New RGV University

Read more about UTRGV.

On June 14, 2013 the 83rd Texas Legislature approved the creation of a new University of Texas and medical school in the Rio Grande Valley. The new university, UT Rio Grande Valley, will be a single institution that spans the entire region with facilities in each of the major metropolitan areas of Brownsville, Edinburg, Harlingen, and McAllen. The new university will combine the resources of the University of Texas Pan American (UTPA), the University of Brownsville (UTB), and the University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio Regional Academic Health Center School of Public Health (RAHC).  In November, 2013 UT-RGV received $196 million from the Permanent University Fund to establish the new institution.

The creation of UT-RGV is a historic moment for the Rio Grande Valley, offering an unprecedented opportunity for regional impact and unification. UT-RGV is expected to serve as a model of educational excellence, transforming the social, physical, and economic prosperity of the Valley. For communities, particularly those of low-income, plans for the new university hold the promise of a powerful ally in positive change. For the new university, active engagement in local context assures its relevance as a competitive leader in first class higher education.

In an effort to leverage the reciprocal relationship of university and community, bcWORKSHOP partnered with the University of Texas System, the Community Development Corporation of Brownsville (CDCB), Public Architecture, U3 Ventures, Educate Texas, and LRGV organizing groups LUPE, ARISE, and START to ensure that the principles and practices of engagement are embedded in the fabric of the new institution and that the low-income community is an active participant in the planning process.

On November 8, 2013, the team co-hosted a day-long Forum on Community Engagement in Weslaco, Texas. Together with over 100 participants, community leaders, students, local experts, national advisors, and UT system staff contributed to more than 500 hours of collective brainpower - discussing and envisioning ways in which to transform the Rio Grande Valley. In preparation for the Forum, local organizing groups conducted surveys, workshops, and focus groups where community members identified priority action items in relation to health, education, economic development, and regional planning. The Forum built upon these priorities and best practice knowledge to develop a community agenda that promotes innovative strategies for university and regional growth.  The Forum was a successful first step in establishing community-university partnership and identifying potential principles and practices of the new engaged university.

Ideas generated at the Forum will be packaged by bcWORKSHOP and shared back to the community, UT System, and UT-RGV planners.  Community and university planning and partnership will continue through 2014.

Visibly Making an Impact

Learn more about sustainABLEhouse in the RGV.

Still in its first year, sustainABLEhouse LRGV, in partnership with Community Development Corporation of Brownsville (CDCB), has worked with 23 families (totalling 64 people) from 17 different neighborhoods throughout Cameron County. Each family is an integral part of the design process, helping to guide design decisions beginning with the layout of their house and ending with the selection of colors and finishes.

Seven homes are currently under construction, ranging from foundation preparation to final energy efficiency inspection. Two more homes are scheduled to begin construction by the end of July with a steady stream of construction start dates to follow. bcWORKSHOP staff in both the Dallas and Brownsville offices have been working on this effort. We share the responsibilities of design, design reviews, construction drawings, and refinement of program goals and practices. Client meetings and construction administration are carried out by the Brownsville office.

Our design process is initiated by the clients. They elect to work with us by agreeing to complete a brief homework assignment before we sit down to focus on design. The homework is a booklet of questions asking the client such things as general family information, how they use space inside and outside their home, and specific needs that the design can help address. The design process varies depending on if the client chooses a catalog home design or the custom design process.

After our design process and after bcWORKSHOP has completed the construction drawings, we meet with the client and the contractor to discuss the goals of the design, the construction drawings, and the construction process. Once construction begins, bcWORKSHOP regularly visits each home with CDCB’s construction manager. Together we look over the work with the contractor and address any issues. In addition to checking progress, construction visits are an opportunity to document and share how a house comes together. Photos from these construction visits serve as a communication tool for our clients on how their home is constructed and as a teaching and learning tool within bcWORKSHOP.

The immediate goals for sustainABLEhouse LRGV are to continue expanding and evolving our home design catalog, assist CDCB in their outreach strategies, and help more families throughout the Lower Rio Grande Valley.

CDCB Construction Standards

Learn more about our work in the RGV.

cdcb standards materials

bcWORKSHOP is developing residential construction standards for the Community Development Corporation of Brownsville (CDCB) in partnership with CDCB’s team of advisors. Residential construction standards are a customized set of best practices intended to regulate and elevate construction quality, improving the overall quality of life for their clients.  Construction standards will ensure that CDCB residential projects are planned, designed, and constructed to promote sustainable development and best practices for the Lower Rio Grande Valley.  These standards will create continuity and equity between products and will standardize process, policies, and procedures.

