ACT Headquarters

Learn more about ACT.

ACT (Advocates for Community Transformation) is an inner-city justice ministry based in West DallasACT’s mission is to represent inner-city residents and mobilize volunteer legal teams in order to hold the owners of drug houses and abandoned properties accountable.  In order to continue seeking transformation in the neighborhoods that need it most, ACT has determined that it is crucial to establish a permanent presence in West Dallas.  For this reason, ACT came to [bc] to design a new office that meets the growing group’s needs at the center of the communities it serves.  

Construction is set to begin on the office in 2015.

See photos of ACT on Facebook!

Belden Trail Up & Rolling

Read more about our work in the RGV.

belden trail_complete

A new pedestrian and biking trail was recently completed in Brownsville, TX that connects the historic neighborhoods of West Brownsville, Rio Viejo, and Downtown.  The Belden Trail, once an abandoned rail line, is now part of the City’s growing network of walking and biking infrastructure. Named after one of the City's founders, Belden Street was converted to an extension of the West Rail Line, then abandoned to backyard alleys, and has now been reclaimed as 5,170 linear feet of accessible park. It is book-ended by Sunrise Rotary Park and Riverside Park and connects to three different schools. The neighborhoods that have direct access to the trail are diverse, but primarily low-income, with many families and elderly that rely on alternative forms of transportation.

Since the first patch of concrete was placed, the community began to provide the life and vibrancy to the trail that will ensure its success.  Any evening in West Brownsville one will find families out together on this stretch of land, now lit and cared for, that they were afraid to walk through just six months ago.  Both programmed and informal events continue to take place along the trail, including two bikes for tikes rides, social walks and rides, and art projects.

The project team consisted of: Brownsville Community Improvement Corporation (BCIC) - client bcWORKSHOP- community outreach and design Community Development Corporation of Brownsville (CDCB) - construction

The land is owned by the City of Brownsville, and funded and developed by BCIC and a grant from the Texas Parks & Wildlife. Other City departments contributed to the design and approval and investment process, including but not limited to a sidewalk accessibility improvement project around the trail and public transit routes in the neighborhood (BMetro) and increased street lighting (PUB).

bcWORKSHOP was involved for the past year in pre-design community engagement, design, and construction management, and participatory activities throughout the process. Even while under construction, and in full swing now, the community itself has initiated a number of events and engaged activities along the trail.  bcWORKSHOP continues to participate, as a part of the neighborhood, in community-driven activities along the trail.

belden trail engagement

Throughout initial community engagement, the top priorities were consistently safety and shade.  The design provides complete protection from vehicular traffic, increased crossing safety at each of the 16 street crossings through traffic calming measures and additional signage, and additional lighting throughout.  Designed as an urban one-mile linear park, it has ancillary paths and rest areas that provide shade, seating, trash, and bike parking.  All landscape was selected for its beauty, shading, low-maintenance and drought resistance qualities, and for its history and ruggedness in the unique South Texas ecosystem.

Like Friends of the Belden Trail on Facebook!

Read more about the Belden Trail:

Master plan lays out vision for connected Brownsville - Brownsville Herald

Brownsville Celebrates Opening of Belden Trail - Brownsville Herald

Belden Trail off and running - Brownsville Herald

Belden Trail takes Strides - Brownsville Herald

The Long Road to the Belden Trail - United Brownsville

Brownsville Receives Rail-Trail Grant from Texas Parks & Wildlife - Bike Texas

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.

La Hacienda - Final Phase

Read more about La Hacienda.

The last set of homes will wrap up at LaHacienda Casitas next month, July 2013. Contractors are working hard to keep up the pace as a waiting list for homes has already started filling up!

Alongside the residential construction, site work is underway. The Community Development Corporation Brownsville (CDCB) YouthBuild team is in full swing and landscape contractors are installing native plants, trees, and grasses as well as hardscape elements like sidewalks, pathways, and bridges.

