AIA Dallas's Ditch Your Car DFW - Intro

I’ve got an interesting Thursday coming up, where I will not use a car for an entirework day.  I've decided to blog a blind introduction, so I can be transparent with my planning - and we'll see how everything shakes out.

  Image courtesy of AIA Dallas.  I'm on the Communities by Design committee, so I am assuming use here is acceptable.

Image courtesy of AIA Dallas.  I'm on the Communities by Design committee, so I am assuming use here is acceptable.

Thursday will not be unlike most days, where I need to be several places furing the course it.  I am not modifying my previous schedule at all, but rather I will plan my trips around the day using mass transit and my bike.

It will be an interesting time.  I plan on taking my commuter bike to my morning work session at 5 and simply bike back home, get ready for work, and take the bus downtown.  I'll spend most of the day downtown, from about 9-2, then I will take the train up to the office, take it back down to a gathering for this event, and head home.

It looks like it will all work, but I have to admit I have not taken mass transit for work in Dallas since I lived in The Village and worked at Corgan, which was probably 1999-2002 or so.  At the time I walked a pretty good distance to the DART station at Lovers and 75 and it took me right to the office.

I’m going to try to document this real time and eventually put it on a blog post.  Should be fun!

Or really stressful.

Or eye opening.

I have to be at Dallas City Hall from about 10-11, then I will have lunch and go to the gym downtown, then another hearing at City Hall at around 2.  Although I could work from another spot downtown or even head back to the home office, I am choosing to head up to my office, which takes about an hour with the Red Line and a bus.  This will let me know what the experience is like to actually commute to the office.  If the trip is an hour, sometimes that is as long as the drive home, so I may consider doing this every so often, as I do have a company car at the office.  When days work out like a normal office day (somewhat of a rarity), I could potentially use mass transit during the rush hours, giving me back some time to continue to work, write a blog post, or something else more valuable than sitting in a car.  Additionally, I've considered taking my bike to my morning work sessions for quite a while, but up until this point I have not done so.  My challenge will be packing for the day: having a change of clothes for the gym on top of my normal payload of stuff I carry around will be interesting; however it is a day I will not need to carry around diapers, toys, and other fun stuff involving my son.

 Just a normal day in the Arts District.

Just a normal day in the Arts District.

So I suppose this whole event is doing what it is supposed to, at least for me.  I’ve been meaning to try all of this in one way or another, and participating in this day is “forcing” me to try it all out.  I wanted to also try some bike share, but I do not see how that will fit in, as at some point I have to be true to the needs of my schedule - I am not going to waste my time walking halfway to my morning work spot looking for a bike and will instead just ride my own, and sadly there is no such bike sharing in Richardson to get me from the railway to the office (otherwise I would do it, but instead I will take the bus).  Looks to be a gorgeous day for it as well! 

Designing in Virtual Reality

VR has been entering our workspace quickly and Greenlight is no exception.  VR (virtual reality) and AR (augmented reality) seem to be a very logical step in our visualization package, and just recently our Autodesk suite issued a program which allows BIM models to be exported directly to a VR platform.  Although clunky, it most certainly has worked out to be a great tool.

The first thing I did was import a project that had been recently completed - not only was I familiar with the design, but the special experience of the finished environment was still fresh in my mind.  I was instantly amazed with how accurate the experience was - the controllers in your hand are visible in the platform, so you can see where your hands are - and as I set my hand on a virtual countertop I expected to feel its surface (I did not).

 Screenshot from Autodesk Live of a current project

Screenshot from Autodesk Live of a current project

The clients who have taken these tours have been quite amazed.   As designers, we deal with technical drawings and translate them into three dimensional spaces in our heads.  We get good at it because we do it every day.  The platform acts as a translator to the stakeholders, allowing them to truly experience the space.  This not only gets you excited about a project as it comes to life - it also helps even out all the information so that everyone involved is on the same page.

Internally, this helps catch details, conflicts, and other quality control data in an obvious way.  For me, sometimes it’s a lot easier to work out a problem while standing there staring at the end result (and it ends up much cheaper than standing there with a contractor while we both work it out).

The combined approach with design and presentation can result in less revision work, both drawing wise and built environment wise.  In the end, it’s a flashy new toy (my wife shook her head at me when I bought the equipment to use it), but it’s not all wow factor - it actually works.

THings have come a long way.

Wow, things have come a long way.

I started my career early – I was in high school when I was an intern at Corgan, Associates in Dallas, and later went into full time employment with them at the age of 19.  At that time, my primary use of communication was phone and fax.  So many faxes.  We were one of the few architectural firms with Internet access for all employees, and email addresses for everyone.  My business card had an email address on it.  I was so cool.

 This was me at the age when I started my career.  I like to think I dressed better than this at work.

This was me at the age when I started my career.  I like to think I dressed better than this at work.

One of the biggest structural and civil engineering outfits we worked with had one email address.  It was an AOL account.  Many architectural firms were still drawing by hand.  My 17” monitor weighed like 80 lbs and cost over $2,000.  I’m just making this up, but today I bet my phone has as much internet bandwidth as our whole office did.

