Modern Infill Project in Dallas

May 17, 2011 — 25 Comments

I spend about half of my day working on the construction administration of our projects (in one form or another). One of our current projects is a modern infill project under construction about 3 miles from our office. It’s a really interesting residence, full of site challenges, construction obstacles and clever details. There is a huge team of consultants on this project and trying to get everyone and their opinions and expertise on the same page takes a unique skill set. I have shown bits and pieces of this project before but I thought I would try and catch everyone up to where things are currently. If you can, take a look at the video below – it’s an animation I created in SketchUp almost 2 years ago. Many things have been tweaked since this model was created so this is not a perfect rendition of what the final product will look like – but it’s pretty close.



The beginning: an empty lot

This is what the site looked like before we got started. 52 feet wide and 225 feet long – sloping down from the street almost 12 feet. Basically the site is a bathtub and designing a way to let water cross our site and get it out of the this hole was a major design consideration. The project has a basement – something that is fairly rare for this area of the country.


drilling piers for the retaining wall

Rough grading has taken place and we are drilling piers to set our retaining wall on – this will keep our neighbors grade from tumbling in on our site.


rough site grading

Another view of the site from the street – you can start to get an idea of the typography we are dealing with. Since this is an infill project, we can’t change the grade at the property lines – that means a lot of piers holding up a lot of retaining wall.


form work begins

Basement foundation framing begins in earnest. If you look along either long side of the lot, you can see the piers that are in place. These are called “solider piers” because they are spaced so closely together that they appear like soldiers standing in a line.


basement slabs get poured

Here we can see some good progress, the basement foundation and slabs have been poured. If you look really, really closely, you can see the string lines the concrete contractor put in place to make sure everything was aligning and level across the site. Look about 15″ above the retaining wall we poured on the right hand side – you can barely make out a white string – these were actually all over the place.


basement concrete walls start to get formed

And the strings were there for this – the basement walls. Our walls at this level were all poured in place concrete – a construction consideration we made given the surrounding grades and water table. I did write an earlier piece that focused on the concrete wall and a special wood grain texture we put on them. It also shows more photos of the elaborate process and form work – you can find it here.


steel starts to arrive on site

This building is essentially commercial construction – lot’s of steel and composite concrete decking. Luckily for us (or maybe the contractor) we were able to negotiate a deal with the owner of the adjacent empty lots so we could use his land as storage and lay down area. There certainly wasn’t any room on our site to store this much steel material … and this was just the first of many deliveries.


interior back filling begins

The steel frame and metal deck for the ground floor level is in place and it’s time to start backfilling the interior courtyard of the project. The contractor decided to put together this conveyor system  so that they could just deposit fill into this hopper and it would move down the side yard and dump everything into the courtyard. He told me that he considered just getting enough manual labor to use wheelbarrows but ultimately decided this would be a more cost effective means of conveyance. I’m sure the backs of 20 people somewhere are silently thanking him for that decision.


steel erection continues on level 2

A look at the steel structure going up – not as fast as we would have liked but it went off without any major deviations from the drawings. Good coordination is a great insurance policy against future expenses. The two guys in the picture on the right are Keith the site superintendent and Steve, the contractor – both highly skilled and good guys.


textured concrete at basement level

This picture is taken from the very far end of the site looking back towards the street. Since the grade drops off so severely for an interior urban lot, you are basically in a hole at this end. Roughly 85% of the basement level is underground but we installed these stairs (on both sides of the project) to bring you down to the natural grade. The concrete wall on the left has a special finish on it – we sandblasted 1x’s and installed them on the interior of the concrete form work. Concrete can be a cold material up close and this is one way that we tried to impact the scale of the material and the visual warmth and interest. The concrete retaining wall on the right will receive a concrete slurry coating at the end of the project so it will be nice and smooth – a nice contrast I think.


textured concrete and steel at entry

This is the front of the house taken from the street. On the right hand side, you can see where the ramp down into the basement will go. We have some of the vertically cast 1x board finished concrete on the front elevation as well.


