Inspired By: The Passive House in the Woods

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Back in 2010, when UIC was starting the Botanical Grove development, I spent a considerable amount of time researching and evaluating various green building techniques.

My goal was to offer a home that not only would be affordable and a fantastic investment, but also had innovative designs that reduce the homeowner’s impact on the environment.  The “Passive House in the Woods” was wrapping up construction, just as we were starting.

The “Passive House” blog inspired many conversations about building green and how some of these practices could be incorporated into the houses we were building.

The following are a few of the green building practices that you will see, both, in “The Passive House in the Woods” and select Botanical Grove houses:

    • Superior Quality, energy efficient Windows
    • Smart Design to get the most out of the building environment
    • Energy Recovery Ventilation System
    • Solar Panel Arrays
    • Blower Door Testing
    • Advanced Framing for waste reduction and energy efficiency
    • Insulation, Insulation and more Insulation
    • Native Plantings on the exteriors
    • Design considering Solar Heat Gain, and reducing its effects
    • Insulated Concrete Forms
    • Green Roofing – live roofing elements, solar/heat reflection, insulated systems

Read more here.

— Dean

Inspired By: Ivan Leonidov



One of my favorite architects is someone most Americans have never heard of. The great Russian Avant Garde architect Ivan Leonidov was introduced to me by me thesis tutor Elia Zenghelis and has since been someone whose work I have regularly returned to.

Leonidov is generally agreed to be the most idealistic architect of the young group of Utopian idealists that came to prominence in the interwar period, prior to Stalin’s rule. His designs were so bold and so ambitious that they were never built, except for one modest landscape project later in his careers.

I was fortunate enough to see some his original paintings on a trip to Moscow in 2002 and the 1988 book on his work by Andrei Gozak and Andrei Leonidov (the architect’s son) is one of my prized possessions. I found a few web pages that show his drawings and paintings.

Read more here.

– Brent

Inspired By: Master Plan by West 8



As a firm, we have had the good fortune to travel extensively, and meet and work with some exceptional practitioners, who have helped to inform our planning and design efforts and the ways we work.

This curiosity for what is new, innovative, and occasionally just cool, drives us to continue to always look for new forms of inspiration. This weekly post is our effort to share the things that inspire us to do what we do, both from our past and in the everyday things around us.

Today, we are featuring Master Plan by the Dutch firm West 8.

This project was nearing completion when we moved to the Netherlands in 2000, and has always been an inspiration for us in terms of planning and architecture.

The plan involves the total redevelopment of two massive peninsulas outside of Amsterdam, formerly used as docks. While the magnitude of the project at 2500 residential units is impressive, West 8’s focus on rethinking the traditional Dutch row house—through a prescriptive code that required designers to work with the conventional ‘kit of parts’ of a row house, while challenging them to find new solutions—is the most innovative part.

The portion of the development that is shown most often is a series of row homes all designed be different architects, with their unique response to the challenge laid out by the planners. As we shift to a Form Based Code style of zoning in many neighborhoods, I think this could lend some inspiration to how we work.

Read more here.


Announcing Avant-Grove: New Home Models Available 9.6.14


A few months ago, we posted a survey, asking for feedback on what kind of house to build on a few lots that we are developing in The Grove. When asked about housing features, the response was to design a larger house than we have previously done, with a lot of customizable options including green features, luxury kitchens, master suites, and backyards/ leisure zones. DONE. However, we added tall, dark, and designer, too. These three models play nice with their old turn-of-the-century friends, but bring modern to new heights within the St. Louis City housing stock. Check ‘em out, but don’t wait! There are only five lots available.

Sarah Gibson, Design Principal, UIC

Contact Nikki at or 314.881.2333 for more information

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Due to the evolutionary changes in our design improvements process, there may be variations in room dimensions, door swings, windows and door locations.These images do not necessarily reflect base model pricing and show a variety of upgraded options. We reserve the right to substitute materials of comparable quality. These plans are the sole and absolute property of UIC. Use of copying of these plans, without the express written consent of UIC is illegal.

US English / Marfa Dialogues


Always cognizant of the happenings at the more and more engaging institution that is the Pulitzer Arts Foundation, we are excited that they kick-off the Marfa Dialogues, July 30-August 3, with Ballroom Marfa and the Public Concern Foundation. And, we are equally excited that our friends Brea and James McAnally of The Luminary Center for the Arts will present  Monsanto House of the Future on July 30 at 8pm at The Pulitzer as part of the kick-off programming.

