• Property: Alexan Lofts
  • Location: Houston
  • Construction Costs: $13 million (est.)
  • Project Scope: Renovate six warehouses on 7.43-acre site.

Imagine renovating six downtown warehouses of varying age, structure, and materials. It sounds like an overwhelming task, but to Trammell Crow Residential, these Houston structures represented an opportunity.
“I saw the potential for Houston's first authentic loft building with all the amenities,” says Scott Wise, project developer and senior managing director at Trammell Crow Residential in Houston. “There is just not another residential building of comparable size.”

So, when the warehouse property fell out of contract from its owner, who wanted a mix of retail and office space, Wise visited the site and immediately saw the opportunity for residential.

SOARING SPACE: Alexan Lofts' two-story atrium is home to the property's mailboxes and the elevator to the underground garage.
SOARING SPACE: Alexan Lofts' two-story atrium is home to the property's mailboxes and the elevator to the underground garage.

It didn't promise to be easy. The warehouses were in terrible shape, says David Hensley, the project's architect from Hensley Lamkin Rachel, an architecture firm in Dallas. “The windows were busted out,” he remembers. “There were holes in the floor. It was really bad.”

Yet, after almost two years, those dilapidated warehouses became Alexan Lofts, a 244-unit apartment community complete with a palm tree courtyard.

Solving a Puzzle After Wise negotiated the purchase of the 7.43-acre site in December 2001, Trammell Crow immediately began work on the collection of Texas warehouses. The oldest was the Meyers-Spalit Manufacturing Plant, which was built around 1880. Over the next 40 years, five additional warehouses went up on the site. Four of the buildings had a timber frame (and, by 2001, needed serious structural repairs), while the other two were concrete and completely open, without a window curtain.

Such variety gave Trammell Crow some 21st-century opportunities. The company developed more than 100 floor plans to give flexibility in unit sizes while maintaining the industrial warehouse appearance in the lofts. “We wanted to highlight the interior architecture in the units,” Wise says, “such as the massive pine beams in the timber buildings and the drop column capital in the concrete units.”

In the end, there are more than 90 different types of units at the Alexan Lofts, from townhouses with underground basements to two-story flats. “We really wanted to work to maintain the unique pattern of the windows and to keep the exposed brick,” architect Hensley says. “We shifted the walls so the column became a focal point.”

Technical details mattered too. The living rooms and bedrooms were stacked vertically throughout the building, accommodating residents in rooms where the wood floors were not soundproof. “We had to put topping and carpet over floors to dampen the sound in the sleeping areas,” Hensley says. “We were able to do more exposed wood and concrete in the living areas.”

Five months into construction, the Texas Historical Commission gave the warehouses a historic designation, providing the developers with historic tax credits. As a result, the National Park Service outlined construction restrictions, such as having to restore the conditions of the buildings' bricks, putting tiles on the edge of the roofs to deflect water, and creating site signs.

“The biggest restriction was the type of windows that had to be placed in the concrete buildings,” Wise says. “Not a single window existed and we had no historic photographs of the building.”

The developers also encountered some unexpected water-related challenges. First, they soon realized the warehouses' bricks were porous. (They fixed the problem by removing sections of mortar, refilling the bricks, and covering them with a water-repellant sealant.) The teams also poured sidewalks around the Houston buildings, but they later discovered that long periods of rain caused the warehouses' basements to leach water. “We had to tear the sidewalks out, excavate, and waterproof them from the outside,” Wise says.