A New Wave

The founders and staff of HULA share the stories behind the award-winning co-working hub and business accelerator’s key architectural elements, design highlights, and layout features.


STORY BY

BENJAMIN LERNER

PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY

HULA


Stepping through the doors of the visually-arresting buildings on HULA’s Burlington campus, one is instantly immersed in a fascinating world of iconoclastic innovation. Inside, the halls buzz with the collective energy of the numerous entrepreneurs and forward-thinking changemakers who mingle freely in its inviting spaces. The sensational co-working hub and tech business accelerator has gained considerable traction since opening to the public in 2020. It has also played a critical part in supporting the growth of Vermont’s technological business sector.

HULA offers a wide range of co-working membership plans that allow members to take full advantage of their campus and facilities, including their “Air Desk,” “Designated Desk,” and “Private Office” options. Their competitively-priced plans seek to democratize Burlington’s tech economy by providing a place for emergent entrepreneurs to grow their businesses. HULA also hosts a variety of events, such as the upcoming “See Change” summit, which will be held there from September 13-15, 2022. In addition, HULA works closely with a thoughtfully-curated group of innovative companies that occupy the larger offices on their campus, including BETA Technologies, Glavel, Galen Healthcare Solutions, OVR Technology, and Benchmark, among others. Over the past several years, HULA has forged effective partnerships with several of the businesses that lease their spaces through targeted venture capital investments facilitated by The Fund at HULA. They have also provided the businesses with hands-on mentorship services that have helped them grow their reach. By doing so, HULA and The Fund at HULA have created a noticeable tidal shift in the proverbial waters of Burlington’s business scene. In the process, they have catalyzed a new wave of sustainable prosperity for the State of Vermont.

HULA’s forward-thinking business model is perfectly manifested through the groundbreaking architecture of its gorgeous buildings, which were purposely designed to encourage symbiotic

collaboration between entrepreneurs and businesses. The overarching aesthetic of HULA’s campus is equal parts surfside-chic, industrial, and modernistic. All decorative elements and architectural features in the buildings tell an important part of HULA’s complex origin story. Working hand in hand with the talented architects at the celebrated Burlington-based architectural firm SAS, the founding members of HULA, including HULA’s founder, Russ Scully, HULA’s CEO, Rob Lair, and HULA’s Creative Director, Jeff Henderson, were able to brilliantly redesign the buildings from the ground up in a thoughtful and conscious manner. Recently, their painstaking efforts were commended by the Vermont chapter of the American Institute for Architects, who presented them with an award for the best Historic and Adaptive Reuse of a Building. As HULA continues to build their campus and manifest their vision, several of their team members sat down with VERMONT Magazine to share their thoughts on the design and layout of the buildings, their standout architectural elements, and the stories behind the most notable and awe-inspiring features and amenities on the HULA grounds.


Old Bricks, Old Wood,

New Vision


In the biggest building of the three currently-active buildings on HULA’s campus (Building #50), several conference rooms and offices are flanked by walls that are made out of repurposed wood and old bricks. The repurposed cottonwood benches in Building #50 are made out of wood that was responsibly-sourced from nearby trees, which were cut down around the HULA campus to accommodate the build. In addition to aiding in HULA’s environmental sustainability efforts, the benches also lend an air of rustic beauty to the space.


Although the bricks and wood that comprise a noticeable portion of HULA’s walls are certainly eye-catching, their significance runs much deeper than their superficial appeal – and the materials have deep ties to Burlington’s history. The redwood paneling on the walls in Building #50 was repurposed from the Patrick Gymnasium at UVM. “Steve Smith from SAS came to us and told us that they had salvaged a considerable amount of redwood from the Patrick Gymnasium,” says Russ Scully. “It was really nice to be able to put that wood to use in a sustainable way.”


