6 Ways to Save on Your Project

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The status quo for saving money on a construction project is to cut out non-essentials at the end when you’ve run out of money. But by understanding that where and how to save on a project often happens in different areas than you think, you can strategize about where you want your money to go. So you’ll have some homework to do, but until then, we’ve bought you some time by outlining six big ways you can save.

Overestimate and underbid

Do research on current construction costs and the many aspects of a project that also require your money and time (which is just more money). Recognize that there will also inevitably (not always, but quite often) be unforeseen costs, and allot a large enough budget to cover what you know to be true as well as the unpredictable variables. When it comes to hiring a designer, you can shoot low in what you have them design for, knowing full well that you have accounted for extras and allowed yourself wiggle room. For a heads up on what to budget for, we’ve created an expense guide that lists the various potential costs involved in design and construction. That way, you can plan ahead and rather than having to deduct finishes or design features from your project to save, you can potentially add them in. 

Example budget breakdown (not including soft costs) for a building that was being renovated into apartments

Example budget breakdown (not including soft costs) for a building that was being renovated into apartments

Reduce your square footage

The best way to save on a project is by keeping your project small and tight. Land, labor, and materials are the greatest expense in a project, and these days, they cost a pretty penny. So the larger your structure, the more it will drain your bank account. There are, however, fixed variables that do not shrink with the overall size, such as kitchens and bathrooms. So while shrinking footprint reduces your overall cost, your cost per square foot goes up, meaning that the money you didn’t spend on a larger footprint allows you to have nicer finishes.

Keep your designs simple

Like square footage, the shape or complexity of your design will also affect its price. Design features such as bay windows, dormers. or balconies while they don’t add square footage, do add material, design time, and can be complicated to execute, all of which will increase cost. It’s still possible to accomplish an interesting aesthetic with simplicity; it just requires capitalizing on materials and color to add texture, depth, and a sense of space or light.

Stick with basic finishes

Finishes can significantly increase cost, depending on their level of quality and extravagance; however, there are plenty of affordable options that are nice and can be durable, such as IKEA flatpack cabinets and storage units. But do understand that unless you’re going for extra extravagance, such as marble countertops, the price differences among durable standard finishes are small compared to how increasing or decreasing square footage moves the needle on cost. 

Ask all the questions

Speak up early and often throughout the process - to identify wants and needs, to ask questions about the process or costs or designs, or to say you don’t like something. Whatever the thought, don’t hold back. The earlier you point things out, ask questions, and make changes, the less likely you are to incur additional costs down the road. 

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Choose your team wisely

The architect you choose will be working closely with you to not only design something that reflects your wants and needs but to shepherd you through a sometimes complicated process involving many different personality types, from start to finish. So you want to make sure the person you choose is someone with whom you get along and with whom you can be genuine and entrust your vision. If you’ve never worked with an architect before, we’ve outlined what to expect so you can start out ahead of the game. Similarly, when you choose a contractor, you want one that cares about quality and craft and not simply completing the job as fast and efficient as possible. Choosing partners who are also thinking proactively will prevent misses and backsteps, again, saving you money in the long run.

If you’d like to talk to us about other ways to save on your project, contact us here.

Grid-Faced: How Sculpture Flats Got its Shape

Ever wonder why a building looks the way it does, where the inspiration for the design came from, and how materials were chosen? It’s not always someone’s harebrain idea or fever-dream-inspired drawing. Actually, the majority of buildings you see are shaped by many, greater external forces. A lot of thought and strategy goes into problem solving size, form, function, and materiality within a limited budget. And there’s also the site’s location and geography: the landscape, climate, plot shape, and its relationship with the surrounding environment or community, not to mention zoning codes and ordinances. You get the point. To keep from getting too snoozy, we’ll stick to the project and budget because, in this case, those are the greatest forces driving this design.

Front Facade of  Sculpture Flats . photo by Morgan Nowland photography

Front Facade of Sculpture Flats. photo by Morgan Nowland photography


The large, flat, and mostly open rectangular site that used to be the home of Mr. T’s Interstate Tire was underutilized and ripe for a mid-size development, given the lack of housing options on the Southside. The property was divided in half by the existing 3500 sq. ft. building that served as Mr. T’s commercial space, and the developer, Jay Martin, whose company Renew has made a name for themselves bringing new life to historic buildings, chose to keep the 1962 solid brick structure as a commercial space and clean up all the under utilized real estate around it to create a flexible, live-work community.

Mr. T’s interstate tire before, surrounded by tires and woods

Mr. T’s interstate tire before, surrounded by tires and woods

sculpture flats site plan. The former mr.t’s interstate tire is in the middle and is flanked by new residential spaces.

sculpture flats site plan. The former mr.t’s interstate tire is in the middle and is flanked by new residential spaces.


Two words: severely restricted. This project was Jay’s first foray into both new and multi-family development, and since real estate development is a risky and competitive industry, being fiscally cautious was responsible for the long-term sustainability of his business and for meeting market rate rents, as keeping costs down would ultimately result in reasonable rents for a middle-class market.

completed sculpture flats. Walking by, the prominent features are color and edges. photo by Morgan Nowland photography

completed sculpture flats. Walking by, the prominent features are color and edges. photo by Morgan Nowland photography


As with any task on a limited budget, designing requires being resourceful and creative with what you have to work with - fewer options, fewer materials, less space, and less time, none of which are mutually exclusive. So changing materials means designs have to be redone, which - you guessed it - costs more time and money. In order to capitalize on our resources and prevent having to redo any designs, we strategized around the question: What single, big Architectural move can we make that will withstand any changes in materiality?