View toward entry steel and concrete

Another look at the front entry taken a few weeks later. The first level has cured enough for the second level pour to happen. We have also received the steel for the main staircase at the entry (seen above the entrance ramp to the basement).


view of steel bridge and metal stud framing

One of the really nice features of this house is this bridge element. This is a connector piece that ties the two buildings together – there is a large hallway at the basement level, then the ground floor level will be open, and then this bridge feature on the upper level. The side of the bridge that is facing us in this picture will be floor to ceiling glass and will over look the pool down below. One of the reasons we assembled the massing for  this project the way we did was to help control what the owner will look at in the future. As an infill project, there will ultimately be development on all sides, a mere 3 feet away from the property line. We broke the massing up so that everything could focus in to this interior courtyard – something that you see frequently in urban developments in Europe. It will also allow great quality Northern light into the spaces.


View toward entry steel and concrete

A last look at the entry way where you can now see that the vertically placed concrete has made it all the way up to the top of the project. The portion of the building that is on the uppermost left hand side is a roof observation level. From this spot, you have fantastic views of the downtown Dallas skyline.


exterior sheathing going on

This is a side look at the property from an adjacent lot (that will one day be covered in 5 story tall townhouses). Once the steel and decking was in place, work on the roof commenced. The interior metal studs and exterior sheathing is moving along at light speed compared to the foundation and structural framing work.


DensGlass installation at Roof

Except for me, OSHA would be proud of this photo, You can see that the workers who are installing the exterior sheathing are all wearing their safety harnesses. You can tell from this photo that I am using my architect warlock abilities and I am actually hovering in the air about 1 foot off the building. Just part of the extra service that comes standard in our office.


underside of bridge

This picture is the underside of the bridge that you saw earlier. Eventually a raised ipe wood deck will be installed here and the bridge will act as a covered terrace for the patio area. For those of you really, really observant – if you look up at the underside of the bridge floor you will see some plywood. This will eventually be the location will a continuous glass floor will be installed. Luckily for my wife (and other people who don’t relish the idea of walking over elevated glass floors) the left hand side will not be glass and you will have the option of which type of floor you wish to walk across.


exterior sheathing

This is a view again of the long side elevation – the building has received it’s sheathing and building wrap, the windows are in place and finally the buildings massing is coming into shape. As this project develops, I will be able to focus in on materials and construction details, giving each the star treatment in a blog post. This time I just wanted to bring everybody through the last 9 months in rapid succession. Getting out of the ground isn’t very exciting for most people – the good part is still to come.

.Architect Bob Borson on roof

The last picture I have to share today is me on the roof of this project. I thought I would get a picture of me actually at the jobsite since I am always the person behind the camera lens … except you don’t ask a construction worker to take your picture unless you want to end up being forceably placed in the port-o-let. So this was the best I could do – set the camera down on the parapet wall, set the timer and run to the spot where I tried to focus. I am so not cool – but my terminator sunglasses let you know I am there for business.




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  • this is turning out to be a really nice project, bob. can you talk about the consultants a little bit for this project?

    • Hi Mike,

      I was planning on talking about residential consultants at some point, maybe I’ll put it on my “editorial calendar” and move it into the nearer future. This project has a lot:

      Structural Engineer
      HVAC Engineer
      Interior Designer
      Lighting Designer
      Landscape Architect
      Audio/ Visual/ Home Integration

      We have a pretty nice group assembled here and for the most part, while they don’t always make the project easier, they all contribute to making it better. I have noticed that the culture at the firm I am at now, we appreciate the contributions of other experts. That hasn’t been true everywhere I’ve worked.

      I come up with something, you can consider it a special request.


  • architectrunnerguy

    Cool house. But not nearly as cool as your photo.

    All seriousness aside, can you give us a rough idea (even a big range would be ok) as to what this house is going to cost on a SF basis, as meaningless as that barameter may be?


    • Probably in the $300 to $325/sf range.

      I have to admit, Dallas is full of projects that exceed $400 and even $500 per square foot and I am at a loss as to how that happens. Our clients didn’t give us a blank check but there isn’t anything going on in here that we had to settle on. Short of gold-leafing everything, I would be hard pressed to add another $75/sf to this job and thats even if I went back and clad the entire structure in 3 5/8″ French cut limestone. As it is, the metal on this project is zinc and that will price out higher than stone cladding.

      I hate to say it but most of the projects that reach those really high square foot numbers are custom builder homes and there isn’t any sort of checks and balances system in place. Another reason is that we draw the bejeebers out of these projects and our coordination to get everything as close to correct in the drawing stage pays off big time during the construction phase.