Homes on Bailey Blvd getting their final touches with landscaping and utility connections.

Homes have been sited throughout the development to create courtyards defined by porch spaces.

Park spaces have been shaped and are ready for landscape and pathways. An important part of this project was its ability to manage storm water in a way that is both positive for the environment and creates an asset to the people that live here.  Swales have been shaped engage public spaces and planted with native grasses and wildflowers species to encourage water filtration and absorption.

In the community playground, the Youthbuild team has laid out the body of the dragon snake and is working on its head, slides, and crawl spaces. Here, Eddie Salazar, CDCB’s construction manager oversees some of the site construction.

Stay tuned for details on the grand opening celebration once construction is complete!

Trinity Eco Classroom

In early March 2013,  GroundWork Dallas partnered with bcWORKSHOP to develop a design for their new Eco-Classroom.  Groundwork Dallas is the local affiliate of the Groundwork USA network.  Their mission is to “enable people to realize the merits of the Great Trinity Forest, its surrounding resources, and its impact on our future. And, to encourage the community to use, preserve, and enhance these natural resources.”

They achieve their mission through:

  • the construction of trail systems, parks, and gardens,
  • transforming vacant lots into community spaces and gardens,
  • educating children, adults and communities,
  • and by working to revitalize one of Dallas’s greatest assets, the Trinity River.

The Eco-Classroom site is positioned at the confluence of the Elm Fork of the Trinity River and Bachman Creek, which make up the last natural channel of the river before reaching the main levee system. Currently, the area is choked with trash.  The designed pavilion will sit tucked into the bend of the river and will act as a launching point for GroundWork teams to clean up the area.

The design allows for large groups to arrive on site, hike through the area, and use the pavilion as a base to learn about the natural ecology and the challenges it faces. From there they can head out on foot or canoe to spend the day exploring this amazing Dallas feature.

bcW worked with the Groundworks staff and Green Team to develop parameters which would guide the design.  Other design inspiration came from the shape of the river, the feeling of sitting under a tree at the river bank and the Great Blue Heron, which calls this part of the river home.

The design is currently in the schematic phase as GroundWork raises funds for the project.  Check back for more updates soon!

Belden Trail Groundbreaking

Learn more about our work in the RGV.

March 21st, 2013 marked the groundbreaking ceremony for Belden Trail in Brownsville, TX. The ceremony was held at the intersection of West 8th and Fronton Street behind Skinner Elementary School. About 100 people were in attendance, including Brownsville Mayor Martinez, Commissioner Virrareal, Skinner Elementary Principal Moore, Assistant Superintendent Haynes, Community Development Corporation Brownsville Executive Director Nick Mitchell-Bennett, and Commissioner Rose Gowen who spoke on the importance of the Trail. See local coverage of the event from the Brownsville Herald and United Brownsville!

The groundbreaking was a celebration of every contribution by community residents, stakeholders, and project partners toward the development, planning, and design of this project. The process was a community wide effort of collaboration between adjacent residents and institutions as well as project partners and the City of Brownsville.

The trail design includes a pedestrian and bike pathway connecting Skinner Elementary School to Praxedis Orive Jr. Park on Palm Boulevard. The 10 foot-wide pathway also runs alongside Sams Memorial Stadium. The trail design includes:

  • local plants and shade trees including tall grasses and wildflowers, live oak trees, red yucca, sacahuista, and mealy blue sage
  • bike racks, play areas, and local art at Rotary Park, Skinner Elementary School, and the Elizabeth Street intersection.
  • safe street crossings with the addition of street chokers to slow traffic, signage, and crosswalks.

The addition of this public space in Brownsville will encourage healthy lifestyles, diversify transportation options and increase access to natural resources. The trail will serve as an example for continued development of a city-wide trail system increasing city residents' access to cultural, recreational, and natural amenities.