Thus, the grid-face was born. By giving the building a strong geometry, its most outstanding feature was unaffected by factors like the type, size, number and placement of openings. Since neither the windows themselves nor their arrangement were anything spectacular, the matrix of boxes produce a window-like visual. And for the residents, the frame creates the added amenity of a protective, private stoop or balcony. Since there isn’t much directly across the street to view the project head on, the facade was constructed to be experienced by passers-by. So rather than have the buildings mirror each other, there is a continual pattern that creates a rhythm. As pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists, we see the pops of color that reinforce the edges and pattern, even encounter a cadence as we pass, and we effectively overlook the materials themselves.

Original rendering for sculpture flats. note the envisioned colonnade in the middle.

Original rendering for sculpture flats. note the envisioned colonnade in the middle.

completed sculpture flats. Note the gap in rhythm and density without the colonnade. Photo by Morgan Nowland photography.

completed sculpture flats. Note the gap in rhythm and density without the colonnade. Photo by Morgan Nowland photography.


Due to cost, many new construction projects you see in your day to day don’t reflect the original design. The process of eliminating materials, products, and even design features is called value engineering, or - if you’re in the know - “V.E." Because of our robust geometry approach, we were lucky that the only significant component that got “VE’ed” was the colonnade we envisioned between the two buildings, which served two purposes. It would have provided a buffer between the street and the patio of Handup Handle & Bar, and it would have created continuity from one building to the next, but it wasn’t financially viable, which we get. You can’t have everything, and designing some funky, colorful buildings were big wins in the first place!

Sidewalk Citizen, Model Developer

Laura Margaret Jones

Our friend and colleague, Thomas Connolly - a.k.a. Sidewalk Citizen - can be better at marketing our work than we are. He has web pages dedicated to each of his developments, many of which we’ve designed and which he always gives us credit for. He also frequently gives us shout-outs on social media when he posts our renderings.

But this isn’t about Thomas Connolly’s fantastic marketing. This is about why he’s a good developer and why we wish there were more like him. 

Thomas (center) and his site manager, Dan (left) discuss construction progress with Project Architect, Jared Hueter (right)

Thomas (center) and his site manager, Dan (left) discuss construction progress with Project Architect, Jared Hueter (right)

He’s Providing Options for a Neglected Market

It goes without saying that the Southside is a destination for food and entertainment, but one problem remains. Where do the people who work and play there live? Until a few years ago, the only housing on the Southside would have been a detached single family house, which exceeds the needs and budgets of the individuals and families currently trying to live downtown. Thomas is changing that.  

He saw that no one was building for the urbanists. No, that’s not synonymous with “millennials.” Yes, they do comprise a lot of the new urban population, but it’s also middle-aged single professionals, veterans, empty-nesters, childless couples, and single parents to name a few. Thomas noticed the housing gap, often referred to as “missing middle housing" and devised a plan to, in his words, “create a modern designed, space efficient home, while keeping the cost to purchase as low as possible.”

Renderings of the Layouts on Market, which are currently under construction at the corner of Market and 17th.

Renderings of the Layouts on Market, which are currently under construction at the corner of Market and 17th.

His Projects Build Density

“We've found that a lot of people are willing to give up extra space if they can live in the heart of the neighborhoods they love,” Thomas said. Thomas has responded by developing one bedroom, one bathroom townhomes that are a compact 930 square feet. But when you buy it, you also own the land it sits on. Oh, and did I mention that competing one bed, one bath apartments on the Southside cost more per month, you don’t get to own them, and they are smaller than Thomas’s townhomes?

So how does he do it? By building small and tall. He has to fit more units onto an acre of land to offset costs. The structures sacrifice surface area for a three story height and a yard for a private, rooftop terrace. Special attention is given to floor plans to ensure spacious rooms. The townhomes are efficient, dignified spaces for the person who otherwise would have been priced out of the Southside.   

But customers aren’t the only ones benefitting from the density. The health of the neighborhood is actually dependent on it. In order for there to be urban amenities, people have to be able to walk, bike, or take public transit to them. In fact, to warrant a bus stop with a frequency of one pass every half hour, a density of 7 units per acre is required. The Southside has lacked that level of density in the past, but with Thomas building 9 townhomes per acre, he is helping to ensure a vibrant future for the Southside.      

Renderings of the site plan for Layouts on Market

Renderings of the site plan for Layouts on Market

He Recognizes and Values Good Design 

Contemporary design is one of Thomas’s selling points. Modern spaces for the modern city-dweller. While square footage is sacrificed to offset cost, nothing is given up in the quality of the design or the amenities in each space. He does his homework on the subject and spends a lot of time in our office discussing designs and materials. From subtle brick patterns to perforated paneling, each of Thomas’s developments boasts current architecture with unique features.

Renderings of the Layouts on Underwood, which will be at the corner of 17th and Underwood.

Renderings of the Layouts on Underwood, which will be at the corner of 17th and Underwood.

The Takeaway

In order to truly be a city where people can live, work, and play, we need more “sidewalk citizen” developers. Thomas has proven that building at a human scale not only creates more affordable and diverse housing options but that it also facilitates a more liveable urban dynamic.  It’s a precedent we’d like to see other developers follow. 

To Build or Not To Build, Buy, or Sell in 2019:

Graph is courtesy of the urban land institute’s 2019 report on emerging trends in real estate report

Graph is courtesy of the urban land institute’s 2019 report on emerging trends in real estate report

Curious about what 2019 holds for the world of real estate development? Or what the predictions mean for developers, renters, and buyers? With whispers of another recession on the horizon, so are we. So earlier this week, we peered into the Urban Land Institute’s (ULI) renowned annual report to get a prediction on this year’s trends.

While the majority of people surveyed by the ULI felt the market would be “Good to Excellent” this year, a closer look indicates the market is transitioning, which, for many, means that growth will slow and profitability will plateau.  

