Dallas is experiencing phenomenal inner city growth. Neighborhoods like Oak Cliff, the Trinity River Corridor, Deep Ellum, Ross Avenue, and the Design District are seeing urban infill like never before, showing up in all scales and types.

inner city growth

Robert Meckfessel, FAIA

These changes are remaking the city and opening up new opportunities for residents and businesses alike. But when we look at housing, retail, restaurants, office, and streetscapes, what are the traits that make for good infill and connectivity for these areas?

These are the questions posed for the next Dallas Architecture Forum event, a panel presented in collaboration with Preservation Dallas called Remaking the City.

The event will be moderated by Robert McFessel, FAIA, President of DSGN Associates and past president of leading organizations involved with the quality of the built environment, including the Dallas Architecture Forum, Preservation Dallas, LaReunion TX, and AIA Dallas.

McFessel currently serves on the boards of LaReunion TX, The Trinity Trust, Trinity Commons Foundation, DoCoMoMo U.S., Greater Dallas Planning Council, and the Advisory Board of the Dallas Architecture Forum.

Panelists include:

  • Edwin Cabannis: Owner of the Kessler Theater
  • Katherine Seale: Chair of the City of Dallas Landmark Commission and Past Director of Preservation Dallas
  • Evan Sheets: Senior Urban Designer at Dallas City Design Studio
  • Dan Shipley, FAIA: Founder and Principal at Shipley Architects

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Chris-Craft-House

The Chris Craft House, designed by architect Vince Snyder, at 22 Vanguard Way in Urban Reserve, the brainchild of Dallas developer Diane Cheatham.

Dallas developer Diane Cheatham is a dedicated modernist and committed environmentalist.

As CEO of Urban Edge Developers, Ltd., Cheatham has brought those values to her work in multiple settings, from small infill condos and townhomes that won multiple design awards, to her masterpiece at Urban Reserve, a signature modern neighborhood that uses sustainable features creatively.

Diane Cheatham

Diane Cheatham

It’s a trend she’s happy to say is showing up more in North Texas.

“I see more developers and builders responding to consumer demand by building modern and green,” Cheatham said. “The style is much more accepted in Dallas now, and a growing segment of homebuyers are interested in green building and a more modern aesthetic. I’d like to see more developers thinking out of the box, providing more options at all price levels.”

Cheatham envisions and creates enclaves that are both eco-friendly and people-friendly. At Urban Reserve, for example, a reservoir that gets neighborhood run-off water is used to irrigate common spaces and individual lawns. Every house is required to have LEED-H certification. Her own house at 1 Vanguard Way, which she shares with her husband Chuck, has geothermal heating and cooling, energy-saving windows, and an 18,000-gallon cistern that collects rain runoff from the roof. Homeowners in the community are encouraged “not to do the standard Dallas fences,” and many of the homes feature indoor-outdoor living spaces that encourage interaction with neighbors and passers-by.

These efforts have not gone unnoticed. Urban Reserve has earned multiple recognition and awards, like the 2007 Dallas AIA Excellence in Sustainable Design, 2007 CLIDE Award (Celebrating Leadership in Development Excellence), and a 2009 award from Eco-Structure Magazine, where Urban Reserve was distinguished as one of seven innovative projects.

All this took rule-breaking by Cheatham as she customized street widths to slow traffic, created rain gardens and retention ponds, and made the basic infrastructure and layout of the development conducive to her overall vision.

“It’s taken longer than expected, but there are only six lots of the 50 left and work is proceeding on six homes with eight more in various stages of design,” she said. “The realization of Urban Reserve has been the hardest [of all my projects], and as it nears completion, it is also the most satisfying. Being out there on the cutting edge proved to be more complicated than I anticipated.”

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Houseboat Shipley ArchitectsLast week I saw that Dan Shipley’s brilliant design team over at Shipley Architects got posted on ArchDailey, one of my fave sites. This home is located over in the Urban Reserve, Diane Cheatham’s ahead-of- it’s-time green enclave of zero-lot line modern residences near both a light-rail station and the Northaven Trail. The area’s location was once a landfill and you enter the area via a nice neighborhood of middle class homes off Forest Lane, east of central. There is proximity to DART and the zero-lot-line community encourages space-efficient house designs. Shipley’s home for Rick & Julie Fontenot is a mere 1490 square feet, the size of a Preston Hollow master closet! While this home is not for sale, plenty over there is and bears a look/see.

Dan Shipley says that one of their biggest challenges building in Urban Reserve was the site’s poor soil quality:

“The property was once a landfill, and its weak, expansive soil has a low bearing capacity.”

Solution: float the house above the earth on steel beams supported by concrete piers. This siting method also upped the home’s green quotient, due to its minimal disturbance of the land. And there’s a little romance in the picture, too: the design team incorporated salvaged wood—2-inch-by-12-inch planks from the dance floor at the clients’ wedding—into the main floor frame. But love can be practical: like many of the firm’s recent projects, a geothermal system heats and cools the house:

“We’ve been doing geothermal a lot lately,” Shipley says. “People like the idea of it. It uses natural means for the heat exchange, and it gets rid of awkward, clumsy condensing units.” Pressure-treated wood that typically would be used for porch flooring makes an unconventional siding material. “It just goes up quickly,” he notes. And a ramp of metal grating creates a more substantial entry passage into the 20-foot-wide home. “In small houses, the question is always, How do you have a sense of arrival and movement?” he says. “Once you do go in the front door, you’re right there at the kitchen island. The ramp was a way of leveraging or extending the sense of arrival.” The gang-plank-like ramp, along with the home’s compact, floating nature, inspired the nickname “Like a Houseboat.”