Hanbury Architects: Building Communities Through Design and Relationships (ft. Nick Cooper)
Perhaps “community” isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of an architecture firm. But at the heart of Hanbury Architects, relationships, people, and volunteerism are as clearly in focus as is their commitment to design excellence.
The interdisciplinary design firm began in 1979 in Norfolk, VA with a focus on higher education projects. Under the leadership of Principal and Design Director Nick Cooper, Hanbury expanded from Norfolk roots into Richmond in January 2022. Over the past ten years, the firm has grown exponentially, and current services include architecture, life science and higher education projects, civic and community planning, historic preservation, and interiors. Cooper describes the firm’s seven East Coast offices as having a “food truck” mentality – each has its own unique culture, reflecting the authenticity and spirit of each staff and location’s personal passions and strengths.
Cooper, a 21-year Richmond resident, knew that he wanted the RVA office to land in the heart of the city, specifically in the Arts District. He wanted to work with a commercial real estate firm as relationship- and people-driven as he is, and found that Sperity Real Estate Ventures rose to the top. Cooper says, “I wanted to work with someone who understands the needs of a small business in Richmond. We believe in working with people who align with our values and vision.” Nathan Hughes and Betsy Mangum of Sperity assisted in identifying the perfect space at 119 W. Broad Street, and the firm quickly began to make cosmetic and aesthetic updates to the property, finishing in February 2023. Cooper reports that Hanbury and Sperity have a continued mutual support. “It’s a relationship that doesn’t start and stop with finding a building. It’s about supporting each other as long as we both are in Richmond.”
The employee-owned Hanbury firm believes deeply in investing in people, so it didn’t take long for Nick Cooper and his team to become deeply embedded in the fabric of the local design community and a myriad of volunteer opportunities.
Nick Cooper is no “do as I say” kind of guy. His “do as I do” began in Richmond many years ago, and has expanded into an impressive portfolio of service projects and volunteer work. In 2011, Cooper helped form Storefront for Community Design, a unique non-profit design center whose goal is to make design programs and resources accessible to all with a focus on community issues such as health and wellness, environmental and food justice, and economic development. He is also a founder and board member of Moore Street School Foundation. The 501(c)(3) was created with the purpose of acquiring and redeveloping a 1800’s two-story brick building, which was built to serve outlying schools in the Brook Avenue neighborhood. He also sits on the board of ACE (Architecture Construction Engineering) Mentor Program – a non-profit mentorship program that introduces high school students to potential career fields of architecture, construction, and engineering, and provides scholarship opportunities in Chesterfield County Schools.
In addition to Cooper’s long-time personal investments into the community, the Richmond branch of Hanbury has made significant impacts in the city as a firm.
Hanbury Community Contributions
One of the most notable commitments the firm has made to the Arts District is to celebrate a different artist each month as a part of RVA First Fridays. Hanbury holds a wall in their highly popular space, which is currently booked through mid-year 2025. This 40’ space is not about celebrating Hanbury, it’s about uplifting the city’s skilled artists by displaying their work for the thousands who walk by each month.
Hanbury played an integral part in the Highland Park Health Hub, offering pro bono design services to bring a health center to an underserved community in Highland Park this year.
At the 2022 Richmond Folk Festival, the firm brought 8 non-profit groups together to create a collaborative architectural installation onsite, aptly named “Community Wish”.
Earlier this year, Hanbury worked with local artist Hamilton Glass to create an Augmented Reality Mural on display the downtown Greater Richmond Partnership
The Hanbury firm also provides a yearlong mentorship partnership with high school students from Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School.
The SWaM-certified firm (Small, Women-owned or Minority-owned business certified through the Commonwealth of Virginia) can be described in four words: Hanbury Community Design Laboratory. “This is our ethos: what we believe in, and a constant reminder of what drives us,” Cooper explains.
“Hanbury is who we are, Community is always part of our thinking, our commitment is to Design Excellence, and the Laboratory mindset is ‘always challenging the status quo, always iterating, always innovating’.”
Cooper sums up his priorities beautifully: “It’s not about Hanbury – it’s about the community. It’s about inspiring others to think beyond who they are, beyond their scope. It should be so simple. It’s about holding space for others and empowering other people to know that it just takes a little bit of care and effort to make change and impact community.”
Hanbury is constantly evolving, with forward-thinking ideas such as their submission for City Center – a transformative proposal to revitalize the downtown area of the city’s core. Look for an exciting rebrand in Q1 of 2024.
Kari Smith is a Virginia native whose love of writing began as a songwriter recording her own music. In addition to teaching music and performing in the Richmond area, Kari also enjoys riding horses and farming. Follow Kari’s writing adventures at KariSmithWrites.com, or facebook.com/KariSmithWrites.