The Bad News

Nationally, there’s a decline in demand for real estate. The reasons are pretty straightforward. The fertility rate in the U.S. has been declining for years and is both at an all time low and way below population replacement. Immigrants have historically filled the population gap. But due to increasingly strict immigration policies, our population is growing old and steadily declining.  

Furthermore, the same generations that aren’t reproducing fast enough are the ones innovating the tech industry and disrupting, among many markets, real estate. Data transparency and accessibility have transformed the way people garner information and make decisions. Transactions are easier, faster, and there is more, keener competition. Building costs are increasing, and there’s a disconnect between industry jobs available and the number and caliber of workers to fill the needs. #makeconstructiongreatagain ? 

The Good News

So-called “18-hour cities,” or ones that are hubs of activity all day and into the night but not ALL night, seem to be experiencing less of a slump.  These cities often offer the same amenities and urban feel of a big metropolis but are smaller, more affordable, and economically diverse enough to be more stable during an economic shift - qualities that millennials value and that aren’t changing any time soon. Thus, steady growth is predicted over the next few years in these cities where people can live, work, and play.

So what does this mean locally? Does Chattanooga have what it takes to be an 18-hour city?

For Local Developers

Developers seem to have misjudged the rate of growth over the past several years as well as the demographics and needs of those incoming. Now Chattanooga’s urban core is left with an abundance of apartment units and not enough of the right type to suit those looking.

Chattanoogans apparently still have an optimistic outlook, as nearly three fourths of the developers, investors, and private, public, and non-profit stakeholders at the ULI presentation raised hands in expressed expectation that the market will be “Good-Excellent” this year. The only person who seemed aware of the fact that Chattanooga missed its mark was local developer, John Clark - who was a panelist at the presentation. He caught everyone’s attention with his remarks, “Our market isn’t as good as we think. We aren’t absorbing units as fast as we are building them, yet we continue to build the same types of projects at the same rate.” Clark suggested that while we wait for the demand to catch up to supply, we ought to be focusing more on boutique projects, such as housing for seniors or other, smaller-scale and site-specific projects. 

View of Southside, Chattanooga from 509 E Main St. Not pictured: the 584 (at least) other apartment units that are recently completed, under construction, or being planned in the Southside on Cowart, Broad, and Chestnut streets

View of Southside, Chattanooga from 509 E Main St. Not pictured: the 584 (at least) other apartment units that are recently completed, under construction, or being planned in the Southside on Cowart, Broad, and Chestnut streets

Clark is right. There’s a missing market. But his recommendation isn’t novel. In 2016 Chattanooga Neighborhood Enterprise hosted a two-day workshop by the Incremental Development Alliance on small scale development to bring attention to this missing middle and to encourage local developers to consider building at a more human scale. The mid-size structures provide a variety of housing types while building density. Renters tend to be long-term tenants because the smaller building increases opportunity for residents to interact, facilitating relationships and enticing people to stay and invest in the community. Incremental development also creates a walkable environment, supporting more independent businesses and neighborhood investment.

For Renters

A November Times Free Press article reported that rental rates jumped five times that of wages in 2017. Consequently, it has been cheaper to invest in owning a home.  Fortunately for renters, we’ve reached a point in which the supply of units outweighs the demand. Multiple apartment developments downtown are suffering vacancies and are having to offer free rent for the first month. It won’t be long before a lack of demand drives rates down, meaning those who currently cannot afford to live downtown may soon be able to afford it.

For Buyers and Sellers

Because rental rates inflated significantly in recent years and interest rates remained low, homeownership has been a more affordable option than renting. However, prices have also been driven up by outside investors who are buying up multiple homes at a time and flipping them. By proxy, interest rates and property taxes are going back up and are also pricing out first time buyers. Some local developers are having to come down on prices in order to sell their newly constructed homes. With an over-saturated rental market and exorbitantly priced homes, we may see prices level out in the next year.  


The two main ULI-outlined concerns this year are job growth and quality of labor, and they say attracting talent will be the key to elevating productivity, profits, and urban vitality. Chattanooga has done a great job of attracting talent, continues to attract new jobs, and has a lot to offer in terms of play and living spaces, so we may just meet enough of the 18-hour city criteria to continue to grow through this transition. However, until the demand of rentals catches up with supply and housing prices reach a ceiling and/or drop, our approach to development will have to be rethought in order to be sustainable.

New Year's Resolutions

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Most of us at Workshop don’t usually abide by the annual tradition of formulating New Year’s Resolutions. January for the firm, however, isn’t just about New Year’s. It’s also Workshop’s three year anniversary. Naturally, we spent some time evaluating how far we’ve come, what we do well, and what we can do better.

We excel at our craft, and our work continues to grow as a result. But there is always room for improvement, especially for a business in its adolescence. So here are a few of our resolutions that emerged from that discussion: 

Streamline Our Processes

Like many startups, we are a small team. Consequently, each of us has worn many hats and juggled tasks. At times this has made it a challenge for us focusing on and honing our craft. So in August, we added our first non-architect to the team to take over many of the administrative responsibilities. This year, the goal is for Wayne to step away from running the business and invest entirely in architectural and project oversight.  

Continue to Cultivate a Collaborative Practice 

Collaboration is a powerful tool. We do it often but not always within a framework. So we spent the last days of 2018 outlining an overarching timeline for projects. In defining specific phases when collaboration is necessary, we can implement it more regularly and at times when the entire team can participate. With a formal routine practice, we will all garner more from the process, and the quality of work will improve.

