BRW School Architecture

School Design


BRW principal, Lisa Lamkin AIA and Senior Associate Anne Hildenbrand, AIA  recently published an article entitled “Reborn on the Bayou” in the October issue of College Planning and Management Magazine.  Click here to view the article about the renovation of Houston’s San Jacinto Memorial Building for Houston Community College.


The Texas A&M Commerce Music Building received an Outstanding Design Award from the American School and University Magazine.  Congratulations to the team and to Texas A&M.  Click here to view the submission online.


Doug Hankins and Malia Nix anticipating school administrators and board members

BRW recently attended this year’s TASA TASB convention held at the Austin Convention Center.  The Texas Association of School Administrators and Texas Association of School Boards (TASA TASB) have been hosting this annual convention since 1960.

BRW was well represented by Lisa Lamkin, AIA , Jeff Choyce, AIA,   Malia Nix, and Doug Hankins, Assoc. AIA.  This dynamic team spent the convention meeting school administrators and school board members from across the state as well as while attending several seminar sessions.  Listening to LaVar Burton speak Saturday morning was one of the highlights of the convention.  BRW congratulates the Honor School Boards: Cedar Hill ISD, Klein ISD, Longview ISD, McAllen ISD, and Northwest ISD.


As a Dallas ISD parent and volunteer I get several publications sent to the house about the district’s growth (boring), money (drama), test scores (disappointing), and this time about CONSTRUCTION OF NEW SCHOOLS (Awesome!).  Right there was picture of our very own renovation and addition of the Woodrow Wilson High School.  The article is titled, “Applause, Applause for New Additions to Woodrow Wilson”.  I quote… “Woodrow Wilson High School, the only International Baccalaureate World School in the Dallas ISD, is growing and improving, breaking new ground both physically and academically, all to the benefit of more than 1,500 students.”

As a DISD parent, I appreciate all the work, sweat, and effort BRW puts into its projects.  Standing Ovation from me.

Click here for details and a progress update as well as photos from the groundbreaking:



BRW Architects embraces a structured process for planning, design and documentation that supports a collaborative atmosphere and leads to well-integrated documents aligned with the project scope and budget.

Our 6-step process leads to a completed campus designed for long-term value that enhances the community and stays within budget.

Step 1 – Visioning and Programming

A vital first step for all project stakeholders is reaching consensus on 3 to 5 prioritized key goals for the project.  For example, an important factor to be confirmed early is whether the building will be LEED certified or a TX CHPS-designed school incorporating “green” building features.

This crucial first step is often overlooked when a project starts, as it often does, with “Ed Specs” (Educational Specifications) and Technical Design Guidelines already adopted by the district.  Even with such established guidelines, every project has some unique aspects that should be fully considered early in the process.

Stakeholders must understand that when project priorities shift during design, these revised goals often conflict with fundamental early design decisions and have a significant impact on the budget. This is especially true with building renovation and additions, as it is always difficult to know where to stop with renovation.

To properly evaluate existing buildings, an Existing Condition Assessment should separate the project scope into three categories: 1) deferred maintenance, physical condition, and code improvements, 2) operational improvements, and 3) aesthetic improvements.

Next we prioritize these scope categories and align them with the budget accordingly.  The overall goal should be to find the best value.  For example, a priority might be exterior design, where aesthetic improvements for the benefit of the community may be a required priority.  The final step in defining project scope is going through a detailed review of the program ‘Ed Specs,’  translating operational needs into the appropriate building spaces and site requirements.

Step 2 – Scope to Budget

While confirming the Scope to Budget the project budget and project requirements must be analyzed to assure the scope and budget are aligned from the start. Two important budget items – not discussed often enough – are contingencies and cost escalation.  Most owners agree that a small contingency fund built into the construction contract helps accommodate small unforeseen conditions.  But another contingency fund should also be held outside the construction contract to cover larger unforeseen issues, if any, as well as to fund added scope desired during construction.