I’m in Tulsa right now doing some market research.  I just looked at my last 24 hours and thought about what a difference 20 years makes:

  • Finished up a scheme on an 8-story hotel I’m including in a 100 acre master plan.  Started rendering a long video on a separate machine (it’s still working back at the office)
  • Finished up an interactive user questionnaire for a project in schematic design.
  • Cleaned up and included revisions to a floor plan on a new single-family project.
  • Pushed a lot of paper with a project under construction, issued updated drawings to reflect questions submitted by the contractor, as well as incorporating shop drawing details into the architectural for coordination.
  • Visited the jobsite above.
  • Met with the single-family house client on their site, had a full design meeting, flew a drone over the house to get a better idea of their current roof lines (also for cool pics).
  • Drove to Tulsa, listening to entrepreneurial podcasts most of the way.
  • Issued meeting minutes in the morning, with drone pictures from the visit mentioned above.
  • Adjusted schedule, sent out status requests from consultants, etc. on a self-storage redevelopment we are going to close on in less than 30 days.
  • Had a conference call with video sharing from my hotel room.
  • Continued to work on BIM model for self-storage building for a consultant re kick off after revisions from conference call.
  • Write a blog post (this part only took 20 minutes, complete with finding pictures)
  • I have had a nine-month-old with me this entire time, solo (the wife is traveling).
 Jobsite baby!  This was taken a few months ago.

Jobsite baby!  This was taken a few months ago.

A lot of my days are like this but sometimes I don’t look back on things and say – when I started in this business, how long would have all of that taken me?  I’m lucky enough to have a diverse book of work, I think I have a good product, and top tier professional visualizations.  When I started in 1996, everyone worked on one project with a lot of other people with very little task switching, and everyone sat at their desk.  One guy went out and did construction administration work in the field. Tasks that would have taken me days or weeks back then just seem to take no time.  My work flow is in waves, with time to reflect and consider, followed by lots of execution.  I love it.

Two unsung heroes in this:

  • I have an awesome baby.  I have taken him everywhere since he was two weeks old, and he can hold his own.  He’s starting to get a little grouchy in meetings, but he hangs in there.  He even sits with me and watches me on the rower every day.
  • I lean on technology.  Hard.  And it works every day.

I’ve been a road warrior since 2002, when people carried multiple blackberries and we all had 1000 cables from Targus to charge all of our various things with proprietary cables and 20 lb laptops.  Oh and our dress shirts were white, big and puffy.  At that time I was also a student and had to carry textbooks with all of that through the airport.  Even THAT was miles away from my beginning at Corgan.

I guess this whole post is just a thank you to my son, for being awesome, and to our ever changing technology, which lets me put my hours in design and speed along the execution so I can spend more times getting things right (like taking shop drawing information and making sure alllllll of the grout joints in the cast stone line up just so with the limestone veneer).




No Pictures, No Floor Plans

Today we wrapped up a project that can’t be shown, located, or otherwise graphically communicated.

Sounds so hush hush!

The project is a securely designed facility for the discussion and storage of classified material.  Even though the facility is quite small there is a significant amount of coordination to separate the building’s systems, acoustics, and telecommunications to several layers of government standards.  The accreditation process will still take some time, but for the design and construction part, we are done, other than some documentation requirements.

So instead of a new picture of completed work, I’ll put up another “on the boards” image – these projects are still very much under development, and therefore I can’t be very up front about the details.  However, it is a privilege to work on projects like this.

Why visuals are important

In the first year of opening Greenlight, we started two zoning cases: one that was drawn and out successful, and one that went rather poorly.  As these cases progressed, I learned a lot about how the process has changed over time, and how to work with communities who, in the areas we serve, are more engaged than ever.

This engagement has affected the way we handle the process.  In the past, many city staff members ask us to do the bare minimum – this is a service to the developer, giving the team the freedom to develop design after the entitlement process is done, minimizing high costs of completing a detailed level of design before anyone knows if the project can even be built on the property in question.

So, for quite a while, city staff and planning and zoning commissions, who are trained in this process, helped us with very simple site plans, lot lines, and setbacks.  The planned developments in the City of Dallas is a good example (and easily accessible here).  There may be a detail of a property entrance, the metes and bounds of the property, and limitations on use – and sometime some architectural guidelines.

This type of document, along with appropriate documentation including narrative on use and parking, was more typical of everything one would submit for a zoning case.  This example was pulled for the Dallas City Attorney Site and was prepared by Good Fulton & Farrell (I have it on file because we were interested in buying the site).

This vague documentation is starting to become rare.  In some cities, the process requires a site plan approval even if the use isn’t changed.  In these cases, site plan approval, which sounds like you just need a site plan, is rather detailed – they require elevations, landscape plans, and sometimes fully engineered drawings.  Although these are quite detailed and require a substantial amount of work and cost, it has become obvious to me that it is still not enough once the project emerges from the weeds of the city planners and engineers.  Because it then becomes open to the public.  And the public, most times, wants not only to see what is going on, but wants to be actively involved. 

