Houston will be featured on Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, Sunday, October 10th on abc13 at 7PM. See the transformation of the new Johnson family home, designed by Studio RED Architects with construction managed by HHN Homes, both of Houston, with the help of hundreds of Houston volunteers who worked round the clock for one week this past summer while the deserving family was sent on an educational trip to Paris.
When Pete Ed Garrett took the call from Lee Harris at HHN Homes to participate in a “secret project” that would require a donation of considerable time and talent to design a home that would be built in a week, he didn’t hesitate. This was in spite of the fact that Studio RED and his own design experience leaned more towards large assembly projects such as Lakewood Church, theaters such as the Hobby Center, entertainment projects such as Moody Gardens and renovation projects such as converting the Nabisco Bakery to the John C. McGovern campus for Texas Medical Center. While one of his colleagues, Bill Neuhaus, FAIA, LEED-AP, had designed a number of homes including the renovation of Rice University President’s House, none were on the scale or schedule of the “secret project” in Houston”s Third Ward for the hit ABC show “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition”. But Lee Harris, who had agreed to be the contractor for this incredibly challenging project, knew Studio RED Architects firsthand as a firm he could count on after working with them as a building committee member on their project, First Baptist Church of Friendswood. According to Pete Ed Garrett, AIA, “It would have been much easier to say, ‘No’; but I recognized that, like many things in life, opportunities are put in your path, and we should seize the chance to do some good with our talents.”
The whirlwind schedule began after the call on a Thursday evening last June. The next day, HHN Homes was meeting with principals from Studio RED and the process began. A number of families in the Houston area were told they were contenders but were kept in the dark about who had been selected. That way, the EMHE staff was able to solicit input for what they wanted and needed in a new home, but keeping their selection a secret. In just one short week, with input from the EMHE staff, Studio RED Architects prepared all documents for the design. This compares with a typical six to eight month schedule for a residential design project!
Some of the direction Studio RED was given for the family of mother, father and five daughters were a desire for a Spanish Mission style, a grand spiral staircase, and a way for all the daughters to be able to share their passion for fashion and modeling together. Studio RED Architects partner Jared Wood, AIA, and Michael Nguyen– worked around the clock getting documents ready and finalizing the elevation and plans with the EMHE staff as client. Studio RED saw an opportunity to add some sustainable features to the home, such as water harvesting tanks, extra insulation, solar panels, energy efficient air conditioning and windows, all of which would work to reduce their future energy bills.
The challenges of designing in such an abbreviated schedule did not end there. Obtaining permitting in such a short time was a feat in itself with the architects traveling back and forth to the City of Houston multiple times in a day to finalize the drawings in code. In addition to the short time frame, the builder was relying on donations for materials, which also required extreme flexibility on the part of the architects when certain materials they specified were not donated. Ultimately, they had to design around what was available, not an ideal design process!
The deserving Johnson family was told in a surprise party at the Comedy Club in Houston with 400 in attendance including the EMHE stars, Ty, Ed, Michael, and Paige. Then, they were off to an educational trip to Paris and the hard work began. It goes without saying that the infamous week of construction was a tireless feat for all involved–contractor, architects, engineers and volunteers, especially in the 100 degree July heat and humidity of Houston. Crews worked round the clock. Donations were not just needed for construction materials but also for food, drinks and shelter for all the volunteers.
Nguyen and Wood stayed on the site during construction with their laptops to refine and modify plans as needed. Studio RED also lent their Director of Business Development, Cindy Young, full time to the cause for two weeks. She did everything from finding portable a/c units for tents to trucks for transporting sheetrock to donations for an auction party that would help pay for the families’ future expenses. She was also heard numerous times on the radio soliciting donations of materials for that day.
Working with the EMHE staff and TV crews made this a unique experience for all involved. When Ty Pennington shouted his infamous, “Move that bus!” for the family upon their return from their trip, it became very clear why this massive effort and donation of time, talent and materials was worth it for all who participated. As Studio RED Architect Michael Nguyen stated, “Once I met the family and saw how appreciative and excited they were, it made me realize what this was all about. I think everyone felt good after the experience. There’s nothing better than that. And, now I can add “residential design” to my resume!