Celebrate One Another’s and the Firm’s Successes More Often 

Celebrating milestones internally is not a problem in this office. We go out to lunch regularly. Occasionally, we have mid-week office beers. And, without fail, every Friday, we go out to happy hour together. That said, we have not been in the habit of celebrating our achievements publicly. Our staff is incredibly talented, engaged in the community, and we work with a lot of outstanding people in this industry. So this blog post is step one in our 2019 resolution to share, include, and celebrate more with you - our friends, colleagues, and clients.  

Inaugural Building Industry Candidate Forums

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By Laura-Margaret Jones

Last month, AIA Chattanooga and the AGC of East Tennessee partnered to host Chattanooga’s inaugural candidate forums focused on the building industry and design professions.  Held at the AGC of East Tennessee’s headquarters, it was a two-night event, with each night dedicated to a different political party.

Workshop: Architecture’s own Sarah Page, who serves on both the local and state AIA boards, organized the event with Matt Lyle of Franklin Architects, also a member of the board of AIA TN, and Leslie Gower, Executive Director of the AGC of East Tennessee.  At the forum, the trio acted as the moderators of the discussions, asking the candidates about their views on policies and state initiatives that impact the building industry. Discussed topics covered a variety of issues including - but not limited to - small business regulation and policies; infrastructure maintenance, repair, and replacement; state preemption; and workforce development.

As important as it is to engage our civic leaders on professional matters, it is also imperative that we continue to work together to accomplish common goals for the building and construction industry.

All candidates running in Hamilton County for a state-level elected office were invited, and those who were able to make it included five Republicans - Sen. Bo Watson, Robin Smith, Rep. Patsy Hazlewood, Lemon Williams, and Sen. Todd Gardenhire, who is not actually running but has served since 2013 - as well as three Democrats - Randy Price, Yusuf Hakeem, and Joda Thongnopnua; both nights boasted a more or less balanced mix of seasoned politicians and rising hopefuls, providing for well rounded and insightful dialogue.


Having served many years at the state level, Rep. Hazelwood, Sen. Watson, and Sen. Gardenhire were able to provide a comprehensive overview of how issues are introduced, decisions are made, and projects are prioritized and funded at the state level, while the candidates new to state level office were able to speak to more local concerns and how they would like to address them in the state legislature. First-time candidates were also able to bring their experience outside of government to initiatives that they are particularly passionate about, from small business regulation and education to workforce development and healthcare access. Candidate Joda Thongnopnua’s experience in local government and policy research in particular has given him a lot of nuanced insight into the unexpected consequences of different state initiatives.


All of the candidates emphasized the significance of constituents personally reaching out to their representatives to express concerns and urged everyone to get out and vote.  Often, they reminded us, elections are determined by a small margin, and in this cycle, Hamilton County has a couple of districts that have close races.


Though architects and contractors do not always agree on every issue, we are proud of the collaborative efforts involved in manifesting this event and enthusiastic about the potential for future partnerships.   As important as it is to engage our civic leaders on professional matters, it is also imperative that we continue to work together to accomplish common goals for the building and construction industry.


By Aaron Cole

For the last six months, we’ve been engaged in a design competition called Passageways 2.0 as part of a team composed of local artists and designers from multiple disciplines. Our team, Graffix Alley, was thrilled to be chosen as one of three semi finalists, along with two very talented teams from Syracuse, N.Y., and Boston, Mass. The winner will be announced this Friday. Of course we hope to be chosen to put our design in place, but even if we aren’t, we’ve had a great time working with such a diverse group of artists and professionals.

First came PASSAGEWAYS 1.0

In 2016, Chattanooga hosted the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Tennessee State Convention and, as host, the leadership team decided to make the convention more open and engaging to a broader public. This afforded the AIA Tennessee the opportunity to step out of its comfort zone and open up dialogues about Architecture and Design’s roll in the public realm, moving the conversation beyond an insular one between client and Architect. As part of that initiative, Passageways 1.0 was born. An open design competition hosted in conjunction with River City Company, the competition asked architects, artists and designers to envision ways to activate several underutilized alleys in Chattanooga. The inaugural Passageways Competition drew widespread interest; designers from around the globe submitted entries, and national and international design publications reported on the event, generating press coverage for the State Convention. But more important is the impact that the competition and resulting installations had on the local culture.

Passageways 1.0 proved a couple of points. First, that there was a desire for public spaces activated through art and architecture in Chattanooga’s downtown. And second, that the people of Chattanooga were willing to show up and put in the work to see projects like this be realized.

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“We were out past midnight sitting at a folding table painting wooden blocks green or orange or blue for the Neural Alley; getting to know new friends and watching our kids get more paint on themselves than on the blocks. The experience really gave us a sense of ownership and pride in the project that we’ve never had in public art. A year has gone by and my children still ask, “Dad, can we go play in an alley?”

Passageways 1.0 showed us that we can can flip how we think of underused public spaces. We can experience them as places of unexpected enjoyment and fun, rather than as places to be ignored or avoided. Passageways 1.0 was conceived as four temporary installations in four downtown alleys, some of which have long outlasted their projected year-long life span, and one of which has been made permanent.

Then came PASSAGEWAYS 2.0...

The success of Passageways 1.0 gave way to Passageways 2.0, this time a single permanent installation in a much larger alley. We decided to submit a design for the 2.0 competition because: 

  1. We loved the 1.0 project and wanted to be involved in 2.0, and… 
  2. We also love all the quirky, weirdo spaces of a city that make each place unique, and…
  3. We know a lot of talented and creative people, and we wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to all play together in the same sandbox. 

So GraffiXcollective was born...

Graffix Collective is composed of: Workshop: Architecture, Range Projects, Juncture, and The Artist Seven: four unique Chattanooga companies working in their own ways to use the art and craft of design to make better places.