The best time to establish the most appropriate construction contracting method is before the project design phase.  But whether the contract is a lump sum or cost plus a negotiated fee contract attained through a Competitive Sealed Proposal, Construction Manager at Risk, or Design Build method, it is important to identify the responsibility for cost estimating and a process to re-align project scope as necessary.  This is especially true when the contractor is under contract during building design phases, such as when the CMAR approach is used, when all team players should participate in the scope-to-budget alignment process.

During the scope-to-budget phase, BRW uses our in-house Historic  Construction Costs database to prepare the first cost estimate.  This is the time to consider site development and foundation design costs.  If the geotechnical report is complete, the estimate can be more accurately tailored to the foundation design recommended for the specific site.

Among site development issues to consider is cost created by distance to utilities such as water, sewer, electrical power, and natural gas.  Another substantial cost factor depends entirely on the project’s location: in hurricane-prone areas or where tornado-resistant rooms are desired, structural design to resist these wind loads will add cost.

Step 3 – Concept Design:  SF Cost Estimate

During concept design, the site plan, floor plan and building massing options are reviewed and consensus for a preferred scheme is established.  More detailed cost-related discussions of this stage in design may include: landscaping ordinance requirements; building code requirements, exterior image and building material, and roofing assemblies.

This is also a good time to discuss the benefit of creating bid alternates to allow flexibility on bid day.  The goal is to achieve an awardable base bid, with the flexibility to fully utilize the available budget by selecting separately bid alternates.  The best type of scope for bid alternates is when they involve one or just a few trades, such as an alternative roofing system. As the concept design forms, the next cost estimate will still be based on square foot cost, but it will now be anchored on a concept floor plan and preliminary site layout.  This is a critical time to make any major realignment of the project scope and budget, if necessary, before Schematic Design begins.

Step 4 – Schematic Design:  First Quantity Take-off Cost Estimate

The Schematic Design (SD) phase usually builds on the concept design with more engineering decisions, including civil grading and site utilities, structural foundations and framing, and mechanical/electrical systems.  At this time many building products and materials assemblies are considered for life span, performance, energy and water efficiency, appearance, code compliance, and cost.  The cost estimate created during SD will typically be the first quantity take-off estimate, where all major components are measured in linear feet, square feet, or cubic yards and multiplied by a unit cost.  Once again, the cost estimate is reviewed and the project scope is evaluated against the construction budget.

Step 5 – Design Development:  Cost Estimate with Engineering Systems

The Design Development (DD) phase typically involves final selection and approval of all materials and building systems.  The DD cost estimate is a refinement of the SD estimate, with more detail.  It is the final validation of the project scope before construction documents (CDs) begin.

Step 6 – Construction Document:  Final Cost Estimate

The challenge with preparing CDs, as related to construction cost, is to not allow “scope creep” into the construction documents.  At this stage, owners and designers will inevitably think of small project enhancements, which may be incorporated, as long as the overall construction cost is carefully monitored.  A 95% cost estimate is the final check before bidding or pricing and this is the time to finalize bid alternates.

With the structured collaborative process outlined here the project will be one that the community takes pride in and the district can proudly say stayed within the budget.

POSTED BY: Lisa Lamkin, AIA


In 1914, Woodrow Wilson was president, Babe Ruth made his major league debut, Charlie Chaplin made his film debut, and The San Jacinto Memorial Building in Houston, Texas began its life as the South Side Junior High School. At the time, many students dropped out of school at this age and junior high schools were being introduced as a response. This school was designed in the Classic Renaissance style, complete with Doric columns, carved pediments, and copper spandrels. After the Great Fifth Ward Fire in Houston on February 21, 1912 which consumed a church, a school, industrial plants and homes, it is no surprise that the school’s fireproof construction was touted, including not just concrete and stone, but interior partitions of hollow tile as well. Designed by architects Layton & Smith of Oklahoma City, the 3-story building, housing 800 students its first year, cost $300,000 to build and equip; this would be equivalent to $6,564,000 today.