In order to achieve the above goals, construction standards will incorporate recommendations from local and national performance standards that address healthy, affordable, constructible, low-tech, sustainable building practices appropriate for South Texas and CDCB.  Currently, all projects built under these guidelines will qualify for:

  • Indoor airPLUS of the Environmental Protection Agency
  • LRGV Low Impact Development
  • RGV Green Built

Construction standards will be complete and ready for implementation by the end of summer 2013.

Rapido 2.0

Learn more about Rapido.

On June 6th 2013, bcWORKSHOP submitted a response to the LRGVDC Rapid Housing Recovery Pilot Program (RHRPP) RFP as part of a team including the Community Development Corporation of Brownsville (CDCB) and Austin Community Design and Development Center (ACDDC).  Building off of previous research, community engagement activities, design work, and a prototype home completed in 2012, the team - comprised of both local stakeholders and national experts - will complete the following:

  1. Design of a locally informed and driven Rapid Housing Recovery Pilot Program to be used throughout the State of Texas as described in HB2450.
  2. Demonstrate and test the feasibility of implementing a plan for the large-scale production of replacement housing for survivors of federally declared natural disasters through the construction of twenty prototype homes in Cameron, Hidalgo, and Willacy counties.
  3. Provide analysis based on RHRPP system monitoring that indicates program successes, challenges, and recommendations for improvements that will inform the GLO’s disaster housing delivery plan statewide.

If selected, the team is expected to receive a contract at the end of June and will immediately begin process and policy design work.  It is anticipated that the construction of all twenty prototype homes and program reporting will be completed by November of 2014.

Designing a New UTB

Read more about our work in the RGV.

A Victory for the Public’s Interest

In the summer of 2012, uncertainty surrounded the announced divorce of Texas Southmost College (TSC) and the University of Texas at Brownsville (UTB). City of Brownsville long-term strategic plans for the future economic vitality and success of its greater downtown core included anchor academic institutions, namely the existing TSC-UTB partnership and shared facilities. The separation of these two institutions had serious long-term economic and social implications for the health of the greater downtown area. An early study commissioned by UT Regents recommended a relocation of the UT Brownsville campus to a site north of the city, a plan generated without community engagement or input.

In an effort to influence the UT Board of Regents’ upcoming decision regarding the future location of UTB, bcWORKSHOP organized and facilitated a design charrette during which participants shared their vision for a new UTB and greater Downtown. The charrette paired local stakeholders with national experts in urban design, engineering, institutional development and city shaping. Public Architecture secured technical expertise in Cannon Design and Sam Schwartz Engineering and engaged U3 Ventures to assist with economic development. Participants, including academic administrators, faculty, students, business owners, developers, city staff, political leaders, and residents, numbered more than 75 during the July 25-28, 2012 charrette process.

bcWORKSHOP packaged the ideas generated at the design charrette and presented them in collaboration with the City of Brownsville to the Board of Regents. As a result, the UT system issued (1) a competitive Request for Qualifications for comprehensive architectural services concerning the design of a 21st century campus that was subsequently awarded to Cannon Design and (2) a Request for Proposals (RFP) for land acquisitions concerning the future location of UTB’s campus. Continuing planning efforts, the City of Brownsville asked bcWORKSHOP to assist in preparing a response to the RFP. The proposal created by bcWORKSHOP was a collection of privately and publicly owned land in the greater downtown and highlighted strengths of an urban campus as a place where:

  • synergies exist to positively shape the multi-faceted student experience
  • new development leverages existing UTB physical assets
  • flexibility enables the new 21st century education model

The urban campus proposal was submitted in October 2012. On May 9, 2013 the University of Texas Board of Regents voted to pass a motion confirming Downtown Brownsville as the future location of UTB. The vote authorized negotiations for lease of property from Texas Southmost College and to continue discussions with the City of Brownsville regarding purchase of land for future development. The Board’s decision is a victory for UTB students, faculty, and the greater Brownsville community. The downtown campus decision is seen as a culmination of community engagement efforts to ensure that the long-term plan reflects a thoughtful investment in the vitality of the campus, the downtown area, and their users.

UTB 2.0: Proposal for a Knowledge Community was prepared following the Community charrette.

Neighborhood Stories - Arts District

Learn more about POP Dallas and Neighborhood Stories.

On October 27-28, 2012, bcWORKSHOP was a part of a monumental project for Dallas: the grand opening of Klyde Warren Park. The celebration commemorated an innovative park that decks over a portion of Woodall Rodgers Freeway, providing valuable new civic space and connecting Uptown and the Dallas Arts District.

bcWORKSHOP had a substantial presence at the park opening, engaging visitors on Harwood Street around our POP [People Organizing Place] Dallas initiative as they passed between the new park and the Arts District. The centerpiece was a Dallas Neighborhood Stories exhibit inside our 45’ retrofitted shipping container that examined the evolution of today’s Arts District from its origins as the juncture of the Freedman’s Town/North Dallas, Little Mexico, and Ross Avenue neighborhoods, and how major interventions - the construction of Central Expressway, the construction of Woodall Rodgers Freeway, and the master plan for the Arts District - affected physical and social change.

