Architect Stephen Oliver, OPA Design Studio Principal, on Designing for Breweries

Last Call by | Mar 2017 | Issue #122
Art by Nathan Arizona

From growing up in St. Louis, to his college years, when his parents moved to Munich, architect Stephen Oliver has spent a lot of time in spaces where people gather to drink beer. So when a developer approached him to build Twisted X Brewery outside of Austin, Texas, he was primed for the challenge. One project led to another, and since then he’s designed over a dozen breweries in the Austin area, creating a niche he gets to enjoy long after the ribbons are cut.

How did you learn the ins and outs of brewery design?
[Our] service and entertainment [experience] was easily translatable. The complexities and steep learning curve were certainly there on the first couple of projects: getting very comfortable with the functions of the equipment and [the] relationships of different production areas. However, we’ve always enjoyed the challenges our projects present. We [also] toured breweries throughout Texas, Colorado, and North Carolina, essentially becom[ing] a sponge for what people were doing with their facilities and why.

What brewery building advice can you offer?
It often takes longer than everybody thinks it will. While there are best practices … every building is different, every site is different. Each of our brewery clients has different goals. You can’t just walk into one facility and go, ‘Oh, that’s how you do a brewery.’ …

I think another area of advice would be sitting down early with the fire marshal, and figuring out how knowledgeable they are about breweries. Many times, as an area becomes more saturated with breweries, the review process starts to evolve and change … because they are actually becoming more knowledgeable about the brewing industry. They start to become more concerned about the chemicals being used for the cleaning of tanks, and equipment clearances. We’ve found in Austin that each time we go in for a review, we get a little bit of a different review.

What’s an example of a major setback you’ve seen happen?
Well it wasn’t on our project, which is good, but I know of one project where … they had to cut a hole in the roof after the equipment showed up. I’m sure at one point in the process, that piece of equipment did fit. But maybe by the time everything was done, someone didn’t double check. Double checking, triple checking equipment specs is huge. We’ve instituted some additional checkpoints with vendors just to avoid situations like this.

How are breweries different than your other projects?
I think there’s a shared appreciation of creativity. With respect to our work, when there is a tasting room combined with the production areas, breweries are a great blend of designing for the efficiency, productivity, and functionality of the brewing area as well as the aesthetics, comfort, branding, and consumer experience. Many [non-brewery] projects don’t offer that balance.

How has building breweries affected your relationship with beer?
It’s definitely made it much closer. One of the best things about it is [this] isn’t just designing an office building that you’re never going to go work in—this is designing a space that you hope to enjoy with the entire community when it opens. There’s also an immense sense of pride when [we] see our clients on tap or on the shelves, knowing [that] by helping them grow, we get to enjoy that [success] with them.