The trail will be under construction for the next two months. You can read more about the background of Belden Trial here. Be sure to like The Friends of Belden Trail on Facebook for updates!

Affordable Housing Choices

Learn more about sustainABLEhouse and our work in the RGV.

Working in partnership with the Community Development Corporation of Brownsville (CDCB), bcWORKSHOP is able to implement the sustainABLEhouse process at scale in Cameron County, Texas. CDCB is the largest non-profit producers of single-family affordable housing for homeownership in the State of Texas. Their Colonia Redevelopment program replaces homes in colonias that are substandard due to poor construction and/or natural disasters. The CDCB/ bcWORKSHOP partnership was formed to provide greater choice to clients in need of new housing while offering more environmentally friendly practices and enhancing the design of local affordable housing. Each client is an integral part of the design process helping guide design decisions ranging from basic layout to landscape and finishes. Families participating in this program now have the choice to select from a new home design catalogue or collaborate on custom, site-specific designs meeting their needs.

The design catalogue is an ever evolving set of designs influenced by previous client engagement. bcWORKSHOP provides family engagement,  designs and construction administration services while CDCB provides client enrollment, financial, and construction management services. The home design catalogue is reviewed and updated as development continues, increasing the choices for sustainable and affordable housing typologies available in the area. The partnership is well on track to reach its goal to construct more than forty homes during 2013 through the sustainABLEhouse model.

Anticipated outcomes:

  • Homeowners are empowered by the design process, investing more in their homes, and strengthening neighborhoods.
  • Design and construction quality of affordable homes in the LRGV region will rise, and knowledge of sustainable practices will increase among local contractors.
  • Homes tailored to each family will have higher functionality, resulting in lower long-term utility costs and environmental impact.
  • A design catalogue is developed to supplement limited, outdated options for homebuilders. This catalogue will offer designs sensitive to both local context and culture, as a direct result of collaboration with colonia residents and families.
  • Diversity of homes will maintain the existing vibrant communities, and strengthen colonia identity.
  • Capacity of both CDCB and bcWORKSHOP will increase. CDCB’s programs will offer more design choice to its clients, and bcWORKSHOP will gain experience to scale the sustainABLEhouse initiative in the North Texas region.

La Hacienda - Midway

Learn more about La Hacienda here.

The La Hacienda Casitas are quickly moving along with over half of the 56-units underway. Once the first eight homes were completed, work began on the remaining structures, consisting of eight different housing types, as well as on laundry facilities and other community buildings. Throughout this process care was taken to preserve existing trees across the site, providing need shade and a sense of age in the place. With construction scheduled to be complete in June 2013, the first five families have moved in, already filling this new community with life.

La Hacienda First Phase

Learn more about La Hacienda Casitas and our work in the RGV.

Back on the La Hacienda Casitas site, the construction crews are in full swing wrapping up the first phase of homes, which are slated for completion in February 2013 and have already started the second phase, which are due in March 2013 .  By phasing the construction, the project team is able to work though details before proceeding with the remainder of the 56-unit development. As the next batch of homes are being framed, the laundry (the first of four community buildings) is also under way and the roadways have been completed. Once these initial houses are complete, the first residents of La Hacienda will be moving in to call this place their home.

sustainABLEhouse Under Construction

Learn more about sustainABLEhouse, and our work in Dallas and the RGV.


bcWORKSHOP is engaging in design processes to build several sustainABLEhouses in two diverse settings: Cameron County in the Rio Grande Valley and the Dolphin Heights neighborhood in Dallas.  Given the highly adaptable process of sustainABLEhouse, each setting provides a unique exploration of how the WORKSHOP can collaborate with partner families to design and build healthy, affordable homes.

Cameron County, Texas

  • In partnership with CDCB through their Colonia Redevelopment Program, eight families are engaging in the design and construction process across four different neighborhoods.
  • Each home conforms to basic design standards set forth by the Colonia Redevelopment Program and further shaped by input of the future residents through five meetings and ‘homework’ assignments.
  • The four homes average 864 square feet and accommodate an average family size of 2.5 people.
  • Construction is scheduled to begin in January 2013.