In the initial phases of the our design process, a few key themes emerged:

  1. The idea of a communal gathering place; how to provide a space within the city that addresses the democratic nature of a city. 
  2. Recognizing the history of this particular alley as a significant place for street art and graffiti in Chattanooga.
  3. We wanted to work collaboratively as a team to bring a unique vision to the alley; one that is authored through an honest reading and understanding of the significance of this particular alley AND similar spaces that exist throughout all urban environments.

GraffiX Alley

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This very alley is fondly remembered by many in Chattanooga as Graffiti Alley, a place to discover and see an art form that was uncommon to Chattanooga. Over the years, as other parts of downtown have experienced a resurgence, this alley has deteriorated. Our plan seeks to revert back to that place of art and discovery through a curated process of bringing local and nationally established muralists to install high-quality street art in this alley. We want to take this alley from a state of neglect and make it a destination for art and community by celebrating and honoring street art within its native habitat.

Our design for GraffiX Alley is an architectural intervention that serves to delineate space and set up a series of frames for large scale street art murals. Within the this large open-air gallery space, we set up a community table that serves the two-fold function of spontaneous community gathering place and organizable space for programmed events.

After the architecture and infrastructure is installed, five muralists will install their pieces in the alley in an event that will allow the public to meet the artists and watch them work. The consistent message that we hope to send with GraffiX Alley is that art and the city are open and available to everyone, and that when we build places that allow everyone to participate in the city, our city will prosper.

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And then there were four...

This is all happening so fast. Once again, I have the pleasant task of celebrating our newest colleague, Sarah Page. Sarah joins Workshop Architecture as a recently licensed architect with four years of experience. As you'll see, she's bringing a lot of professional value and enthusiasm to Workshop, and we couldn't be more excited to have her on our team.


Sarah grew up in Chattanooga and went to Drury University in Springfield, Missouri. She graduated in 2012, with a dual degree in architecture and French, and minors in art history and global studies. After graduating, she decided to wait out the end of the recession in Paris, France, where she worked as an au pair. While living abroad, she took every opportunity to travel across Europe and Africa exploring her favorite passions: history, design, and food.


Upon her return to the states in 2013, Sarah started her career in architecture with gusto. Within a year, she was not only employed at a Chattanooga firm, but was pursuing her architectural license AND serving on both the local and state American Institute of Architects (AIA) boards of directors, where her main focus has been advocacy and professional development for young designers. During her time with the state chapter of AIA, Sarah started a program to recognize firms across the state that excel in developing the professional and leadership skills of their young staff. She also currently runs a program in Chattanooga to help young designers achieve their license. And with Extended Studio, AIA Chattanooga’s young design professionals group, Sarah organizes volunteer opportunities for design and construction in Chattanooga, including an annual partnership project with the local STEM school. Currently, she serves as the Vice President of AIA Chattanooga and is the Associate Representative on the AIA Tennessee Board of Directors.

Sarah remains a travel junkie, spending most of her vacations exploring new cities or hiking in the back country. When not planning her next travel adventure, Sarah splits the rest of her time between tennis, soccer, rock climbing, yoga, sketching, and cooking.


Three Men in a Boat

Workshop is pleased to announce the addition of our third team member, Jared Hueter.  Jared has worked with both Aaron and I at other firms and was eager join the team.

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Jared attended architecture school at the Fay Jones School of Architecture of the University of Arkansas.  His interest in Public Interest Design led him to post-Katrina New Orleans to assist in the rebuilding efforts.  There he served as an AmeriCorps VISTA, a Design Corps Fellow, Co-Founder and Program Director of the CITYbuild Consortium of Schools, and the Dean of Design of the Priestley Charter School of Architecture and Construction.  Obviously, public interest design is a passion for him and we're really excited to have him with us.

Jared began his professional career began at Mathes Brierre Architects in New Orleans where his efforts were focused on education design. His prior work includes public schools and the National World War II Museum.

Jared is married to Courtney Hueter who is a 3rd grade school teacher at Normal Park Museum Magnet School and they have three children.  They moved to Chattanooga from New Orleans in 2013 to take advantage of the great outdoor culture.  

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Jared has continued his efforts in Public Interest Design since moving to Chattanooga.  He was Co-Director of Passageways 1.0/2.0, Co-Director of Learn by Design.  He is currently serving as a board member of the Glass House Collective and Board President-Elect of the Chattanooga component of the American Institute of Architects.  Jared has had the opportunity and continues to be involved in many mission efforts around the world including projects in West Africa and South America. 

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North Chattanooga Residence

This North Chattanooga Residence was completed in August, and after the clients were settled in, we went back in October to have the house photographed. The couple loves the way the house turned out, and so do we. Comparing the final building with the design rendering below, you can see that the project turned out almost exactly as planned. You can see the design process for this home in posts here, here, here, and here.

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The house was designed for a couple with grown children who wanted a smaller home that would be comfortable and easy to care for. The living spaces and master bedroom suite are all on one level. The second level holds a guest bedroom and bath and a small reading nook in the stair landing. The couple are also artists and art collectors so the house had to be planned for the display of their art collection and include a small studio.

New Blue Construction did a great job with the project and the workmanship is just fantastic. The house is full of custom details--for example, the open riser stair and the deep counters at the kitchen sink which create a plant shelf. Without the attention of a masterful builder to such features, the outcome would not have been nearly as elegant. Even details that you can't see are designed and executed with intention. The house is built using advanced framing, which saves lumber and allows for more insulation in the walls. The crawlspace is sealed and insulated and the exterior air barrier is carefully detailed and installed to minimize air leakage. Fittingly, at the time of the blower door test, the house set a new record with the local testing agency for airtightness.

