Photo by Tracy Certo.

After a decade of consideration, several years of planning and more than 18 months of construction, Desmone Architects‘ expansion of their historic Lawrenceville offices will wrap up this month.

Or at least, the staff will be moving in.

“Furniture will be delivered April 22nd,” says Chip Desmone, CEO of Desmone Architects.

“I don’t know if the project will be done by then,” he adds with a laugh. “But we’re going in April 22nd.” 

Their current office at Doughboy Square is housed in the striking 1902 Pennsylvania National Bank Building. The $6.7 million adjacent expansion will add 24,875 square feet to the firm’s current 8,200-square-foot space. The Urban Redevelopment Authority, which assisted in the initial redevelopment of the bank in the mid-1990s, provided support for the project.

The front entrance of the historic offices. The addition is located behind this building. Courtesy of Desmone Architects.

The new building will have three floors, with 18 underground parking spaces, a second-floor expanded studio, and a third level for an office tenant, which the company has yet to nail down.

“We love Lawrenceville. It’s become a great place to actually be and work,” says Desmone. “We can keep growing with the neighborhood.”

As part of the expansion, the firm recently shuffled it’s leadership, elevating Chip Desmone to CEO and installing Eric Booth as the new president.

When the company first came to Lawrenceville in 1993, they had a staff of five. Today, they have nearly 50 employees. As early as 2000, they were already discussing the need for more space to keep up with growth.

Desmone says the group was lucky to be in the middle of a newly booming section of town. “In the past 10 years, it really has transformed into a great place for our company to keep growing,” he says. Along the way, “the projects we do have grown in scope and scale.” 

Terrence Oden, the lead designer for the project and a long-time Desmone associate, says the materials used in the construction are meant to emphasize both the modern and classical aspects of the building.

While the new space is predominantly made of steel, glass and insulated metals, they also included brick accents along the base and top of the building.

“We were very particular to use Roman brick,” explains Oden. “It pays homage to the original historic building.”

Courtesy of Desmone Architects.

The new building will be the first in the city designed according to the silver standard of the International WELL Building Institute, which focuses on procedures and systems emphasizing the holistic health of employees.

To meet the standard, the in-house designers and their partners in the construction firm Jendoco added amenities such as floor-to-ceiling bay windows and a covered atrium to bring natural light into the studio and wider stairs to encourage cardio activity.

The company has also committed to stocking only healthy, low-sugar foods in their cafeteria, and booking hotels with fitness areas when staff travels.

“It’s about how people interact with the building, the food they eat, the water they consume, the air they breathe,” says Desmone. “It’s a way to maximize the best elements of everything you have to experience during the workday.”

The ethos is summed up in a famous quote from Winston Churchill etched into the stone above the new studio: “We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.”

And the bold choices don’t stop indoors.

The east side of the building features a mural of the silhouetted Doughboy soldier monument, which stands in front of the historic Desmone building. The art piece is designed to be most striking during sunrise to catch the attention of commuters.

“It continues and reinforces the Doughboy development area as the gateway into Lawrenceville,” says Oden.

The Doughboy mural on the rear of the new addition. Photo by TH Carlisle.

Desmone Architects, which also maintains a small office in Morgantown, West Virginia, takes on interior residential design and commercial work. Notable projects they’ve completed locally in recent years include the Alloy26 coworking space, the Carrick Dairy District pavilion and the renovation of The Andy Warhol Museum’s first-floor entrance, performance space and gift shop.

Going forward, the company will tackle a range of projects from their refurbished headquarters, including a new job training facility for the Community College of Allegheny County.

But Desmone is most animated when discussing the company’s work on a project not far from their expanding headquarters: turning the previously vacant Washington Education Center on 40th Street into a new location for TRYP Hotels, a boutique chain with 118 locations worldwide.

“That’s a transformational project for Lawrenceville,” he says. “Once you have the bandwidth to attract an international hotel chain like TRYP, that’s a sign that the neighborhood has really come a long way.”

Bill O'Toole was a full-time reporter for NEXTpittsburgh until October, 2019. He previously reported in Myanmar.