Welcome to south park by BV Architecture

For anyone not yet familiar with the community of South Park, just northeast of Downtown San Diego... you've got to check it out.  Beautiful old craftsman, prairie, mission revival, colonial revival and spanish eclectic homes line the streets of this neighborhood.  As timeless and charming as these old homes are, what really makes this community special is how easy and enjoyable it is to negotiate the streets by foot. There are wonderful restaurants and taverns, markets, independent boutiques, cafes and yoga studios.  There is literally something here for everyone... and we're incredibly proud and fortunate to have our property so close to the epicenter of this vibrant community.   

Fern Street Sqare

Fern Street Sqare

This morning I had the pleasure of attending the monthly meeting of the South Park Business Group. I won't get into the specifics of what happens at these meetings, but I will say that I was really blown away by how the businesses in this community support each other and really go out of their way to look out for one another.

For the past 12 years, the SPBG has hosted a seasonal "Walkabout" which you can read more about here, if you're interested.  As the local businesses start preparing for the fast approaching holiday season, the next Walkabout (on Saturday, December 6th) and Luminaria (South Park's newest holiday tradition) were hot topics of discussion.  

Towards the end of the meeting I was given an opportunity to address the group and briefly talk about our development endeavors.  I informed the group that our project includes an 1,100 sf ground floor retail space, as well as an office space, 2 apartments and a live/work commercial space.  Most importantly, I wanted to communicate our desire to find businesses that compliment rather than compete with the established shops in the immediate vicinity.  For the most part, I believe I was fairly well received.

In the coming weeks I plan to start writing about my design process on this project, as well as unveiling the floor plans, elevations and brand new 3D renderings of the project.  If you're reading this blog for the first time, I hope you'll come back and follow our journey. 

Concrete Pour Day by BV Architecture

October 22nd marks an important milestone on our journey... on this day we finally poured concrete.  When I arrived at the site at 7:30am that day, there was already a group of 12 workers setting up for the arrival of the first concrete truck.  

A gallery of photos taken during this exciting day are below...

Although this project doesn't have a particularly large footprint, you can see from the images above that it takes a very well coordinated effort to ensure the concrete is set up, floated, troweled and edged properly before the concrete begins to cure.  Watching the concrete delivered truck after truck, while workers scramble to keep pace with the various different tasks required in this process, is truly an amazing sight to behold.

The photos above show the final product... taken the day after the concrete pour.

Foundations & Underground Utilities by BV Architecture

As we approach the six week mark, an update on construction activities is long overdue.  In today's post I will be discussing the progress we've made, as well as a few of the setbacks we've encountered along the way.

October 2nd  (Day 17) - First few boards are laid out and prepped for foundation form work.

October 2nd  (Day 17) - First few boards are laid out and prepped for foundation form work.

Once the grading and foundation trenches were completed, the next scheduled task was to start formwork for the concrete foundations.  Progress during this phase was a bit slower than anticipated and we later found out that the concrete sub-contractor had 20 different jobs scheduled at around the same time frame as our project.  Their cost was was substantially lower than the next lowest bid though, so it comes down to that all important question... what's more important time or money?  When you consider all the things that can cause a project to fall behind schedule... I'm thinking we made the right choice.

The gallery below shows how the project progressed from Day 17 through Day 29.

In addition to the underground plumbing and electrical work on site (installed concurrently with the foundation form-work), our "Class A" underground utilities contractor was busy trenching through the street to prepare for domestic water, fire water, sewer, and electrical connections.  The biggest issue we encountered here... having to "pothole" through several SDG&E underground utility "slurry packages" (in laymen's terms - a concrete wall 12" - 18" wide and 6 ft deep, below the street surface with a 12 kv electrical line embedded in it).  

October 8th (Day 21) - Trenching for the Domestic Water Service

October 8th (Day 21) - Trenching for the Domestic Water Service

On a more sentimental note, we also came across a section of the old rail tracks that ran down 30th Street during the Streetcar Era - from 1912 through the early 1930s.  As you can see in the picture above, the track is now buried under about 10" to 12" of concrete and asphalt.  The rail remains fully intact and we routed the required domestic and fire water lines underneath it.   

October 21st - The day before the concrete pour...

October 21st - The day before the concrete pour...

