SMBW was born of a conviction that a firm offering progressive design coupled with a sound strategic approach to client service and technical execution could become established and thrive in the economic turbulence of the 1990s. On May 28, 1991 founding partners Will Scribner, Becky Messer, Shelli Brady and Bland Wade shook hands in booth 7 at Perley’s Restaurant. The practice opened for business on July 1, working out of a small carriage house in Richmond’s Northside. In the intervening years SMBW has grown from a four-person can-do practice to one of the Mid Atlantic’s signature design firms.
In the first month of business SMBW was awarded a 200,000 square foot, nine story urban office building. This was followed by the Mortgage Headquarters for what is now SunTrust Bank, and the expansion of the Greater Richmond Convention Center, performed in association with TVS Design of Atlanta. Concurrently we were executing research buildings at the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center and the University of Virginia Research Park at North Fork.
In our early work for developers we learned how to build well and build efficiently. In our later work for institutions we married those lessons in strategic pragmatism with the design inspiration inherent in projects for some of Virginia’s largest municipalities, storied universities, and prominent cultural institutions.
We believe that there exists a reciprocal obligation between practice and academia to constitute the two halves of a continuum of learning. This belief has led us to engage closely with the prominent design schools in the southeast. We have offered externships, internships and fellowships and served as guest lecturers, jurors, and adjunct faculty at institutions such as Virginia Tech, the University of Virginia, Auburn and Virginia Commonwealth University.
Today the SMBW staff, led by current Principals Spencer Grice, Fred Hopkins, Tamara Van Meter, and Louis Wolf, continues to produce excellent regionally-informed modernist design for remarkable clients. We are privileged to consistently work with what we term “clients with a cause.” In 2010 we opened the new gallery wing for the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, the Cherry Avenue Branch for the Charlottesville/Albemarle Boys and Girls Club, and a small medical clinic for a non-profit agency now serving those who used to be among the middle class. Each of the commissions is equally important to us in that they speak to our aspirations as individuals and as a society – to inspire and be inspired by those ideas and institutions that nourish the human spirit.