Pensacola architect Brian Spencer Fuses Architecture and Urbanism
Old Blocks & New DigsPensacola architect Brian Spencer fuses architecture and urbanismBy Maggie Kelly
After a decade of hurricanes, the city of Pensacola, like many cities along the Gulf Coast, has seen its share of urban renewal, upheaval and a few return trips to the drawing board. For Brian Spencer, founder and architect at Spencer Maxwell Bullock Architects, the redevelopment of the downtown core is part of an evolving vision that takes one step back to honor history and three steps forward to introduce people back into the urban landscape.
“I’ve been accused of being a downtown social engineer,” Spencer laughs. “My vision is to zone for and build more mixed-use space while creating uninterrupted pedestrian paths that lead you from one great public area to another.”
His vision also stretches into the realm of suburbia.
“Imagine a one-car family, living in a well-designed community where teachers are within walking distance from schools and parents interact more because their commuting time is diminished,” Spencer says.
Spencer grew up in Pensacola and now lives with his wife, attorney Crystal Spencer, in their beautifully refurbished, historic downtown building, just steps from his office, favorite restaurant and City Hall.
“I feel an architect cannot possibly achieve their potential without getting involved in local government,” he says. “Any aesthetic issue that affects the public realm can never be considered too small.”
Spencer has a reputation for being very involved in city planning issues. As an advocate for Pensacola’s downtown, he has been known to sprint to City Hall on a moment’s notice to voice his opinion.
“Brian is passionate about the revitalization and redevelopment of the downtown core and is an extremely talented architect,” says Pensacola Mayor Mike Wiggins. “Sometimes we agree on issues; sometimes we don’t. But Brian always has the improvement of the city and downtown at heart. If there is an issue under debate, you can be sure Brian is going to get on the phone. He is a valuable community activist with the best intentions of the city at the heart of everything he does.”
Spencer readily admits that his vision may not be achieved in his lifetime.
“Good urban planning is based on layers of generations’ ideas, as well as the use of space by the previous stakeholders,” he says. “I’m drawn to the eyesores and the neglected cornerstone buildings because they speak to an unrealized potential for the future. They are, for me, diamonds in the rough.”
The recently opened Baylen Lofts project designed by Spencer Maxwell Bullock incorporates five open-concept town homes contained in the old Bill Thompson Office Equipment building. Spencer retained the original metal and wooden support systems while incorporating larger windows, essential storage spaces and privacy features that would entice a contemporary urban resident.
“I am more about adaptive reuse rather than historic preservation,” he says. “However, successful reoccupation of older buildings requires restraint. Wherever original elements can be preserved, they should be.”
As a young man, Spencer enjoyed being outdoors, painting wildlife, swimming and fishing.
Each morning at 5:30 a.m., when most of Pensacola is still sleeping, Spencer is out with his running group on another leg of its 50-mile training run.
“The Bayou shoreline offers great topography for running,” he says. “It’s where I do my thinking and where I bounce ideas off of my running partners.”
An avid marathon runner, Spencer’s annual treks through cities such as New York and Boston have undoubtedly had an effect on his craft.
“Running on those streets, you can feel the history and the architecture coming together,” he says. “It’s inspiring.”