In many ways, getting through the first few weeks is usually the most scary time for a developer because there's a lot of unknowns.   Although we took every necessary precaution (hired a geotechnical engineer, took samples of the soil and tested them in a lab), there is never a guarantee that you won't encounter something unexpected.  All things considered, I think we're pretty fortunate to have escaped this initial phase of construction without any major setbacks. 

Looking ahead... we'll pick up this adventure again on concrete pour day.  Then I'd like to take a quick detour to recount my steps from the early days of this process.  I'm really not sure who my audience is at this point... but I look forward to hearing from some of you as I start to figure out this whole blogging thing. Thanks for joining me on this journey.

Moving Dirt by BV Architecture

As we approach the 3 week mark, it's time for an update.  It may not look like much, but there's been some pretty dramatic changes to the landscape since we broke ground on September 10th.  It took less than a day to clear the site, haul away the debris and prep for grading.  From there, the next step was to remove approximately 3 ft of dirt, set it aside, mix it up, replace and compact to 90% compaction.  This process is also known as "over-excavation" and it is closely monitored by a geotechnical engineer to ensure it is done properly. 

Grading - Day 2

Grading - Day 2

During the grading process, the fill material (dirt) is typically watered to keep dust down and facilitate compaction.  Due to the large quantity of water required for this operation, a garden hose usually can't quite get the job done... so we brought in a water truck.

Here is an image of the water truck, just before it was hauled off on it's next adventure.  We also had to import three large truckloads of dirt to get the pad heights at the required elevations.  As you can see in the image below, we also borrowed quite a bit of dirt from the portion of site that will eventually serve as the driveway.

3 ft deep by 10 ft wide by 30 ft long reservoir created from the "borrowed" fill material.

3 ft deep by 10 ft wide by 30 ft long reservoir created from the "borrowed" fill material.

So here is what our site looked like the day before the fencing went up.

The fencing went up on Day 6 and the building corners were staked out by our surveyor that same day.

Then the foundation footings were chalked out.  Always amazing to see the lines drawn on a computer screen appear on the ground for the first time.  

A few days later, the chalk outlines have been replaced by trenches that will soon become the foundations for our three story mixed use building.

Day 13... the footing excavations are complete and the underground utilities are being brought into the site.  In the image below, our Class A contractor is preparing the clean-outs for the sewer line as it comes into our site.

So there you have it... 2 1/2 weeks of progress on the Atlas Lofts project.  In the coming days, I will continue providing progress reports but I will also attempt to chronicle a bit of my journey through the design, permitting, and bank financing process. 

Atlas Lofts - Day 1 by BV Architecture

April 14th, 2009.  That is the date on the grant deed that officially marks the day we took ownership of the property located at the corner of 30th and Grape.  I was enrolled in the Mred graduate program (offered by Woodbury University) at the time, still trying to figure out how to take the leap from being a traditional architect to becoming a developer.  It was very near the bottom of the real estate market at that time, so it was a great time to acquire real estate.  But it was also an incredibly difficult time to get construction financing... especially if you've never developed a project before.  

I remember feeling a tremendous rush of excitement over the opportunity that had just landed on my lap... but there was also great anxiety over the risks involved with pursing a development on the site.  We were several months into the "great recession", but I don't think anybody realized just how prolonged the economic downturn would be.  The firm that I had spent the previous 9 years working for, had let me go a few months prior and my wife was newly pregnant with our second daughter.  

Having set the scene, you might imagine my state of mind at the time.  On the one hand, I knew that I wanted to turn the page with my career and pursue development... but I also had to think about how I'm going to feed my family.  My options were limited so I did the only thing I knew, I started taking small jobs (consulting, remodels, tenant improvements, etc.) to pay the bills.  

Fast forward to today.  I've been pretty lucky to have weathered the storm and my practice is finally starting to get some good commissions.  With the added stability over the past couple of years, I was finally able to focus on the development effort wholeheartedly again.  After studying countless design options, and finding comfort in what felt like the right approach, we pulled the trigger and made the commitment to get the project built.  So here we are... 5 years, 4 months, and 27 days after acquiring the property at 30th and Grape, we broke ground on construction today! 

Today we reset the clock... today was Day #1 of Construction on the Atlas Lofts project.