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Morgan Nowland did the photography to record the project; the images came out beautifully. I spent a half day on site with Morgan to plan the shoot and help where I could (OK, I mostly moved furniture around) and it was truly enjoyable.

These images and others will get a permanent home on the website soon. In the meantime, The clients are enjoying their new home in North Chattanooga.

We're officially a We!

I’m pleased to announce that I’ve hired my first staff member, Aaron Cole. Which means Workshop has grown by 100%. 

Aaron and I met at an architecture conference in Las Vegas in 2014. At the time, he was working in Rome, Georgia, but looking to move to Chattanooga. He interviewed at the firm I was previously part of, and we hired him then. When Workshop reached the point where it needed additional hands, I was able to bring him on.

Since then Aaron has been doing great work keeping our projects on schedule and keeping the quality of the work as high as it can be. He's constantly looking for ways to improve the look and feel of our drawings or speed up our work flow.


Aaron attended architecture school at Kennesaw State, where he met his wife, Theresa. (They now are proud parents of Elm and Og.) He started his career in Atlanta in 2003, and when the Great Recession caused many firms to shed staff, he pursued his second passion, organic farming. He worked at that for several years in West Point, Tennessee. Although he found he was successful and self-sustaining at farming, he and his family found the lifestyle too isolated for them. He moved back to Rome, Ga., farmed some family land there, and found work at a local architecture firm. In 2015, he and the family moved to Chattanooga and he fully committed himself to an architecture career.

He’s currently in the midst of registration exams to obtain his license. His interests outside architecture are organic farming, addressing food deserts, and creating obtainable and equitable housing for communities. To quote him speaking about a pro bono project he was engaged in, “I like working for people who need it, not just people who just want it.”

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Aaron is an old punk who is fond of quoting Joe Strummer from the Clash, and you’re far more likely to encounter him wearing a Ramones or Minuteman T-shirt than a button down and khakis.

He’s also a committed bicycle commuter, and very active in Bike/Walk Chattanooga, which fits neatly with his passion for healthy lifestyles and community networks. On Sundays, you can find him selling Velo Coffee cold brews from the Velo pedal-powered kiosk at the Chattanooga Market.

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Sculpture Flats

Sculpture Flats Commercial

I’ve been working with developer and contractor Jay Martin of Renew on this adaptive reuse project through the winter months and am excited about seeing it break ground soon. 

We’ve taken the site of a former Mr. T’s tire store at 1155 E. Main Street and redeveloped it as a live/work space. The original Mr. T’s will contain up to four spaces that can serve as offices or retail storefronts. It is bookended by two new matching 11-unit apartment buildings. The development’s name is a nod to its close proximity to John Henry’s sculpture yards and the Sculpture Fields at Montague Park.

In the new buildings, we configured the three units on the ground floor as live/work spaces. Access from the street allows the front room of each unit to be set up as a storefront or retail space, with a galley kitchen in the center and a bedroom and bath in the back. The remaining two floors have a mix of one-bedroom, two-bedroom, and studio apartments.

mixed use building chattanooga

The new buildings are contemporary, but scaled to be friendly to the street, not imposing. They have a warm color palette and incorporate a covered stoop for the ground floor and balconies for the upper floor apartments. A grid created by projecting the walls and overhangs toward the street creates a protective zone for the apartments, especially the ground-floor units, by inserting some covered space between the units and the street.

The original Mr. T’s, now the commercial space, has an outdoor patio facing the street to serve as outdoor space for the buildings’ inhabitants and to interact with the street. 

I’ve been fortunate to work with a great team on Sculpture Flats, including Jay Martin at Renew, Glen Craig of Craig Design Group (landscape architecture), and March Adams & Associates (construction engineering).

Sculpture Flats Residential

A Home for Young Adults

Chambliss Center Chattanooga

Chambliss Center for Children one of Chattanooga’s oldest social institutions. Originally founded as Vine Street Orphan’s Home in 1872, it has been working to meet the needs of Chattanooga’s children for 145 years. Its mission is to preserve family unity and to help prevent the dependency, neglect, abuse and delinquency of children by responding to the community's childcare needs. The agency’s 24-hour Extended Child Care Program (ECE) provides affordable, accessible, quality child care for parents working or in school, helping them meet their complex childcare needs. In addition to the ECE program, Chambliss Center for Children also has a Residential Program, which recruits and trains foster families, operates a group home, and helps facilitate adoptions for children who have been taken in to state custody due to abuse, abandonment, neglect and/or delinquency.

I first formed a working relationship with Chambliss more than 15 years ago, when I was a young architect who had just moved back to Chattanooga. Since then, I have done several projects for them as I worked at various firms around town. I was pleased to be tapped again a couple of years ago as they conceived a plan to help youth aging out of state custody launch successfully into adulthood.

This latest project meets a crucial need that is not addressed in our current system. Financial support for children in state custody can end at age 18. Kids in the system are often on their own the year they graduate from high school, sometimes while they are still in high school, with no further funds or adult guidance to help them proceed at a very critical time. The state does pay for college tuition for former foster children, but they must maintain their grades—which is difficult to do if you are effectively homeless and without any adults to help you.

To help adolescents who are at this critical point in their lives, Chambliss decided to build new housing across the street from its campus. Kids who have just aged out of the system can live here independently, but will have a dedicated program administrator working with them. Chambliss did major fundraising to build the housing, and will receive some ongoing reimbursement funding from the state to keep the program running.

My challenge here was to create housing that provided these young adults with privacy, dignity, and the space to be independent—but that also created a framework for interaction with each other and the community. And of course it needed to be done on a tight budget.