Brea and James have authored the piece as US English, which is a collaborative project between the two. Monsanto House of the Future, is a performative lecture consisting of a video, voiceover, and live score by The Rats & People Motion Picture Orchestra and a publication that considers climate change as seen through speculative architecture and our changing views of the future. Their piece dovetails with the rest of the Marfa Dialogues programming which examines the ways in which art can serve as a catalyst for unexpected collaboration.

The Marfa Dialogues continues a recently established program shift in which the Pulitzer is engaging local creative professionals, inventors, teachers, and community leaders to discuss specifically St. Louis’ issues with education, business, aging, and entrepreneurialism, – and more. These activities put people in a room that might not otherwise have been engaged with each other – to generate ideas, a fresh approach, and hopefully and ongoing dialogues, in an inspiring and unexpected space.


UIC is looking forward to being there tomorrow night (Wednesday, July 30) to experience this exciting exhibition.

VISUAL HISTORY: Context-Based Design

Formerly as a student and now as a professional in the field of architecture, I have often been asked what “style” of architecture I like to design. It’s always a difficult question to answer, but I’ll give it a shot. In a nutshell, I believe that architecture should tell the story “of our time”. That is, it should speak to the values and ideals of our current culture. It should be an indication of the materials and construction techniques that were available and practical and, quite frankly, “in style” at the time it was built. It should not simply imitate the buildings around it, nor should it try to mimic the style of a previous era.

I don’t hate historical buildings. In fact, I actually really love them. But the thing is, they weren’t always historical. At one point they too were “of the times”. Saint Louis is full of red brick buildings because it was a readily-available, local, economical building material at the time that much of the city was being built. Now they are a part of our city fabric. They give us a glimpse into our history. That is one of the great things about architecture… it allows you to read the history of a place- a street, a neighborhood, a city. Each building tells a story about the time it was built. If we try to replicate or imitate the architecture of the past, we lose the ability to visually read that story. The narrative becomes confused by buildings that look historical, but are not.

Building architecture that is current and relevant doesn’t mean that we completely disregard our historical context. We can use these materials and techniques to create buildings that do, in fact, complement and enhance their context.  Things like scale, proportion, and massing are all aspects of design that we use to make sure that our new designs “play nice” with the buildings around them that may be much older. We can learn from the past and respect it and reference it without simply replicating it. Instead of trying to tell someone else’s story, we can aim for continuity of the narrative while still moving it forward.

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We see this approach taken in many other fields: automobiles, clothing, and electronics, just to name a few. In these fields, design is not stagnant. They may reference or draw inspiration from designs of the past, but it is constantly moving forward, staying current, and experimenting with new designs and technology. Why shouldn’t the field of architecture be the same? Why shouldn’t we, too, be designing products that speak of our culture and its innovation?


If you haven’t already, use one of these beautiful spring days to take a walk down the 4200 block of McRee. Here, you’ll see a streetscape made up of both 100-year-old houses and houses that were built in the last year. They stand side by side and make up a rich neighborhood fabric. Together, they tell the story of this little part of Saint Louis, and we can read that story simply by walking down the street.


Project Completion: Montessori Training Center of Saint Louis


UIC is excited to have just wrapped up construction of the Montessori Training Center of St. Louis.  Situated at 3854 Washington Avenue in Grand Center, this new facility will both train future teachers and certify them in Montessori education. It will also have a school on-site in which experience teachers and teachers in training will work with infants and Toddlers.

Lewis and Annette Haines, founders of the Center, have been dedicated to Montessori education for decades and are known globally for their work, writing, and instruction. Their facility is one of just a few located in the States, and will draw local teachers as well as teachers from Central and Eastern Europe and South America, Taiwan and Russia, all of who will come to St.Louis specifically for this school.


Montessori education and instruction emphasizes independence as well as a respect for a child’s natural development.  Part of Montessori training includes teaching young children to clean-up after themselves but also to take turns serving their fellow classmates.  Low cabinets and sinks were installed at the center so that children aged 3-5 can wash plates and prepare meals.
The Montessori Training Center is another welcome addition to the ever-developing Grand Center area, and UIC was excited to be a part of this redevelopment. We will continue to work with The Montessori Training Center as they complete their master plan in Grand Center.

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Botanical Heights: Big Events, Small Businesses!

The Botanical Heights neighborhood felt alive on Friday April 25th as 600 people came to celebrate the opening of our Tower Grove Mews project, along with the many new businesses and residents moving into the neighborhood!