The bricks in HULA’s walls also have a compelling story behind them. HULA is located at the former site of the Blodgett Oven factory on the picturesque shoreline of Lake Champlain. Established in 1854 by Gardner S. Blodgett, the Blodgett Oven Company played an integral part in shaping the trajectory of Burlington’s industrial development. Over the course of the following centuries, the Blodgett Oven Company went on to produce multiple lines of popular commercial convection ovens. Their products continue to be used by many large corporations and public institutions to this day. After the Blodgett Oven Factory began the process of relocating to its new location in Essex in 2017, HULA’s founder Russ Scully purchased the property. Although Scully and the HULA team made significant design and architectural changes, they also made a conscious decision to honor the legacy of the Blodgett Oven factory by keeping a large portion of the original brick walls.


HULA’s CEO, Rob Lair, says that he got to witness the last oven made by the Blodgett Oven Company during the period when they were surveying the structure before the renovation. “I was out there with a big piece of chalk at the end of a stick marking out different places that I thought would be good for conference rooms. We got to know everyone who was working on Blodgett’s assembly line in the process. I still remember the day that they made their last oven in Burlington. The Blodgett Oven team members put a cardboard sign on the oven and wrote ‘Last Oven Made in Burlington’ on it. They put the date on the sign and took a picture of it. I also took a picture of it, because I knew that it was a significant moment that was worth capturing.”


Tipping the Scales


Several other notable vestigial features from the Blodgett Oven factory are on prominent display throughout both of HULA’s larger buildings, including the authentic industrial scale in Building #44, which houses many of HULA’s larger office spaces. Situated in the “Delta” Atrium area in Building #44, the scale is still completely functional. It rests near an intriguing decorative spiral staircase, which is covered with tropical potted plants. An additional scale is placed in front of the ordering counter at the on-site restaurant, The Spot at HULA. “We intentionally left a few decorative novelty features that pay homage to the Blodgett business,” says Scully. “They serve as reminders of what the space used to be, which keeps us grounded in our mission of moving Burlington’s economy forward into the future.”


Two unique handwashing towers with push pedals have also been kept as souvenirs of the Blodgett Oven era. One is located outside of the restroom at the main entrance of Building #50, and the other is located outside of the restroom near The Spot at HULA restaurant. HULA’s restrooms are also equipped with additional modern and streamlined sinks, and their walls are lined with repurposed wood, as well.


A Room for Every Occasion


The HULA campus is ideally-suited for events of all sizes. At the heart of Building #50, the adaptable “Reef” event space is able to host up to 500 people. An overhead projector allows for the seamless facilitation of professional presentations, and the space provides easy access to the on-site Reef Bar, a catering kitchen, an outdoor patio, and the Brio Café, which serves coffee and espresso drinks from 9AM-3PM. A wall of removable glass panels separates the event space from the main concourse, and the room is outfitted with comfortable leather couches and stylish hanging lanterns. “One of the most attractive functions of the building is its ability to host large conferences,” says Scully. “When we first began the renovation, we felt that there was an opportunity to create an event venue at HULA that could accommodate sizable crowds. Our current aim with the space is to use it to attract more high-profile corporate conferences to Burlington. We want to drive economic development and create opportunities for more companies and entrepreneurs to find their way here.”


Across the hall from the Reef event space, the “Isthmus” conference room can host conferences of up to 20 people. The Isthmus room is located near the main entrance of Building #50, and houses a long wooden table that is outfitted with cutting-edge conference technology. The Isthmus room also stands in close proximity to the six tall palm trees that are located west of Building #50’s central fountain, offering conference attendees a much-needed infusion of arboreal serenity and tranquil beachside energy on their way into their meetings. The aptly-named “Sunset” and “Sunrise” conference rooms are situated on the eastern and western ends of the concourse on the upper

mezzanine level. The Sunset conference room provides breathtaking 180-degree views of Lake Champlain, and is an incredibly conducive space for brainstorming and team building.


In Building #44, the Delta Atrium can accommodate dozens of seated event attendees and up to 150 guests for a cocktail reception. The Delta Atrium provides easy access to the outdoor “Great Lawn,” which is bisected by a concrete walkway that leads toward additional on-site facilities.


Surf’s Up!