Programmatically, I arrived at a matched pair of duplexes arranged around a common green. Each of the four one-bedroom units is only 550 feet, but contains a living room, kitchen, entry vestibule with a laundry closet, bedroom, and bathroom. Nine foot ceilings help the spaces open up, and each apartment has a large screened porch to extend the living space and give the houses—and their occupants—an on-going friendly interaction with the neighborhood. A projected window seat on the front porch creates a private, protected nook from which to observe the street. I designed a lifted roof over the front stoop of each apartment to add some height to what are otherwise small buildings.

We broke ground in spring 2016, and the units are close to completion now. Everett Warren of WLH Construction has done a great job shepherding the project and the process. And the Helen Maclellan Tipton and Kathrina Howze Maclellan Transitional Living Apartments will become home for four young adults in early 2017.

Chambliss Construction

Making It Come Out Right

chattanooga modern home

Back in August I posted about this project. It’s particularly important to me for two reasons. I really like the clients personally and want to make them happy. And I want to prove that you can design and build clean, modern residential homes for a price similar to what you would pay for traditional spec builder homes using off-the-shelf home plans.

So, we got our numbers back on this project as designed, and it came in almost $70,000 more than our original target budget. Ooof. We—my colleagues at New Blue Construction, the clients, and I—scratched our heads and came up with a set of changes we hoped would get the price down. 

The biggest move was to eliminate the garage altogether. In its place, I designed an arrangement of screen walls and an overhead canopy to make a sheltered parking place and define the courtyard space. Without the garage, the walls and canopy create a series of overlapping planes that are really more contemporary than the garage was. The clients and I both really like this solution better than the original garage.

Inside, we eliminated a powder room on the ground floor, but rearranged the master bath and closet so that the master bath can be accessed from the hall by guests. Upstairs, we simplified the upstairs reading nook, replacing a bay window with a regular window.

Those changes got us down to within $25,000, which was still too high. So next I turned to the exterior materials. On the parts of the house you can see from the street, I replaced some of the brick with metal siding and Hardie Plank. On the rear and side of the house, I used an integrally colored concrete masonry unit that matches the color of the brick. These changes got us to within 7 percent, of our original target. The client was willing to make the stretch, and the project is a go now.

In the end, I was able to protect the things that were the most important to the clients (and to me as the architect): the courtyard, art studio, a modern open riser stair, and the generous glass doors that open on to the screen porch with its fabulous view. The clients will have a gracious house designed around their preferences and habits, and it won’t cost an arm and a leg. It came out right.

NextGen Homes

NextGen Home rendering by WM Whitaker Landscape Architects

NextGen Home rendering by WM Whitaker Landscape Architects

I joined the board of green|spaces this year. If you don’t know about green|spaces and the great work they’ve been doing for almost 10 years now, please head to www.greenspaceschattanooga.org to find out more. They are a nonprofit dedicated to advancing the sustainability of living, working, and building in the Chattanooga region.

One of green|spaces’ recent efforts to that end is building a group of homes called the NextGen Homes that will attain net zero energy use and putting them on the market for sale. Coming in at a reasonable $360,000, the NextGen houses are intended to demonstrate that smart, super energy-efficient housing is attainable right here and now in Chattanooga. To understand what a big deal this is, check out this article from the Wall Street Journal highlighting a model net zero house listing for $2.5 million and quoting builders who think net zero is not “commercially available” or “affordable.” 

The first of four planned NextGen Homes is under construction now, and I’m pleased to be part of the team working to create, build, and sell this project. I look forward to deploying some of the smart building strategies we used here in future projects.

In order to get Net Zero Energy Certification (see here for info about the certifying body), a building has to generate as much energy as it consumes. To do this we design the house to use a minimum of energy and then design a solar array to meet or slightly exceed that energy usage. It may sound intimidating or hard to do, but the tactics we’re using here are common-sense approaches that can be used for any single-family home.

Siting and exposure. Of course we positioned the house to ensure year-round sun on the portion of the house that was going to get a solar array, but we also used the roof overhangs to provide summertime shade for the windows on the south side of the building. The east and west openings will be protected by deep porches or operable shutters.

Insulation and air-sealing. The insulation in the walls, floors, and ceilings of a house are what hold the heat or cold inside or out depending on the time of year. Fiberglass batts, the convenient and common solution, are not the most energy-efficient to begin with, and poor installation can reduce their effectiveness even further. So instead, we are using a Greenguard Certified spray-applied open-cell foam for the ceilings and crawlspace. The foam has a much higher insulation factor than batts, serves also as an air barrier, and helps with air sealing at joints and crevices. Of course no amount of insulation will help if the wind can blow right in around windows, doors, or electrical outlets. Which is why today we install some form of vapor-permeable air barrier. Like Gore-Tex for a house, the air barrier repels liquid water, allows water vapor to escape, and holds in the conditioned air. Air barriers take many forms—from building wraps to peel-and-stick sheets to rolled-on liquids— and the technology is always changing. The NextGen Home will use a self-adhered sheet with matching tapes to seal around windows and doors.

High-efficiency heat pump and energy recovery ventilator. Because when you seal everything up really tight, you actually do have to introduce fresh air through mechanical means. The benefit of doing this on purpose (rather than through a drafty window) is that the fresh air can be cooled or heated as it is introduced, and that reduces the load on the heating and cooling.

Solar array. The construction measures discussed above keep the house from using too much energy, but the other part of the equation is the 6 kW solar array, which will let the house generate enough renewable energy to meet its own needs.

Smart water use. Things like low-flow toilets and faucets reduce general water use. Pervious pavers on the patios and driveway let water through to the ground and keep it from running off into the streets and sewer system.