There was delicious wood fired pizza provided by Union Loafers, great live music from talented St. Louisans, and enough Urban Chestnut beer to keep the party going into the wee hours. The UIC staff along with our co-hosts Slam Agency, Union Loafers, and Union Studio,  had an amazing time welcoming our friends and neighbors into our new office, and we cannot thank everyone who attended or helped out enough!


(Photo taken by Slam Agency, follow them @weareslam)

In case you missed it, here is a brief update of all the great new developments happening in the neighborhood, and what you can look forward to seeing this summer:


Union Loafers- If you tried any of the delicious bread or pizzas last Friday, you can thank Ted Wilson and the rest of the Union Loafers team. This bread bakery and café is coming very soon to the corner of Tower Grove and McRee (the former UIC office space.) Focusing on quality artisan bread, they will also be serving sandwiches, pizzas, and local beer. Joining Elaia & Olio and Chouquette, this intersection is soon becoming the culinary capitol of the city!


Slam Agency- This extremely energetic full-service digital creative agency is a great addition to Botanical Heights! Having recently moved into one of the commercial spaces along Tower Grove Avenue, they already feel right at home in the neighborhood and are ready to bring more of their creative genius to St. Louis.



Union Studio- Also residing in the commercial space along Tower Grove is this beautiful artist studio and children’s clothing retail space. Owner Mary Beth is not only selling her beautiful handmaid children’s clothing, she will also be offering art classes for both children and adults. It would be impossible not to be inspired walking into her whimsical space, so be sure to check it out soon!


Old Standard: If you have been to Elaia & Olio, or Salume Beddu, or any of Ben Poremba’s wildly popular St. Louis restaurants… you know that anything Ben touches will be beautiful, and delicious. This is absolutely true of his next restaurant: a fried chicken and whiskey bar, coming soon to the stable building of Tower Grove Mews.  If fried chicken didn’t spark your interest enough, Ben will also be serving house-made sodas, a wide array of American whiskey, and classic southern sides. You know where you will find the UIC staff on Fridays after 5!


GadellNet- This quickly growing full-service IT firm is moving into the former Lunar Tool Building on Vandeventer Avenue. We are excited to have such a prominent and forward-thinking business move into the neighborhood! This is a great stepping-stone to the further revitalization of the valuable Vandeventer corridor.

Along with the many new home constructions and renovations happening in Botanical Heights, these commercial additions are a critical part of the overall neighborhood development we are working towards. Be sure to visit our current businesses and keep your eyes out for the new ones coming soon!

James Hardie Cement Fiber Siding = Sustainability/Durability


One of the most common questions we get from home buyers and clients is, “What is cement fiber siding?” It is a product that looks like and can be installed like wood siding, however, it is much more durable and sustainable. UIC’s carpentry division, Blackbird Carpentry, installs tens of thousands of square feet of James Hardie Cement Fiber siding a year on most of the homes and some commercial projects that we build. It is a product that we stand behind in not only because it looks great, but it has up to a 30 year warranty and can be installed in a multitude of ways from the more traditional “lap” siding look to a more contemporary panelized look.

How does James Hardie Siding contribute to the sustainability and durability of a project?

  • Local manufacturing facilities support the regional economy and reduce transportation of materials costs.  We utilize a production plant in Peru, IL where our siding materials are manufactured.  Additionally, JH localizes their raw materials of sand, cement, recycled wood pulp and water, again reducing transportation and energy costs in the manufacturing process.
  • In the manufacturing process, JH recycles their water up to 4 times prior to returning the waste water to local treatment.
  • The materials used in cement fiber are long lasting, low maintenance which require less replacement and less post-installation waste.
  • James Hardie has committed their manufacturing processes on first-run quality, zero to landfill goals of reducing waste in manufacturing.
  • JH siding offers high durability, is rot resistant, pest resistant, and fame resistant, lending to homebuilding voluntary green guidelines, and greatly reduced cost of ownership.
  • After many years when paint starts to wear off, JH siding will maintain its water resistance until it is painted again. The cement fiber product will not absorb water, like wood.

Compared to vinyl, it is a much more substantial product. In a very strong wind, vinyl can detach, unlike Cement Fiber. It can also be painted and re-painted many times in any color and installed with a larger variety of trims than vinyl, giving it a more classic or modern look.

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Visit our build page to see more homes and projects that utilize fiber cement siding, and see how design and function meet to give a greener, more sustainable product that is beautiful.