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New Architecture Firm Builds Sustainable Homes and Rehab Projects

As the Athens area and Northeast Georgia experience continued population growth and a building boom, a new partnership of Georgia architects is poised to take advantage of the growth and will bring a fresh, modern look to the region.

Lori Bork Newcomer, the founder of local firm Bork Design, joined forces with fellow architects Joseph Smith and Gabe Comstock to form Architectural Collaborative (Arcollab for short), a firm that will focus on sustainable, environmentally sensitive building design. The firm’s principals already have made significant additions to the area, including modern homes that nestle well into the local landscape of bungalows and ranch houses, and adaptive reuse projects such as the renovation of a dry cleaner at the corner of Prince Avenue and Barber Street to create the new home for Half Moon Outfitters.

Newcomer, Smith and Comstock worked together on Pulaski Exchange, adapting an old cotton mill just north of downtown into offices, condominiums and retail stores. (The project is currently in the contractor bidding phase.) The three principals enjoyed collaborating on the project so much that they formed the partnership, which was announced in early December.

“Early on in the process with Pulaski Exchange, I knew it would be a good fit,” Newcomer says. “When we were sketching ideas for the big entrance canopy and looking at contemporary forms and ideas, we were all sketching things together.”

Arcollab is focusing on such adaptive reuse projects, in which old, sometimes abandoned buildings are brought to new life. The firm is transforming a South Milledge house into a home for Alpha Phi, a sorority that started a chapter at UGA last fall, and turning an old livery stable into a new outpost for the Amici restaurant chain in Madison. It also will transform another stable in Monroe into a music hall and event space.   

A notable “green” project the firm designed is an Earthcraft-certified house on the Oconee River, which will feature cisterns to capture rainwater for toilet use and solar panels to power the home. Earthcraft certification, like LEED, recognizes resource efficiency in buildings in the Southeast, and is sponsored by Greater Atlanta Home Builders Association and Southface.

“We believe that sustainability is at the core of good design,” said Comstock, who, like Newcomer, is also a LEED certified professional.

Newcomer agreed. “We strive to create inspired spaces and structures that are strongly rooted in their sense of place and grow from their surrounding natural and built environment,” she said. “A return to thoughtful regional design is one of the best ways to address both environmental concerns and the proliferation of ubiquitous architecture.”

Newcomer has earned a reputation locally for her airy and comfortable modernist homes, mainly in the Boulevard/Pulaski area, where she has practiced since she moved to Athens from Connecticut in 2006. She designs open plans many homeowners are seeking now, in which kitchens blend easily with dining and living space to encourage easy communication. “Even though the spaces open up together, my goal is to make each space have its own character, often by changing ceiling height, to create a feeling of coziness in each space,” Newcomer said.

Julia Marlowe, who with her husband, Roger Swagler, hired Bork Design to design their new home on Pulaski Street, says their home is a “marvelously sculpted space” where “light is filtered in, brightening even cloudy days.”  

Smith was a founding partner of Hall Smith Office of Madison, where he specialized in commercial and residential historic preservation and adaptive reuse projects.  

Comstock, meanwhile, spent more than 12 years in Denver, where he co-founded EcoStudio, a Denver firm specializing in sustainable modern design. Earlier, he was a student participant in Auburn University’s Rural Studio, a hands-on educational experience where students build projects for the community. Comstock’s focus at the Rural Studio was to prove that low-cost, efficient structures could be produced from an industrial waste product. Comstock’s team built a student housing unit using bales of corrugated board clippings made of wax-impregnated cardboard, an industrial waste product that is difficult to recycle.  

Newcomer and Comstock have completed projects certified under LEED for Homes, the Southeast’s regional Earthcraft Program through Southface Energy Institute, and Energy Star. The LEED program is administered by the U.S. Green Building Council, which says on its website that it “provides a framework to create healthy, highly efficient and cost-saving green buildings.” These rigorous certifications give substance to the firm’s promise of bringing “green” architecture to the area.  

The new firm’s offices are located in the Leathers Building. For more information about Arcollab, visit their website at For more information about LEED certification, visit