Don Worthington

Classic architecture, chic airplane art merge at Rock Hill’s Span Enterprises

Agie Sundaram, co-owner of Span Enterprises, shows the company's new office in downtown Rock Hill. He plans to make his desk chair from a pilot's aircraft seat.
Agie Sundaram, co-owner of Span Enterprises, shows the company's new office in downtown Rock Hill. He plans to make his desk chair from a pilot's aircraft seat. aburriss@heraldonline.com

Walk into Span Enterprises’ new office and you are overwhelmed by what you see. It takes a little longer to realize what you don’t see.

The signature artwork appears to be a custom, polished metal oval, positioned behind an opening in the floor that offers a peek into the basement work stations and in front of the center staircase that feels like it ought to lead to the veranda of a Lowcountry plantation house.

The artwork is not custom. It is repurposed – the key word in transforming 202 E. Main Street from a store built in 1924 for the Rock Hill Supply Co., into a new office for a technology-based company. Just about everything in the office – save the computers – started life as something else. Even the new LED light fixtures are made from plumbing pipes.

The “artwork” is an engine inlet from a Boeing 737. It came from an airplane boneyard near Tupelo, Miss., and required 35 hours to have grime removed and be buffed to perfection.

Those who know Agie Sundaram, co-founder of Span, are not surprised. Span’s previous office in the Citizens Corner building across the street looked like an airliner crammed into the confines of the space.

Panels from a Malaysia Airlines Airbus created a hallway. Seats from a Boeing 737 formed the employee lounge, and drinks were dispensed from galley containers from Japan Airlines.

For his new offices Sundaram returned to the Tupelo boneyard and the talents of Jeremy Watts, owner of RockinRestorations of New Albany, Miss. Watts’ talents merged the airplane parts with the traditional aspects of the building. The wheel rim of a Boeing 737 becomes a table with a glass top. Seats for a long wooden bench are the wing slats from a 737.

The airplane motif is an apt metaphor for Span operations. Span is a place where ideas soar, Sundaram says. The company currently has 14 cloud or app products that serve various niche markets such as the trucking industry; tax filings; and their latest offering, CommuniEATi, an app to connect small farmers, hobbyists and other food growers with those in their local community.

What you don’t see in the new headquartersis equally impressive. There are no exposed heating and air conditioning ducts frequently found in renovated old buildings. There are also no long strings of power cords and bundled computer cables, what you’d also expect to find when you adapt technology into an old space.

“It’s all about the details,” said building owner and general contractor Joe Lanford. “In new construction you can use a drop ceiling to hide things. We had to preserve the tin ceilings, make everything fit.”

Brian Lockhart oversaw the building’s year-long renovations. To hide the heating and air conditioning ducts his crew created main-floor pilasters that rise about halfway to the second-floor ceiling. The pilasters are as artistic as they are functional.

“Each detail was meticulously sweated over for almost a year,” Lockhart said. “There were a lot of change orders, and every change made it that much better.”

While Sundaram decorated with $140,000 of repurposed airplane parts, Lanford and Lockhart repurposed most of what was left in the building, including the large, wooden elevator doors that became second-floor office doors.

Span currently has 35 employees, and each person is part of the decor. A large first-floor wall became a canvas for Sundaram’s creativity. To fill the wall, Sundaram turned to his skills as a cruise ship photographer. He took black-and-white portraits of his staff and displayed them on the wall.

More photos can be added as Sundaram projects his firm will grow to at least 50 people by summer.

When Sundaram designed his Citizen’s Corner space, the operative word was awesomeness. He wanted people who were tech savvy, willing to work and play hard. If you are not happy at work, then you are not effectively helping clients, Sundaram said.

To keep his workers happy, the new office has a ping-pong table, cornhole boards that double as artwork, a lounge with mega-overstuffed chairs and a television, plus a smoothie bar, beer tap and in-house kitchen.

The operative word this time, though, is “cool.”

“We had to make it cooler,” Sundaram said.

Cool is also Span code for simple. Span workers seldom see their customers face-to-face. The goal is to write software programs and apps that are so simple that you can use them without ever calling Span for tech support.

The new office, Sundaram said, “validates how cool our programs are.”

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