Expanding an Urban Residence from the Ground Up 

Project: Farrow Residence, San Diego, California

Architect & Contractor: Brent Farrow Architect, Cardiff, California
Block Producer: Orco Block, Stanton, California

There was really only one direction in which to build when Brent Farrow, an architect in San Diego, California, decided to remodel a 100 year old home to incorporate a home and studio. He didn’t want to sacrifice the small amount of yard in the back of the lot, so he decided to go upward on the street side of the lot. With a small site and neighboring structures right up to the property line, he needed a solution that would allow him to make the use of every inch of space he had. Concrete masonry units (CMU) allowed him to build right up to the street and against the property line without requiring room for large construction equipment.

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Farrow had a green ideal in mind when he planned this live-work space. The rear yard, which contained a large concrete slab, was returned to vegetation so that the space could provide organic food and an urban oasis. As much of the 100 year old house was retained, re-used, or re-purposed so that there was little construction waste. The new construction of load-bearing CMU was mostly built without any interior or external veneer or covering to keep the number of products, chemicals and potential volatile organic compounds (VOCs) to a minimum. The exposed CMU also acts as acoustical insulation, while also providing a high degree of thermal efficiency—both important on a structure on the street in a busy mixed-use neighborhood. The CMU used in the project was locally manufactured and did not spend a lot of time on the road. Creating a live-work space made it possible for Farrow to develop a nearly car-free life—also an important green-living principle.

Farrow managed to maximize the space by creating separate entrances for the office and the home which will allow for the property to be used as a duplex in the future. This is not Farrow’s first downtown San Diego residential renovation project, and most likely won’t be his last. He wants to provide green-inspired city living to as many people as possible because “residential units help the city keep that sense of community.” Farrow continues, “Besides, it keeps another strip mall or amusement park from building in space were families could live and work and enjoy urban life.” CMD