The 30th and Grape Site by BV Architecture

This is my attempt to chronicle my adventures in redeveloping a small lot on the corner of 30th & Grape Streets in the historic neighborhood of South Park.  The project site is located accross the street from Grape Street Square, which includes the iconic Big Kitchen Cafe, South Park Abbey restaurant and So Childish boutique.  Within a short walking distance to numerous other restaurants, drinking establishments, retail stores and art galleries, this location presents a fantastic opportunity to pursue an infill development in an increasingly vibrant urban community.
As with any endeavor, I'm starting with a simple list of objectives for the project.  We'll refer back to these guiding principals throughout the development process and ultimately use them to gauge our success at the completion of the project.
Project Goals:
1. Create comfortable, healthy, and sustainable housing for a diverse range of lifestyles and income classes.
2. Encourage community and stakeholder collaboration.
3. Incorporate renewable and sustainably harvested materials with long-lasting and low-maintenance qualities.
4. Preserve community character through thoughtful consideration of the scale, rhythm, proportions and materials of the surrounding neighborhood.
5. Preserve open space and create quality public & private outdoor spaces.
6. Create engaging commercial spaces that enhance the pedestrian experience along both 30th and Grape St.

The Awakening by BV Architecture

The design of buildings, landscapes and streetscapes affect the quality of our lives.  Making the built environment useful, safe, comfortable, efficient and as beautiful as possibe is a universal quest.  If we can all agree on this premise, why does it seem to be getting increasingly more difficult to create the kind spaces that we actually want to inhabit? 

"Every young architect begins his or her journey with some dream of acting on the built environment: a dream of being a shaper.  The dream is not just about shaping steel and glass, but of shaping culture, experience, history, urbanity.  At some point in the journey, the architect comes to understand that the heroic image he or she has harbored is only a myth.  An architect wields little control over the built environment.  His or her choices are generally narrow and forced."  ~ a passage from Eric Cesal's book, Down Detour Road (MIT Press, 2010)

It took me nearly 12 years to arrive at the understanding that Eric Cesal writes about in his book.  Perhaps this is because I was so consumed with the work I was responsible for that I didn't really stop to consider the big picture.  It's easy to lose sight of what's really going on around you when you pick up a trade magazine and flip through page after page of inspiring architecture being built around the world.  After 12 years, it suddenly occurred to me that unless you are a "Starchitect" (i.e. Frank Gehry, Renzo Piano, or Daniel Libeskind), most architects do not wield the type of control over a project that some of our esteemed predecessors did.  We have exchanged a bit of our creative license for added protection from the growing threat of litigation.  As a result, instead of a small team of consultants, we now have an army of specialists who are experts at various aspects of building technology.  In addition to the structural, mechanical and plumbing engineers, we now have acoustical consultants, hardware specification consultants, waterproofing consultants, sustainable design consultants and code consultants (to name a few).  With so many people taking a slice of the pie, is it any wonder that the buildings we are producing are less and less attractive?  Is there another way?
It was the summer of 2007 that I experienced what I like to refer to as “The Awakening”.  That was the summer that my daughter Hannah was born and my perception of the world started to change. I started to question what the future holds and I began to take a fresh look at what other architects are doing. It was at this time that I started to get more familiar with the work of Jonathan Segal, Ted Smith, Kevin deFrietas, Lloyd Russell and Sebastian Mariscal. The thing that makes these local architects unique is that they’ve all successfully developed their own projects and received accolades by their peers for exemplary design. So the Awakening that I'm referring to was the realization that there is a way to become the "shaper" that we aspire to be at the begining of our professional journey.
As an Architect / Developer, perhaps it would be possible to pursue my vision of creating healthy, sustainable and beautiful urban infill projects.  The next question that I needed to answer was how do I acquire the necessary knowledge and confidence to to begin my journey on that road far less traveled. When I learned about the Masters of Architecture in Real Estate Development program at Woodbury University, everything started to fall into place. Halfway through the program, I found an investment partner and we purchased the property on 30th and Grape. And so begins my journey, in the heart of beautiful and historic South Park.
I hope you will join me on this adventure and I encourage you to contribute to this blog with your insightful comments. I’m excited to share my passion for the built environment with you, but I’m even more excited about the prospect of starting a meaningful dialogue.
Thank you for spending a few minutes of your day with me!