we can offer connections to the larger area.”

Smith, Yantrasast, and their team are remaking an entire neighborhood to save a single pottery company. At around 50 acres, Paristown Pointe is one of the city’s smallest neighborhoods and comes with major site planning challenges. The triangular area is hemmed in by a channelized creek, elevated rail line, and steep topography. The creek historically spills its banks, inundating the low-lying area.

“It is a joint, or a knuckle, between the downtown grid and the grid that becomes the Highlands, [Louisville’s most walkable neighborhood],” said Charles Cash, principal at Urban 1 and former Louisville city planner. “It’s always been a secluded enclave, and this gives [the neighborhood] a chance to be a front door for the community.” Because it has been forgotten to history, the area is primed for wHY to give it a distinctly new image.

The cultural district is anchored by a performing arts center, a brewery-restaurant, and Smith’s stoneware company. Those three businesses define two blocks along a redesigned Brent Street, which will become a shared street that doubles as a gathering space during special events.

In late November the $28 million project was awarded preliminary approval for up to $7.2 million in state tourism tax credits to help fund the district.

Before wHY could begin planning individual components, the team first had to address complex site issues. “We had to really look at green infrastructure and decide how we’re handling all of the stormwater,” said Kristin Booker, principal at landscape firm Booker Design Collaborative. “Because we’re doing the three developments at the same time, we can think about those elements as a comprehensive system.”

A terraced landscape and berms form a bowl around Brent Street to define public spaces and guard against floodwaters. Bioswales and pervious paving help keep stormwater on site.

At Stoneware, Yantrasast is adapting several buildings dating to the 1870s to streamline the pottery factory and visitor experience. “We really wanted to make it into a place that visitors can enjoy,” he said. “We moved some of the logistics of the factory to create places people can go to see how the stoneware is made.”

wHY’s renderings show a green wall marking the complex’s new entrance formed by glazing a void between two buildings. An occupiable rooftop plinth connecting old and new unites the factory.

Tying into the industrial heritage of the area, the 50,000-square-foot brewery shoulders up to the freight rail viaduct. “There will be a real factory aspect to that area,” Yantrasast said. The production facility will be capable of brewing 60,000 barrels of beer annually alongside its gastropub and rooftop bar.

The district’s signature building is the theater, to be operated by the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts. “It’s a 2,000-person, standing-room-only space for 21 to 35 year olds,” Smith said, reiterating his desire to widen the audience exposed to Louisville Stoneware. Yantrasast arranged the black-box space with a mezzanine surrounding a multipurpose stage. “You can do everything from a symphony orchestra to a rock band to a variety of other events there,” he said.

Yantrasast isn’t just designing Smith’s cultural hub, he’s also helping to give the stoneware a modern look, serving as the company’s creative director. “We’re working with Kulapat and wHY on upgraded designs,” Smith said. “We need new creativity; we need to create the next look and feel. Some people love it, but we don’t get a lot of young people walking in the door right now and that’s what we need.”