City councilmembers and the public in general want to know some simple questions – what will it look like?  Does it fit in our context and community?  Will it make our community better?


Something like this may provide a little more data.

These questions need to be answered without the need of a degree in urban planning.  So, I started updating how we do visualizations.  Our projects – particularly ones that go through an entitlement process – don’t just show the site, but how it relates to the buildings, public network, and green network around it.  Although the concept isn’t novel, the process needs to be applied to more and more projects.

Quality of graphics are important.  Even if the spirit of the project is in line with the community, one distracting detail can blow out of proportion and spread misinformation.

How a 250 unit complex would fit in an existing mixed use plan.

We started studying how larger urban planners handle these challenges on large scales and mimic the approach on our smaller projects.  After working on a few planning projects, I’ve settled on a graphics style for Greenlight – at least for now.  This style looks like the cool little models of days gone by – and they make me think of the old HO scale train models.  These finished contextual physical models can cost anywhere from $30,000-$60,000, which is why we don’t see many of them anymore.  With our investments in workflow and different layers of software, the entire process is MUCH faster and cost effective.  I also like to show the trees in autumn, well, because I think they’re beautiful.

A mixed use entertainment project I was pitching for Trinity Groves years ago.  I got a wild hair one afternoon and decided to play with updating the visuals.


Tyler Adams

What is a Catalyst Project?

This is an excerpt (with some additional background) from a presentation I gave to The Real Estate Council.  Our team, including representatives of Bank of America, Chase, Crow Holdings, Gensler, O'Brien Architecture, 42 Real Estate, Cassidy Turley, Marvin Poer & Co., Munsch Hardt, and Key Bank, put together an amazing presentation.

Catalyst projects can be risky, but more often than not in the long run they are great successes if well thought out and timed correctly (you know, because that's easy).  I have talked with institutional developers about being a catalyst, and my favorite quote is from one of the largest in Dallas: "you know, pioneers  end up with arrows in their backs.  I'm a settler, and I'm good with that."

Although you can't argue with that, especially given their success, for an area to actually change there someone has to author that one thing that gets it started.  Our team came up with several case studies on catalyst projects in multiple American cities, and one that caught my eye was West Village on the north end of Uptown.

Before West village was built, the area was, frankly scary.  I know this because when I started high school, I was taking the DART bus system to school.  The route system wasn't as straightforward as it is now, and I ended up having to go out of the way and stand around at a stop next to a 7-11 at McKinney and Blackburn (the Albertson's Site).  Looking back at those days, all I remember was North Dallas I high School, that 7-11, tumbleweeds, and apprehension.  I don't know how real the tumbleweeds were, but... That's how I remember it.

The area was north of State Thomas, which was already coming into its own.  To the east across the highway, development at Citiplace had stalled, to the west was the turtle creek area and some low rise multifamily, which had a solid border of the Katy line.  To the north was McKinney Avenue, which for the most part was mature and built out.  The West Village site was smack-dab in the middle of no-man's land.

I'm not old enough to know the story about how this deal was finally put together and financed, but visually the effects were staggering.  There were some external influences: Central Expressway was rebuilt, and the Katy line was converted into a great pedestrian trail, removing a hard line border from turtle creek and converting it into an amenity. With these improvements, West Village was timed perfectly, although it ended up opening right at the beginning of the tech recession in 2001. However, with its mix of anchor tenants, most importantly, as it has been pointed out to me, included entertainment (the Magnolia Theater), the project remained successful even with some struggling tenants.  One of the driving factors?  People wanted to live there.  People wanted to be in the middle of action.  It seemed like a big paradigm shift from traditional real estate in Dallas, but it worked, and it has worked repeatedly.

Below are the images I used in the presentation, and I flipped through them in succession a few times.  Over almost 15 years, the affects on real estate and quality of life in Urban Dallas have been incredible and the satellite images speak for themselves.

Happy Impacting.

 - Tyler Adams

 West Village Site, 1995

West Village Site, 1995

 West Village, 2001

West Village, 2001

 West Village, 2003

West Village, 2003

 West Village 2007

West Village 2007

 West Village 2013

West Village 2013

Its game time.

This weekend wasn’t really about a football game for Greenlight.  Rather, this weekend, our new website was launched.

Not that this is earth shattering.  But, the move from a blog to a legitimate website was a step that took some time to make.  It also took us a little time to get together a little story to tell.

At this point the company is on the cusp of getting several ground up projects under construction, and our first interiors project – the Food Pantry and Kitchen at City Square’s opportunity Center – is receiving its final inspections this week.  We finally have pictures to show, and very little of it uses past experience as a crutch. 

This website is intended to be just a simple representation of the work we do.  This blog, to those who actually dig enough into the website to look at it, will - over time - tell our story in (more or less) real time. The News tab will continue to help keep contractors, subcontractors, and the media up to date on projects.  And as we continue to build, so will the projects here.  But the design intent of this site is to reflect how we do business: just keep it simple.