Spirit and Heart
David Walker, the vice president of construction at Sodexo Energy and Resources and construction manager for the Echo project, met Allen through a partnership designing Claflin University’s Health and Wellness Center. Walker witnessed firsthand Allen’s ability to put the client’s needs and opinions above his own.
“Not every architect can do that,” Walker says. “Not every person can do that.”
As a result of that experience, Walker reached out to Allen for help on the Echo Theater.
“The first time [Allen] had lunch with Dr. Kennedy and myself, I could tell that the story behind the Echo Theater moved him,” says Walker. “He wore it on his face. At that moment, I knew he was the right guy for this project. Nothing more needed to be said.”
Many community-based design projects begin with a charette, a meeting of all parties involved. It is a time for the architects to listen and gain a clearer idea of the direction to take the project. Allen led a design charette in the early stages of the Echo project. He asked the group to go around the room and describe the building and the project in one word.
“Hate, retribution, diversity — all these words start popping out,” Allen says. “You start to see how collectively these words really help the beginning of the design process. What feeling do we want to start designing toward?”
Kennedy describes this meeting as an “incredible and precious moment.”
“[Allen] put all the ideas and concepts together, even the different types of philosophies coming from each of us,” Kennedy says. “He did an incredible job of creating an atmosphere that included us.”
The team is currently in the demolition phase of the project and is in the process of starting the schematic design phase. Allen’s job as principal design architect involves a lot of planning, budgeting, fundraising, scheduling and communicating with all the parties involved. He works especially hard to continuously communicate with Kennedy.
“Architecture can really define spaces, and the shop was just contributing to the culture of hate in the city,” Allen explains. “We don’t want to remove the thought of what this building was. We want to embrace it and change the narrative of it so that we can convert it into something positive.”
For Allen and his firm, the Echo Theater completely aligns with their values and mission. The project, he says, “represents this change that is happening in America, and this change symbolizes where America was, but also where we can go.”
Allen hopes the positivity that came about to produce the community center will be palpable as guests engage with the museum and use it for community activities.
“I’m really hoping and praying what it does is heal this hate from the past and help change the narrative of race relations in America,” Allen says. “When you turn the key and open the door, [I hope] that people really feel that we put a lot of spirit and heart into it.”