      Gave you a little bit more than you asked didn’t I?

      • architectrunnerguy

        “Gave you a little bit more than you asked didn’t I?”

        Certainly did but appreiciated.  Now how much did those sunglasses cost?


  •  Wow. Major progress. This will be killer when complete. Congrats (ahead of time). 

    • Thanks Ben, I appreciate your comments. I think it will turn out really well when all is done. 

  • I finally got a moment to read your latest post, and it is quite impressive! I love courtyard designs (I’m actually doing a few right now myself), and I’m sure this one will turn out great. Do you have any plans of this design posted? I’m probably one of the few who really likes seeing the whole process from beginning to end (even the ‘boring’ site work). I try to soak up as much construction knowledge as I can from these types of posts since I don’t have any job sites to visit. Keep the details, photos and drawings coming! (And if there are any young professionals in your office, insist they take a visit to the site!)

    • Hi Brinn,

      No, I haven’t posted any plans online – for some owners this would be a breach of implied security. Even at that, since this house is so long compared to its width (not to mention is overall square footage, posting the plans here would be challenging.

      The purpose of this post was to really set the table for the many future posts. We are getting into the real visual part of the project that most people would find interesting and I will be able to focus in one specific topics more easily.

      Buckle your seatbelt! 

  • Jorge Soto

    Looks great.  I’m curious, why the commercial construction type? 

    • Jorge,

      The short answer is that we chose this construction type in order to get the open spaces on the interior that the client wanted. Some of the interior spans are over 40′. It would take a lot of very large laminated wood members to get these spans and their size would have an overall negative impact. The buildable portion of the lot is so narrow that going to steel allowed us to go from one side to the other without having to insert columns midway through.

      Thanks for asking, I hope I answered your question.

  • Bernardo Estêvão

    Totally noticed the chairs in the 3d model!
    Really interesting post, looking forward for the next one.
    I’m really learning stuff! nice!

    • Thanks Bernardo – glad you liked it and felt like there was something to offer you. 

  • Pat Leitzen-fye

     I LOVE this design!  Also note the placement of the two butterfly chairs . . . 🙂 

    • Hi Pat,

      yes – the butterfly chairs. I suppose I have some patterns developing don’t I?

      Thanks for commenting 

  •  Nice work Bob and good post.  Very deep and narrow lot to be working with – 

    • Angelo,

      Thanks for taking the time to say so – I appreciate it! If I ever get a proper wide angle lens, I will definitely focus in on the interior patio space more as it develops.


  • Anonymous

    It’s good you don’t “dress like an architect” but you wore jeans and “fit in”. Otherwise, the guy in the suit or tie gets dumped in the port-o-let too. 

    • That is my standard residential job site uniform – pretty casual. Although I keep a couple of different types of shoes in the car for different stages of construction. Walking on the newly installed TPO roof … sneakers. 

  • I think it should be your new profile pict.  Did you not smile on purpose?  🙂 

    • I have a terrible smile and I photograph even worse – but in this case, it was all I could do to get to that spot and turn around in time. The grimace was not intentional. I decided to leave it in place because it looks a little ridiculous and it made me laugh a little at myself.    

      • Brenda Lynn

        I thought you were trying to look all macho in the pic, which, BTW you do look all macho. Cool shades, too. Black and white is the perfect medium for you with your stunning hair color and your dramtic black clothes…your are just too cool for school!

        Brenda Lynn 

        • Brenda Lynn

          darn it, I meant to write you’re just to cool instead of your….grrr one of my pet peeves… 

  • MaggsQuintasLEEDAP

    The project looks good so far!  I especially like the divided plan to create your own views and privacy while providing outdoor space.  I think what I might like most of all, though, was your music selection for the SketchUp demo.  You’d said things had been changed and tweaked since that was created, though, and I’m curious if it there were any big ones. Here’s hoping the rest of the construction process goes smoothly!

    • Thanks – and I’ll let my daughter know that you liked the music selection on the video!

      There haven’t been any major revisions – just little ones like stucco control joint pattern, handrail design (in one place we removed a low solid wall around an elevated patio and put in a more transparent screen.

      When the site stops looking like a natural disaster site, I will start updating things more regularly.