The house is currently under construction at 631 Hamilton Avenue on the North Shore, and should be completed by early summer. To see it in person, you can take one of green|spaces' regular tours as construction proceeds (info on tours here)

Net Zero NextGen Home Chattanooga

Project team:


Workshop : Architecture

WM Whitaker Landscape Architects

Collier Construction

Grace Frank Group

Taking Shape


A residential project I’ve been working on is taking shape now. This is one of my favorite parts of the process—when I can articulate in three dimensions all the wants, needs, and aesthetic leanings the client and I have discussed.

In this case, my clients are a couple with a grown son who want to create their “forever” house. They are art lovers who create and collect art, so the home will incorporate a studio and serve as a showcase for the works they own. The clients are also looking for spacious open plan living, a generous master suite, a guest bedroom and bath, space to house books, pleasant outdoor spaces and gardening opportunities, and a well-planned, light-filled kitchen.

One major goal is to provide a gracious living experience with all the functions the clients want in 1,900 square feet, with a cost of less than $175 a square foot. (Keep in mind that the average square footage of new homes currently stands at around 2,700 square feet, and the average cost per square foot is around $150.) The clients and I agree that we want to spend money on generous gestures that add to the everyday living experience—such as a folding window/wall system that will allow the back wall of the living space to virtually disappear—and economize on other elements.

The sloped site is on a busy street near a five-way intersection. To screen the home from the noise and visual clutter of the street, I’ve placed the garage and an enclosed brick courtyard at the front of the site. A covered walkway connects the garage to the house. The clients can create a rich visual experience for entry to the house through plantings and sculpture in the courtyard.


Inside, I’ve continued to protect the home’s views and privacy by placing the windows high on the wall adjacent to a neighboring rental property. The high windows will let in light, while the solid wall below will provide privacy—plus space for artwork display and built-in shelving in the open plan living and dining space. Views are directed out toward the back of the house, where the folding window/wall system will open the back wall to a screened porch. The site slopes enough here to allow the porch to be in the treetops.

The master bedroom, art studio, and kitchen complete the first floor. Upstairs, a guest bedroom will also function as a library, completed with a reading nook that looks over the wooded lot. The bedroom opens to a rooftop deck that overlooks the courtyard—another connection to the outdoors and gardening opportunity.

Stylistically, the exterior form of the house is modern and clean, but not too aggressive: we wanted the house to be in the same family as the 1920s cottages close by. The overall modest size as well as the pitched roofs and lap siding help us to be good neighbors.

The project is currently out for pricing with New Blue Construction (http://newblueconstruction.com). We've all got our fingers crossed that the pricing will come back on target. The next step will be to adjust for any overages that might come up in pricing, and then on to construction.


Meanwhile in Nashville...


Project: Snyder Court
Developer: Nuck & Beal
Location: East Nashville

I’ve been working on a new project that should break ground in East Nashville this fall. Called Snyder Court, it’s a development of 4 single-family houses aimed at first-time homebuyers. Each unit is roughly 2000 square feet and has 3 bedrooms. Some of the units have 2 full and 2 half baths, and others have 3 full and 1 half bath.

Each project has unique challenges and this one is no different. In this case, there were three particular challenges to solve, and here’s how the client and I handled each issue:

Providing a gracious, dignified living environment in a small footprint

Clearly, on a small lot, we had to go tall to be able to provide 2000 square feet of living space. The bottom floor of each unit contains the garage, a porch, and an office or bedroom. The kitchen and open plan living space are on the second floor, with additional bedrooms on the third floor. We located a bath on each level for easy access. The porch on the ground floor and a balcony on the second floor extend the living space outside and are sheltered from the street by a two-story wood screen. Each unit is defined with a pop of bright color that frames and accentuates the screened area.


Getting these tall (3-story) houses to fit in with the scale of the current housing in the neighborhood

Although going to three stories let us provide plenty of living space, it presented another challenge—these houses could potentially loom over the existing buildings on the street. I worked hard to bring the scale down by finessing the roof lines, pulling the eaves down so that the third floor felt more like an attic story and the overall volume felt more like the conventional 2-story houses already in the area.

Creating privacy on a busy street

These houses will be on a street with a fair amount of traffic and noise. To give the homeowners privacy and shelter, I created wrap-around screening that extends up to the second floor. These screens will allow plenty of light to flood the living spaces while also blocking out the hectic sights and sounds of the busy street.

Site Analysis

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It's important to understand what nature gives you. How steep is the land? Where does the sun rise and set? Is there a view? What about wind, or flooding, or an unattractive view or unwanted noise?

This project will require some unusual shading and screening strategies to minimize unwanted noise and bring in natural light. There's a busy intersection to be screened and the rising sun is shining directly along the length of the site in mid-summer. On the plus side of the ledger there are a couple of beautiful oaks, there's a winter view to the north, and the entrance from the road is nice and level.

I map everything of interest, both good and bad, by hand over a topographical map of the project site. This gives me my first clues about where to locate certain rooms, and where and how to place windows. As soon as I have a working floor plan I'll refer back to my site analysis to be sure I'm on target with the project goals - minimizing unwanted noise or unattractive views while maximizing light, and balancing views, and privacy.

Herding Cats


One of the first steps in designing a project is figuring out the program. This is just a written list of the spaces along with anything that may be known about them. Sometimes it's pretty simple:

"We'd like to add a master bedroom and bath. The bathroom should have a shower but we don't need a tub." "Oh, and we'd like two sinks in the vanity."

Sometimes it runs for pages and pages with detailed room descriptions and adjacencies. The program for the project I'm working on right now is a little over two pages and includes everything that the client could think of as well as everything I could think to ask. The project is a house of only 1500 square feet so it's pretty detailed. My clients for this house are artists as well as dedicated cat people so one interesting wrinkle in this problem is controlling access to various parts of the house for the felines.

That's right. This morning I'm herding cats.