Saturday, October 23, 2010

Blowin' (Cellulose) in the Wind

Friday, October 22 marks the first day of insulation at The Village at Tom's Creek lot 210. The homeowners have worked with Progress Street Builders to select an insulation portfolio that will utilize blown cellulose in all exterior walls and expanded polystyrene foam in the roof-line, band, tub surrounds and behind interior fireplaces. According to the project superintendent, insulation can begin once roofing progress reaches 75% and all exterior weatherproofing is in place to make sure that no moisture will penetrate the foam, cellulose or fiberglass and cause mold issues later on. The following pictures show the process of blowing cellulose insulation into exterior walls:

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Coming Out of the Ground

Village at Tom's Creek - Lot114

Fresh pictures from the jobsite!

On Friday, September 10th a subcontractor was on-site to install the concrete formwork in peparation to pour the foundation walls. The work took roughly a day and utilized a large crew of laborers. The concrete crew was onsite the following Monday to pour the walls, and the formwork was removed on Wednesday. Check out the following pictures to see the process as it evolved in front of my eyes. Unfortunately, I was not on-site to capture the actual pouring of the cement - my favorite step in the process.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

VT Academic and Student Affairs Building - Foundation Observations

The new Academic and Student Affairs Building at Virginia Tech is under construction just a short walk from the Department of Building Construction. What a great opportunity to observe the construction process from ground breaking onward. The finished building will include 77,301 finished square feet in 3 stories and will house two floors of dining and one floor of classroom space at a cost of just over $45,000,000. The schematic photos of the building show a green roof and rain gardens, leading me to the conclusion that cutting edge green technology was an integral part of the design process. Although construction is scheduled to take until summer 2012, I will be chronicling some of the important milestones as the foundations are constructed through December 2010.

Gettin' Dirty

Today I began a new side project for the semester - field laborer for Progress Street Builders, a semi-custom home builder headquartered in Blacksburg, VA. I will be working directly under the assistant superintendent on 3 houses in various stages of construction, and my duties will include carrying, lifting, pushing, digging, hammering, screwing, mixing and every other possible dirty job on a construction site. By integrating directly into the outfit that is building these houses I hope to be in a position to observe the construction process and gain some valuable skills in wood-frame construction techniques. Through this position I will be able to apply some of the concepts and theories from the classroom to a working construction site, and its a heck of a lot better than sitting inside!

I have several objectives for taking this position:
1. Hands-on application of classroom concepts.
2. Observation of 3 working construction sites.
3. Developing useful life-skills (carpentry, masonry, etc.).

The three houses in Tom's Creek Neighborhood that I will be assisting with are in the foundation, framing, and finishing stages of construction:

Village at Tom's Creek - Lot 114
Village at Tom's Creek - Lot 210
Village at Tom's Creek - Lot 211
Throughout this semester I hope to make semi-regular updates to this blog to document important milestones in the construction of a house.

Progress Street Builders

Friday, July 9, 2010

Atlanta Summer Happenings

Sustainable development should encompass living, working, and playing through a compact urban footprint that prioritizes safety, mobility and community. This is a simple recipe for creating places that have character and contribute to a healthier planet, but our auto-centric, individualist culture has necessitated the growth of modern cities in a less compact and less healthy pattern. My summer project, through Hill International, has been to work on a project that is reinventing the "normal" development pattern in one of the most traditionally sprawling cities in the world - Atlanta, GA.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The "Green Screen"

An innovative exterior shading device has been installed on the south facing facade of the Breakell, Inc. headquarters in Downtown Roanoke. The custom-made device includes two steel pipes bent to form a wave-like appearance. The pipes are permanently attached to the building through anchor plates that penetrate the wood siding and connect to the frame of the building. The pipes alone are not expected to have much of a shading effect on the building, which is where the project gets pretty interesting. Through a fit stroke of genious, Stan Breakell specified wisteria bushes to be planted below the devices and connected via wires to the shades. The plan is for the wisteria to grow up the wires and fully encompass the steel piping.

The use of plants as shades allows for super-shading to occur in the warm spring and summer months while allowing plenty of natural light into building. When the leaves disappear in the fall and winter months, the shading devices will allow for passive solar heating of the building. The indirect benefits of this new vegetation include aesthetic improvements to the building and a small reduction in the building's CO2 footprint via reduced operating costs and the natural processes of the plants. Overall, this solution to solar shading tackles multiple issues through creative thinking.

More info on living facades and passive shading:

Monday, May 10, 2010

Downtown Roanoke Development Part II - May 2010

A host of exciting new development projects are currently ongoing in the downtown Roanoke central business district, with numerous others in the planning and conceptual pipeline. Continuing the recent trend for downtown revitalization, the new projects focus on increasing the critical mass of downtown residents and improving the quality of life of those that live and work downtown. Mixed-use facilities and recreation/entertainment venues seem to be popular in the market at this time. The following photos document the progress of some ongoing downtown projects.

House of the Rising Sun

Update: Virginia Tech's Lumenhaus recieved the first place award at the European Solar Decathlon in Madrid!

The Lumenhaus, a joint venture between the Virginia Tech departments of Architecture, Building Construction, Engineering, and Computer Science, departed last week for an overseas trip to Madrid for the international Solar Decathlon Competition. The house combines passive heating and cooling with cutting edge technologies such as solar photovoltaics and geothermal heat transfer to create a net-zero residence that can be controlled remotely via i-phone and could be replicated on a commercial production line. One of the coolest parts of the house is its ability to connect to a gooseneck trailer hitch and become a mobile home. The international competition serves to act as a catalyst for technology transfer, and should be an amazing event. Look here ( for more information on the Solar Decathlon and here ( for more information on Virginia Tech's entry.
Here are some pictures of the house to whet your appetite...

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Monumental Project: The Metrosol Parasol

My second post on interesting construction from the Iberian Penninsula  is  highlighted by a close look at one of the more innovative projects under construction in the world today - the Metrosol Parasol in Seville. Our group was fortunate to be invited on a tour of this incredible project by Arup, the general contractor on the job. The design for the project was done by J. Mayer H. Architects, know for their funky designs and cutting edge materials, and is supposed to represent a sort of organic tree canopy over what used to be a car park which is now being transformed into a public park.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Who Says Parking Can't be (kinda) Cool?

As part of its plan to expand graduate research facilities and living quarters on campus, Virginia Tech has identified the need for compact, infill development and therefore the necessity of several new stacked parking structures. To minimize cost and the disruption caused by taking a whole parking lot out of service, the University has opted for a design/build project delivery method for the first of the new parking structures to be constructed. This delivery method will be combined with precast concrete panel construction to improve the speed and productivity of the construction crews on site. The project will be completed in a little under 1 year, and will add hundreds of new spaces to the existing parking stock on campus. The following are some photos of the ongoing construction:

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Construction Observations from the Iberian Penninsula

This winter break I had the wonderful opportunity to travel to Spain and Portugal with the School of Building Construction at Virginia Tech to study architecture, urban planning, renewable energy, and culture. As the observations made abroad could fill a hundred blog entries, I am going to dedicate this entry to a few specific construction practices observed while traveling the Iberian Penninsula. The topics covered in this section include historic preservation, adaptive reuse and renewable energy systems. These topics represent the most commonly observed differences in construction practice between Spain/Portugal and America; this entry hopefully will shed some light on these differences for those not able to make the trek themselves.