In 1925, after the success of the junior high experiment, three more junior high schools were opened in Houston, and South End Junior High transformed into a Senior High School, adopting the name San Jacinto, in a small part so the athletic teams would not need new uniforms. A fountain in the Conservatory was added in honor of the school principal, Mr. Black.

To meet the ever growing need of the community, a classroom wing was added in full Art Deco style in 1927, which included a third floor cafeteria, followed by another addition in 1939 with a more spacious auditorium and firing range below the stage. Not only did these house a growing high school population, but also night classes given by the Houston Technical Institute. The school remained a functioning high school until 1970 when the Houston Technical Institute took over full ownership of the building. The current owner, Houston Community College, acquired the building in 1988.  At 98 years old the building is in need of a comprehensive renovation and exterior facade restoration.  BRW has been commissioned by HCC to design its rebirth as a facility ready for 21st century education with exterior restored to its original distinction.  Check back soon for details on the renovation / restoration progress.



The process of deciding whether building owners will benefit from choices that increase costs up-front but provide cost savings down the road

Do we invest now in more durable flooring that takes little maintenance, or do we go for a less expensive flooring material that requires more frequent, labor-intensive maintenance?  Do we pay more for a roofing material that deflects heat or do we buy a less expensive roof that results in higher air conditioning bills?

In an ideal world, we would always opt for the more durable, lower maintenance materials.  After all, building maintenance budgets for school facilities have been just as hard-hit as every other budget.  Construction budgets, however, haven’t been immune to cuts either, so school administrators must weigh carefully the costs and benefits of various building materials and systems before deciding which option to take.

At BRW, we are firm believers that building a durable, low-maintenance, energy-smart school facility is one of the wisest investments a school district can make.  In our experience, the up-front costs are made up many times over in lower heating and cooling bills, less manpower (i.e. custodial salaries), lower water bills, and overall lower maintenance costs.  One of the key elements in long term facility costs is the cost of the energy it consumes.

When designing any building for maximum energy efficiency, the four main components are 1) the building envelope, 2) interior finishes, 3) building mechanical systems, and 4) water-saving devices.

Depending on local climate, existing regulations, and local priorities, one of these may be more important than others.  But, in general, our goal is to build the most energy-efficient building we can while staying within our budget.  Designing an energy-efficient building is the architectural equivalent of flossing, eating a healthy diet and getting regular exercise: it’s a little investment now that pays off immensely when middle age hits.

The building envelope: This includes the roofing material, insulation, flashing (the waterproofing system that diverts water that inevitably infiltrates the wall system), and exterior materials.  Each of these elements has a wide range of choices that offer both durability and lower maintenance.

Interior finishes: This includes flooring, wall finishes, and ceilings.  Because of the extreme wear and tear on school floors, this single decision can mean dramatic savings (or costs) down the road.  Newer choices, such as diamond-polished concrete, epoxy terrazzo, or porcelain ceramic tile, are a wonderful alternative to vinyl composition tile, which requires periodic stripping and waxing, or carpet which quickly shows wear.

Building mechanical systems: There are a variety of heating and cooling systems, such as geothermal systems, that offer long-term savings.  But there are efficient, easy-to-maintain, traditional rooftop or central plant systems that can be good choices when geothermal isn’t an option.  With lighting, the goal is to maximize daylight harvesting while also controlling cooling costs.

Water-saving devices: Given the increasing demand for water, combined with Mother Nature’s unpredictability with increased concern for potential use restrictions, installing water-benefits systems throughout the school offers almost instantly realized savings.  Low-flow or dual-flush toilets in the bathroom, as well as electronic sensor faucets, can bring dramatic savings.  Outside, xeriscaping with hearty, native plants and drip irrigation is undoubtedly the way to go.

Stay tuned for more in-depth discussions of each of these topics.  If you can’t wait, though, and you would like to talk with us now about designing a low-maintenance energy-smart school in your area, please contact us at

POSTED BY: Jeffrey Choyce, AIA and Lisa Lamkin, AIA