The walls that frame the additional conference rooms in Building #50 are emblazoned with fun and beachy names like “Palm,” “Waves,” “Wind,” and “Barrel,” which pay tribute to Russ Scully’s lifelong love of surfing. Although the combination of aquatic board sports and tech venture capitalism might seem surreal and divergent to an outside observer, Scully has managed to gracefully integrate his two passions over the course of his career. Scully’s enthusiastic reverence for surf culture played a central role in influencing the design and layout of the HULA campus, which also serves as the home of the Burlington Surf Club.


Long before Scully acquired the Blodgett Oven factory and brought HULA into existence with the help of his fellow team members, he sharpened his surfing skills through a series of trips to the shores of California and New Jersey during his teenage years and his early adulthood. After Scully moved to Vermont and founded a successful tech business, Scully Interactive, Scully and his wife, Roxanne, opened two successful surf-themed restaurants in Burlington: The Spot on Shelburne Road and The Spot on the Dock on King Street. They also opened a thriving surf and skate shop called WND&WVS on Pine Street, and expanded their business portfolio to include the Villa Playa Maria surf hotel in Rincón, Puerto Rico. By capitalizing on an untapped market niche in Burlington with surf-themed restaurants and a well-stocked board sports store, Russ Scully was able to make a lasting impression on the Burlington business scene. He became an active member of several regional economic organizations, such as the Burlington Business Association, which helped him bring his vision for HULA into reality. Today, the Burlington Surf Club operates out of an outdoor area on the HULA campus that is outfitted with several wooden outbuildings. Rentals of paddleboards, wingboards, and kiteboards are offered to all members and visitors for a nominal fee, and lessons are also available. Group events are being planned for the near future, as well as summer windsurfing camps for kids and young teenagers.


As an active member of the Burlington Surf Club, Scully encourages all of HULA’s team members to join and participate.


“One of the most amazing things about HULA is that we are located right next to the lake,” says Scully. “That was one of the deciding factors that made me so attracted to this location. I try to get out on the water whenever I can during the warmer months. It helps me maintain my health and work-life balance.” The Burlington Surf Club’s Manager Sarah Krause echoes that sentiment and adds that the Burlington Surf Club allows HULA’s members to engage with the surrounding natural environment in a fun and enjoyable way. “People who come to work at HULA are starting to appreciate what the Surf Club can offer,” says Krause. “A lot of the companies at HULA are focused on environmental issues. The Surf Club gives them the ability to spend some time out on the water without leaving the HULA campus, which can help them reconnect with nature in a way that reaffirms their commitment to their work.”


A Window of Opportunity


For those who choose to take in the majestic beauty of Lake Champlain in a more relaxed manner, the west side of Building #50 provides phenomenal lakeside views through a large bank of windows. Scully says that before he acquired the Blodgett Oven factory, the wall that faced the lake didn’t have any windows. “It was all brick when I purchased the building,” says Scully. “The Blodgett Oven Company didn’t have any reason to put glass there. They were dealing with massive pieces of sheet metal at the beginning of the production line, which led from the west side of the building all the way towards the eastern end.” Over the course of the design process, Scully, Lair, Henderson and the SAS architects devised a new structural layout for the western side of Building #50. They broke down the wall and installed massive glass windows, which serve as a focal point for both visitors and longtime members. “The most amazing moment for many people that come into the building is when they look out and see that view,” notes Scully. “You can see Juniper Island, the Adirondack Mountains, and everything else. It’s a beautiful sight.”


Let There Be Light


In the main concourse of Building #50, a long “monitor” with glass windows runs along the walls of the building underneath the roof. According to Scully, he and the other HULA team members who oversaw the build made the intentional decision to keep the monitor windows in place. Scully says they did this because the windows let in natural light that brings a sense of energy and vitality into the building. “We kept the majority of the bones of both Building #50 and Bulding #44. We

preserved the original monitor roof system, as well. It’s a really beautiful architectural element.”