Dolphin Heights, Dallas, TX

  • This home serves as the 1st application of the initiative in the Dolphin Heights neighborhood.
  • Extensive community involvement and educational activities ensure that neighborhood voices are heard and contribute to the design.
  • This home, designed to meet rigorous energy standards, is 850 square feet and includes 2 bedrooms, 1 bathroom, large porch space, and the ability to expand the house in the future.
  • Construction is expected to be complete in December 2012 and we are currently seeking a homeowner partner. Contact us at 214.252.2900 for more details.

A Designer's Paradise?

Learn more about La Hacienda and our work in the RGV.

By Emily Axtman

So what is bcWORKSHOP working on in the Valley besides La Hacienda Casitas?

The short answer: a lot.

To give some perspective about architecture practices in the Valley:

The city of Dallas, at a population of about 1.2 million, has 301 professional architecture practices according to the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) 2011 data. The city of Brownsville, at a population of 178,500, has 5 professional architecture practices.

Dallas averages 1 architecture firm for every 3,300 people. Brownsville averages 1 architect firm for every 35,600 people. So what's the big deal? Dallas has 10 times the capacity of people working towards providing better housing, public spaces and development within the city. Brownsville is in need of a greater design capacity and this is where bcWORKSHOP comes in.

Maggie Winter, a bcWORKSHOP designer, has been working toward implementing improvements for the quality of life in the LRGV since September 2011. Her projects have ranged from city-wide planning to housing and broader community development.

Justin Tirsun, a former VISTA at bcW, has been a part of the LRGV team since July 2012. Justin's main focus in the Valley has been policy research and development in the Colonias, as well as the Belden Trail. Among all of the projects, I have had the opportunity to work on the Alegria House.

Alegria House, front elevation.

Alegria House, front elevation.

bcWORKSHOP has been working with Ms. Alegria to design a new home for her and her 3 children. The Alegrias currently live in a mobile home without running water or electricity. Recently, Ms. Alegria's son was paralyzed in an accident, making accessibility part of their housing needs. Working within CDCB's Colonia Redevelopment Program, bcWORKSHOP has designed a home that will meet their needs and provide a healthy living environment. Construction is slated to begin in November!

The Colonia Redevelopment Program is a reconstruction & rehabilitation service for homeowners in Colonias currently living in homes that are not meeting their basic needs. Based on the sustainABLEhouse model,  bcW is teaming up with CDCB to offer a custom design service to the program. This opportunity directly involves the homeowners in the design and construction of their new home while remaining within the parameters of the Colonia Redevelopment Program. The bcW LRGV office is currently working with 4 families to design homes that will accommodate their needs, be energy efficient, and provide healthy living environments. We are thrilled to be working so closely with all of these families!

So now back to that OTHER housing project. What's going on with La Hacienda?! I'm excited to bring the news that the La Hacienda site has been under construction for 4 weeks now. With the infrastructural work underway (eg: water, sewer and fire lines; site-drainage and street layout) the first 8 homes will be under construction in the next couple weeks. The foundations have been staked and completion of these units is scheduled for mid-January. Stay tuned over these next few weeks: the houses are on their way!

La Hacienda site on 10/1/2012 facing east from Paloma Ln. 

La Hacienda site on 10/1/2012 facing east from Paloma Ln. 

Belden Trail

Learn more about Belden Trail and our work in the RGV.

Aerial photo of trail site

bcWORKSHOP has been invited to assist in the transformation of a former railroad segment into the Belden Trail, an urban pedestrian pathway, with the Friends of the Belden Trail, the Brownsville Community Improvement Corporation (BCIC) and the lively West Brownsville community. This partnership began working together to collect memories, values, goals, and visions for the future. This community-wide effort builds upon the rich history of West Brownsville and aims  to keep the City moving, healthy, safe, and connected. The Belden Trail will be one of many inter-urban bike trail links that are planned or already built throughout the city. Community members and meeting participants are keenly aware of the connections between health and quality of life, and the need for healthy living opportunities in South Texas.

