Infill Projects 


Across the country, urban and suburban communities are taking advantage of a growing trend—infill projects. Unused or underutilized spaces in previously developed areas are getting a second chance to prosper through citywide and individual infill projects.
     Infill sites are best described as neglected public spaces and clusters of vacant or nearly-empty buildings and land. Over time, these sites can obstruct community development plans and even inhibit neighborhood safety and growth. Infill projects make it possible for communities to leverage existing assets and rethink the use of older spaces rather than continually seeking out new spaces.
    Concrete masonry units (CMU) are an ideal building material for these infill projects because there is often no adjacent space available for large equipment or staging areas. And because these projects tend to be tall and thin, closely situated to the site lines, and frequently mixed-use; the inherent strength, fire resistance, and noise abatement of CMUs provide an economic, one-step solution.
    Here are two examples of homes that were infill projects. One is single family, one is multi-family. Both utilize block for its strength, beauty, and ability to mix well with other building materials.

700 Palms Residence
Venice, California

The exuberant bohemian spirit of Venice, California, is expressed within urban residential constraints in this single family home. The design maximizes volume, light, sustainability, and privacy on a narrow 43 x 132 foot (13 x 40 meters) urban infill lot, with sensitivity to the scale of its eclectic neighborhood of beach bungalows a half mile (0.8 hectare) from the Pacific Ocean. The house dissolves the barriers between indoors and out, creating flexible spaces that take advantage of the benign climate.
A variety of raw materials fit in with the grittiness of the Venice environment; the maintenance-free exterior of concrete masonry units (CMU), synthetic reinforced stucco, corrosion retarding steel, composite decking, and copper weathers naturally and eliminate the use of paints and sealants. All materials involved in the project were carefully selected for their durable, low maintenance characteristics and significant recycled content and recyclable potential.
Flexibility and transformation have been fully realized throughout the house. The wood-and-steel frame structure is outlined by a steel exoskeleton, from which electronically controlled light scrims roll down and horizontally to shield the front façade from the southwestern sun.
Shifts from confined to lofty spaces animate the design. Space is compressed at the low front entrance of the house, and then explodes into the main volume. The 16-foot-high (4.9 meter) living–dining area opens up with sliding and pivoting glass doors on three sides; when opened entirely to the elements, the structure is an airy pavilion with temperate ocean breezes. A glass bridge spans the living room and connects to the upper floors.
Rough and smooth surfaces are contrasted throughout the house. The western front facade, a clearly defined mass, is clad inside and out in rusted steel. Ample roof overhangs and fascias are of metal and high-density timber panels. The white interior back wall of shot-blasted structural CMU with white mortar serves as a backdrop for artwork. All interior surfaces rely on varying tactile materials such as pumice-aggregated CMU, carbon steel and plaster which are left unpainted. As a result, there are practically no VOC emissions for enhanced indoor occupant health.
This eco-friendly residence is designed as a high-performance home, dissolving the barriers between indoors and outdoors. It utilizes raw, honest materials appropriate to the bohemian grittiness of the surrounding community and has a small carbon footprint in balance with lifestyle.
Three garden courtyards embrace three 80-year-old trees. The courtyards afford privacy and enhance the well being of its occupants. The overall massing maximizes volume and natural light on the narrow lot, yet displays sensitivity of scale to the eclectic neighborhood. Exterior sunshades on an exoskeleton of steel control the heat gain from the Southwestern exposure. Flexible, transformative spaces were created through the use of extensive operable glass doors. When open to the elements, the living area is transformed into an airy pavilion.
    The design takes full advantage of the local climate such that a net zero energy building is obtained. This was done by employing a highly efficient building envelope and incorporating passive solar gains. Radiant floors and solar thermal energy are utilized for space heating and domestic hot water heating. The house also relies on natural ventilation, thermal mass provided by concrete masonry walls and concrete floors and operable shading to eliminate mechanical cooling, despite the large glazing areas. Finally, by employing ultra-efficient appliances and lighting and by incorporating solar electric power for the remaining loads, the house achieves its goal for a net zero energy home.


Ehrlich Architects, Culver City, California

Parker Resnick Structural Engineering, Los Angeles, California

Mark Shramek Construction, Huntington Beach, California

Creative Masonry, Malibu, California

ORCO Block Company, Inc., Stanton, California 


Concrete Masonry Association of California and Nevada Design Award Program Grand Award Winner, Residential
Jury Comments: A fabulous design—a Net Zero Energy  building. The perfect example of what is possible. Supremely livable, while adeptly incorporating technology is clear with every view. The spaces are open yet defined, having innovative daylighting techniques as the star of the show. The concrete masonry becomes a critical backdrop to intersecting materials, exterior  andscaping, and art. It is essential to the design, yet is not overwhelming. The integrated sustainable properties of this house left no doubt that a Grand Award Winner had been found.



Phoenix, Arizona

With a total of ten units, Mezzo fits distinctively into its 1950s mid-town Phoenix residential neighborhood. Five units are entered from the east through street-side garden courtyards of weathered, welded wire mesh and five units are accessed from the west along a “common mews” walkway of broken concrete pavers. At the heart of the complex is a shared auto court and raised bed community vegetable garden.

Each home of 1,525 square feet (142 square meter) consists of: an entry, study, and carport on level 1; a living room, dining room, and kitchen on level 2; and two bedrooms with on-suite baths on level 3. Delineated by expressed masonry bearing walls, the simply sculpted spaces are given memorable identity by the use of carefully positioned window apertures and triangular pop out kitchen bay windows. Angular geometries of interior walls add to the dynamism and interest of the interiors and complement the finishes of sand-lasted block, stone floors, and cherry cabinets.

Exterior finishes and textures of masonry and perforated metal play against Mezzo’s dramatically positioned planes of colored plaster. Mezzo carves out its own unique place in the eclectic neighborhood while offering comfortable urban living appropriate to its desert climate.

Instead of building an expensive and eco-wasteful pool the developer developed a “community garden” with each home owner having his or her own “box.” The homeowners association plans to bring in a professional organic gardener once a month to check on and teach the residents how to grow their own vegetables.

A creative use of masonry is at the core of the architecture of the Mezzo condo complex.

Simple, sculptural planes of expressed concrete block in 4 and 8 inch (102 and 203 mm) modules define and bracket project experience from both the both the exterior and interior.

Integrally colored green 4 inch (102 mm) high block and sandblasted gray 8 inch (203 mm) high block are articulated with three joint types: flush, weeping and raked. In light and shadow these surfaces change  across both days and seasons. Carefully composed surfaces of galvanized metal and weathered steel, as well as strongly chromatic cobalt blue plaster planes, the masonry grounds the project in its desert landscape and historic neighborhood context. CMD



Will Bruder Partners Ltd., Phoenix, Arizona

rudow + berry, inc., Scottsdale, Arizona

cz multi, inc., Phoenix, Arizona

Pioneer Masonry Inc., Glendale, Arizona

Western Block Company Inc.