Center of Developing Entrepreneurs

Architect: Wolf Ackerman, EskewDumezRipple

Owner: CSH Development

Location: Charlottesville, Va.

A new anchor for Charlottesville’s historic Main Street, the Center of Developing Entrepreneurs is a mixed-use development envisioned by a University of Virginia graduate seeking to give back to the community. The building offers the city a new public plaza and a place for locally grown information technology and clean energy innovations to blossom into new businesses rather than relocate outside the region.

The project’s developer grew up in Virginia’s countryside and became enamored with Charlottesville and the sense of connection its walkable community offered during his time at the university. Though he understood why, he was disappointed that many of the university’s talented graduates migrated to places like New York or the Bay Area to realize their visions for startups. This project, which hinges on Charlottesville’s vitality, marries the walkable nature of cities like New York with affordability and a connection to nature.

By siting the project at the end of Main Street, a beloved and vibrant pedestrian mall, the team reinforced the client’s infatuation with the city. To do so, however, the team needed to negotiate the project’s necessary scale and context. The building’s massing is stair-stepped, lowest where it meets the mall, spiraling upward to adhere to the context of nearby Water Street. Through this approach, the team created a cascade of terraces and green roofs that host an array of native plantings and insects while offering sweeping views of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains.

The center’s envelope design was inspired by the brick cladding and punched window openings of the historic buildings that surround it but with a modern rainscreen that offers high levels of insulation and thermal performance. The facade’s rigor, expressed through repetitive patterns, also ensures consistency throughout the building’s interior tenant spaces. At the ground level, the building’s bricks are replaced with a glazed first story , revealing views of the activity inside while enlivening the street. The interior plaza also connects Main and Water streets, allowing additional retail space to be integrated into the mall.

Inside, a variety of spaces supports a bustling community of entrepreneurs, inventors, and artists. The first two floors offer coworking spaces in the form of hot desks, bookable conference rooms, and extensive amenities that aim to provide small businesses with the resources they need to flourish. An auditorium intended for community presentations also occupies the second floor, while the upper floors contain a range of private offices.

A potent combination of desirability and practicality, the center represents a new vision for work spaces. Since opening, it has been a center of activity, with tenants regularly trading ideas over coffee in the open-concept coworking space. The auditorium regularly hosts events, drawing members of the community to listen to speakers or watch films.

Additional information

Architect-of-Record: Wolf Ackerman

Associate Architect: EskewDumezRipple

Engineer - MEP: 2RW

Engineer - Structural: Fox & Associates

Engineer - Civil: Timmons Group

Landscape Architecture: Gregg Bleam Landscape Architects


Soil Consultant: Pine & Swallow

Irrigation Consultant: Guy Boulahdou

Horticulture: Patric Cullina Horticultural Design + Consulting

Lighting Design: David Tozer Lighting Design (DKT Lighting)

AV/IT/Security: NV5

General Contractor: Hourigan Group


Ashley Wilson, FAIA, Chair, Ashley Wilson Architect, Alexandria, Va.

Jose Leo Arango, Assoc. AIA, EYP, District of Columbia

Randall Deutsch, FAIA, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign School of Architecture, Champaign, Ill.

Gabriel Ignacio Dziekiewicz, AIA, DesignBridge, Chicago

Teresa Jan, AIA, Multistudio, San Francisco

Luis Nieves-Ruiz, East Central Florida, Regional Planning Council, Orlando, Fla.

Zakiya Wiggins, AIA, LS3P, Raleigh, N.C.

Image credits

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Alan Karchmer

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Alan Karchmer

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Alan Karchmer

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Alan Karchmer

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Alan Karchmer