The POP City Map also made an appearance; more than 200 people marked their Dallas neighborhoods, with dozens more showing their pride in places from Irving and Lancaster to Brazil and France. Finally, hundreds of revelers shared pictures and stories about where they live on the container itself and on camera in the Story House.

The weekend affirmed how strongly people identify and connect with their neighborhoods as well as the importance of understanding the decisions and actions that have shaped our city over time. We had a great time at the opening and look forward to bringing our exhibit back to the Arts District soon!

BigBang! 2012

Learn more about POP Dallas and Neighborhood Stories.

bcWORKSHOP provided a variety of activities concerning Dallas neighborhoods at the 2012 bigBANG!, organized by Dallas Social Venture Partners. Located in Union Station, this day-long forum convened the thinkers and doers of the city for an opportunity to catalyze positive impact. Many components of the POP Dallas initiative were engaged by event participants, including the POP City Map which allowed attendees to identify and mark their neighborhoods. The Story House also made its debut, and new interviews were collected inside of it in collaboration with educational nonprofit Commit!, an organization dedicated to realizing children's full potential. Fifteen different neighborhoods were represented with 30 new recorded interviews. Next door, bcFELLOWs led two high-energy work sessions utilizing the POP Toolkit, empowering participants to think about the changes they can affect in their own communities.

Park(ing) Day 2012

Learn more about our work in Dallas, and our Neighborhood Stories initiative as part of POP Dallas.

PARK(ing) Day is an international one-day celebration of people re-purposing parking for other activities not centered on the car. For Dallas's second annual PARK(ing) Day, we brought our 20-foot long commissary container over to the one of the parking spaces along downtown Main Street. Inside the container, we displayed the POP City Map along with a map locating green spaces in Downtown Dallas. A small theater was set up for projecting our collected Neighborhood Stories, while we also recorded new ones them from passersby on the street. Outside, visitors played board games and placed notes on the exterior of the container sharing what they love about Downtown.

Down the road on South Ervay, we also set up Dallas's first Parklet in front of our office. Created in partnership with Downtown Dallas, Incorporated, the parklet carries the spirit of PARK(ing) Day by making the transformation from vehicle parking to pedestrian space more permanent.


Watch for future Rapido posts here.

On July 23rd, 2008, Hurricane Dolly made landfall in Texas’ Lower Rio Grande Valley causing widespread flooding and sustained winds of over 120mph. Low income residents in Cameron and Hildago Counties were hit hard, losing over $152 million dollars in housing related damages and contributing to a sum LRGV loss of $1 billion. As a result, the Texas Natural Disaster Housing Reconstruction Committee assembled a plan to design a statewide rapidly deployable replacement housing system for victims of federally declared natural disasters. Rapido is bcW’s response to the state’s initiative, addressing issues of social equity, rapid deployment, and constructability.

bcWORKSHOP’s disaster reconstruction strategy engages residents throughout the reconstruction process and contributes to the sustainable growth of place by enabling communities to recover quickly and allowing families to rebuild thoughtfully. Prior to beginning design work, bcW held several community workshops with Cameron County residents to determine what functions are most essential to one's home life after a disaster occurs and to prioritize home activity adjacencies.

Informed by resident input, a two-phased construction strategy was developed to enable rapid response after a disaster.  In phase one, qualified families will immediately receive a standardized phase one home that contains essential living facilities. Phase one homes will be constructed from a wet core module and a flat packed wall, roof, and floor panel system. The module and flat-pack panels will be individually built off-site and quickly assembled on site.  Families will reside in their “phase one home” until resources and time allow for expansion, at which point homes will be altered to accommodate long-term family needs and desires (site built phase two home). Between phase one and phase two, families will receive an expansion kit-of-parts catalogue and design consultation to help guide them in making informed decisions regarding home expansion. Individual design consultations will enable clients to personalize their space to meet their family needs and desires. Reconstructing in this manner creates communities of varied housing stock and visual interest as well as contributes to the long-term growth of Cameron County as a place.

bcWORKSHOP, in partnership with the Community Development Corporation of Brownsville, will be demonstrating and testing bcW’s Rapido strategy through the construction of several prototype homes for families affected by Hurricane Dolly. Prior to prototyping in the LRGV,  bcWORKSHOP demonstrated its first Rapido prototype at SMU’s Engineering & Humanity Week, April 15th-20th 2012. E&H week provided an opportunity to directly test Rapido’s construction process, deployment method, and performance to further inform future prototype designs.

Design of the second Rapido prototype is currently underway based on analysis and feedback received from round one prototyping.