Dating back to the original township survey, the trail was once a street named after Brownsville founder, Samuel Belden. Over the course of years, the route was converted into part of the city’s expanding train track network and eventually abandoned as Brownsville’s transportation network and needs evolved. The tracks were removed, and the stretch was left to function as an informal alley, walking route and parking lane. The S-shaped street is in various states of repair along the one mile that connects West Brownsville to downtown neighborhoods. When completed, the trail will provide a safe pedestrian and bike-riding connection for the families of West Brownsville to commercial areas, schools, parks, and cultural resources in the historic town center. It will be a safe and fun route as well as a destination itself.

Follow the Friends of the Belden Trail to learn more about the project and get involved.

Neighborhood Planning for RGV Colonias

Learn more about our work in the RGV.

LRVG Colonias

The Colonia Neighborhood Plan Implementation Strategies are part of a larger effort to establish a community-based planning framework in the Lower Rio Grande Valley. Plans for initial focus colonias, six in Hidalgo County and two in Cameron County, were developed between September 2011 and April 2012 through a participatory process involving colonia residents, community organizers, community-based organizations, planners, and designers. In a departure from previous planning work in the region, this process was organized around a series of meetings in each colonia, inviting community members to contribute and self-appoint neighborhood leaders. These plans identify and offer recommendations to ameliorate issues stemming from geographic isolation, poor physical infrastructure, and limited access to services and resources. Ultimately, this process advances the role of  participatory planning and design in improving the quality of life in the LRGV.  The plans are currently being used at various scales; at the community level, the plans serve as a checklist of goals that the communities have set for themselves while at the state and regional level it is a means of communication with policy makers, funders, non-profits, and regional authorities.

By working as an information gatherer and a technical resource, bcWORKSHOP has contributed to a coalition-wide effort making voices be heard, and playing a participatory role in development and policy making decisions.

This initiative was recognized by the SEED Network with an Honorable Mention for their 2013 Awards.

Check out the plans below:

ACD 2012 Reflections

The Association for Community Design held their annual conference from June 8 to 12 in Salt Lake City. Maggie Winter and myself attended the entire conference while Brent flew in on Friday to speak on a panel. The conference was a small gathering of leaders in the field of Public Interest Design from around the country.

photo courtesy of Association for Community Design

photo courtesy of Association for Community Design

The term Public Interest Design is a relatively new one. This was acknowledged in the first panel on Friday by David Perkes of the Gulf Coast Community Design Studio. The conference followed his exploration into the realities of this field. Perkes advised that we can talk all we like, but what are our actions saying? He placed an emphasis on discovering the real impact and implications of the work being done. However, using those impacts to seek acceptance and recognition of value from the mainstream profession seems to be the preoccupation of the moment. Awards, fellowships, and prizes are seeking to add to and establish that credibility.  There also seems to be a shift toward public interest designers feeling an obligation to improve their ability to be a resource for each other and non-profits with similar intentions, as well as providing resources to the public.

A panel with Anne-Marie Lubenau (of the Rudy Bruner Award for Urban Excellence) and Dan Pitera (of Detroit Collaborative Design Center) summed up the topics of conversation throughout the conference with the questions they asked of the Rudy Bruner Award:

WHAT: What would we like to learn from each other?

HOW: How effective are the means of providing that information?

WHO: Who should know about it?

Public Interest Design is growing. It is seeking to become an example of practice beyond its current influence. Of course we want to make our type of practice a shining beacon of social justice for the architecture profession. These questions garnered a lot of debate as well as consensus, but I still feel as though people were holding back. Or, maybe we are still not asking the right questions.