In addition to the monitor windows, a computer-controlled system of ring-shaped LED lights hang from the roof in the center of Building #50. HULA’s Community Associate and Onboarding Specialist, SinGer, explains that the lights are programmed to change colors in a variety of preset patterns, each of which is custom-designed to accommodate different moods and events. “At 4:30PM on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, we change the lights to the ‘Fast Rainbow’ setting,” says SinGer. “It signals to everyone at HULA that the bar is open and that it’s time to come down and socialize. The lights fluctuate in a pattern that moves through the entire color spectrum.” The LED rings can also be preset to a variety of other color schemes, including “Holiday” and “Americana.” Throughout the building, a system of additional motion-activated lights allow HULA to illuminate the halls and offices in an energy-efficient manner. The modern lighting fixtures are set on a computerized timer, which turns them off after a short period to preserve electricity. In line with their unwavering commitment to environmentally-sustainable business practices, HULA makes use of state-of-the-art geothermal heat pump technology to minimize their heating and cooling costs. The HULA campus was also able to achieve “net zero” carbon-neutral status, thanks in part to an array of on-site rooftop solar panels that were installed by SunCommon, a Vermont-based solar energy firm.


Food and Fitness


Those who wish to power up for a productive workday with an invigorating workout or a tasty snack need look no further than HULA’s fantastic on-site restaurant and gym. Located at the

southeastern end of Building #50, The Spot at HULA is available for rental as an event space, and has a welcoming surfside ambience that perfectly complements the design of HULA’s buildings. Their delightful fish tacos and gourmet fare are available from 9AM-3PM, Monday-Friday. The Spot at HULA is accessible both from an interior and exterior entrance, and visiting diners are welcome to come grab a bite to eat without entering through Building #50’s main reception area.


Adjacent to the interior entrance to The Spot At HULA, Fortify Fitness offers both HULA members and local residents the opportunity to progress toward their athletic goals in an encouraging and

energizing setting. In addition to an assortment of free weights, aerobic machines and weight machines, the gym also hosts yoga and Nia aerobic dance classes, some of which are taught by Roxanne Scully. During the warmer months, Roxanne hosts meditation classes on the outdoor patio, as well. In an effort to improve the health and wellness of the HULA community, members are offered a discount on gym memberships at Fortify Fitness. They are also granted 24-hour access to the gym through the Kisi Cloud Based Control & Security application, which is integrated into HULA’s office doorways, as well. The software allows for controlled and safe keyless access to all of HULA’s rooms, creating a streamlined and seamless experience for members as they walk through the building.


For members interested in embarking on a carbon-neutral expedition to the city center, Burlington’s main bike path directly crosses through the HULA grounds to the east of Building #50. The bike path leads from South Burlington all the way through Downtown Burlington towards its north end. It also played a critical part in HULA’s genesis. As an avid cyclist, Russ Scully biked past the Blodgett Oven factory for several years before he bought the property. “I was always fascinated by the building every time I rode by it,” says Scully. “Seeing the Blodgett Oven factory repeatedly on those bike trips really planted a seed in my mind.”


Collision Course


HULA was founded on an underlying philosophy of conscious and sustainable business practices, ethical transparency, openness to change, and human connection. According to Russ Scully, the design of the glass-walled office spaces throughout the facility perfectly exemplify HULA’s defining values. “We wanted to build ‘collision spaces’ here at HULA where people would see each other and spark spontaneous conversations. In order to catalyze those moments, we opted for offices with glass exteriors. When people walk down our halls, people working in the offices see them as they pass by, and vice versa.” This deliberate design choice helps to break down barriers and create opportunities for entrepreneurs to introduce themselves to one another and build lasting relationships. “There’s an unmistakable air of positivity and creativity in Building #50,” says Scully. “The long sight lines in the hall and the glass office walls create a mood-elevating experience from the moment you walk in. There’s a lot of activity here, and there’s also a lot of potential for collaboration and growth.”


Rob Lair concurs with Scully’s assertion, and adds that the architecture is an emblematic expression of HULA’s core mission. “We want to help founders grow connectivity to other founders,” says Lair. “HULA and The Fund at HULA were created to build a community of founders that can spend time together, exchange stories, and lean on each other. The community truly comes together here, and the design of the buildings plays an important part in helping to make that happen.”


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