BuildingcommunityWORKSHOP (bcWORKSHOP) is a non-profit, community-oriented design practice with offices in Dallas, Houston, and Brownsville, Texas. Helmed by founder Brent Brown, bcWORKSHOP seeks to improve the livability and viability of communities through the practice of thoughtful design. Working across scales and outside of the traditional boundaries of architecture, bcWORKSHOP is pushing the limits of what it means to be a contemporary architecture practice servicing a community. Their work goes beyond building to include elements of mapping, landscape and urban planning, filmography, community organizing, and marketing. Managing director Thor Erickson elucidated their approach, “We try to operate at multiple scales, from the entire city down to one neighborhood. Within that one neighborhood, we create a platform to go in and do some activating vacancy work, working with the residents to understand their needs and what they want from their community. That is how some of our housing projects and planning projects get started.” Each element of the practice has grown out of a certain need that was unaddressed or a problem that needed solving, lending the studio a degree of hands-on experience and unrivaled credibility within the communities where they operate. “I think community-oriented design is only going to grow,” said Brown. “Right now the questions are: Is it a specialty? Is it a credential subset like LEED, or is it a market segment? You do hospitals, you do schools, and you do public interest design. I completely reject that. I believe that every architect should ethically perform within the public interest.”
Cottages at Hickory Crossing
The Cottages at Hickory Crossing are representative of bcWORKSHOP’s ability to be sensitive to user and community needs while still delivering good design. Currently under construction, the project is intended to provide permanent housing for 50 chronically homeless residents. The houses are 430-square-foot one-bedroom homes oriented around a central green space and clustered into what Erickson described as “micro-neighborhoods.” “The plan was very thoughtfully crafted with many key partners here. This was a unique project because our client here was the homeless population who was brought into the community meetings early so that we could understand not only their immediate physical needs of housing, but what types of spaces would work in that situation.” Erickson said. The project not only addresses the immediate habitation needs of these homeless citizens, but provides a model for sustainable living by maximizing open space and incorporating sustainable technologies into the project while providing a viable return on investment.
One of bcWORKSHOP’s first projects and an ad-hoc prototype for much of the firm’s later work, Congo Street Initiative was completed over a period of five years. Like many of bcWORKSHOP’s projects, it grew into an extensive planning and engagement strategy for the neighborhood at large. The project originated as way for five families to rebuild their homes on a street that had been slated for removal without any of the residents being displaced during construction. bcWORKSHOP created a plan which would see each family move in-turn to a newly built “Holding House” that they could temporarily inhabit while their family home was rebuilt. This approach allowed each family to retain residency on their street while engaging with the design and construction of their new home. After this initial phase, the project grew into the first implementation in Dallas of a “Green Street” sustainable urban infrastructure. Congo Street was transformed by reducing street width to minimize impervious paving, providing integrated stormwater retention, bioremediation, shared landscaping, and design strategies to encourage community interaction.
Ark on Noah Street
The Ark on Noah Street is a powerful example of the synthesis between the different scales of practice at which bcWORKSHOP operates. Arising from the mapping, planning, and community organizing exercises, bcWORKSHOP performs under their POP (People, Organizing, Place) initiatives, the Ark provides a locus for community engagement and an idea exchange in order to activate a traditionally underserved area. The Ark is a physical manifestation of bcWORKSHOP’s collaboration with the Dallas CityDesign Studio on Activating Vacancy, an art and design initiative for the Tenth Street Historic District in Dallas. Composed of reclaimed and salvaged materials built around a shipping container, the Ark debuted as a temporary gallery of community art. The project will be stored and re-assembled for a yearly festival celebrating the neighborhood and its institutions.
Cameron County, TX
Rapido represents the most ambitious and far-reaching initiative the bcWORKSHOP has undertaken to date. A holistic approach to responding to natural disasters, Rapido presents a comprehensive framework integrating key components of rebuilding after a disaster. Starting with what Brown calls a ‘temp-to-perm’ model, the initiative seeks to enable temporary shelter to form the core of permanent housing. This core concept is buttressed by community outreach, case management, labor recruitment, and resource deployment, and works with federal and local agencies to facilitate resource allocation and recovery. This initiative is perhaps the most complete expression of what bcWORKSHOP seeks to accomplish through their work: Exhibiting a level of design thinking that goes beyond aesthetics and infrastructure to address human needs through superior problem solving.