BuildBlock Projects

The Dong – Rule Project

Oakland couple Nick Dong and Jeff Rule have successfully built one of the most beautiful and functional ICF homes ever. The house serves four distinct purposes; home, working artist studio, greenhouse, and art gallery. Each of these areas is built in a way that is unique but also cohesive and elegant. ICFs play a critical role in making this house everything that the homeowners needed it to be. 

The Project

  • 5,200 square foot home in Oakland, California
  • 6,742 square feet of ICF used
  • 15 days of ICF installation (saving several weeks on total construction time)
  • Total construction time was 76 weeks
  • Functions as a home, working artist studio, art gallery, and greenhouse
  • Project utilizes ICFs, a SIP roof, wood bucking, and stucco finishes

An Ambitious Build

This project is located in the hills above Oakland California. There were serious seismic requirements, challenging soil conditions, building permits, and construction timeline challenges. The home design is a

Ariel shot of the project before the concrete pour.

unique chevron, containing a working artist studio, living greenhouse, deep water coy ponds, and offered several interesting construction challenges. Extra care was put into the walls as they are very tall and used to support the long spans of the SIP roof supported by steel beams. The greenhouse side of the home has several floor to ceiling windows that took careful planning, bracing, and care when poured. Ensuring the walls were straight, plumb and strong was critical. Due to the wall height, walls were completed in two separate stacks and pours. The first pour was completed to a height of 10 feet. The floor for the second story was put in place and then the walls were stacked and poured to the final height. The pointed shape of the walls required blocks to be cut with great precision. They also required additional strapping at the top of the wall and a good deal of preparation to maintain space for the future steel beams at the top of the wall.

The owners felt that the builders did an excellent job. The ICF walls were completed very quickly and are straight and solid. Every window in the home is large and each was bucked, braced, and poured with great precision. Each window came out straight and plumb and the windows fit perfectly once installed. The garage that leads into the studio is twice as tall as traditional garages to accommodate heavy machinery. This opening required additional bracing and strapping and was completed flawlessly. Extra care was put into the street-facing wall of the great room which is made entirely of glass. The ICF walls around it needed to be straight and solid. 

Due to the nature of Nicks work as an artist, his standards are understandably very stringent and requirements precise. The attention to detail was extremely high and many of the embedments and attachments are unique because of the use of the studio and design of the tall open spaces.

High Expectations

Nick Dong is an acclaimed conceptual metalsmith, mixed-media sculptor, and socio-commodity engineer.  He strives to create works in order to ignite an experiential moment. 

It was very important to the homeowners that they have big open spaces. ICFs made this possible and solved a variety of problems. The strength of the exterior walls made it possible to have large areas that are unobstructed by structural support. There was one area of the home where the roof required additional support and this was easily accomplished by adding an interior ICF wall. It was necessary to install a small retaining wall behind the house, the owners used leftover pieces of BuildBlock to form the retaining wall. This was an easy and convenient fix with little to no waste.

Stunning Design

Great room with kitchen and dining.

In terms of architecture, there is nothing like it in the area. Neighbors have stopped by to ask if it’s a church. The unique chevron shape, design, expansive greenhouse and transition space, deep water coy ponds, and large floor to ceiling windows make this home an incredible spectacle in the neighborhood. The home is designed with practicality, comfort, peace, and art in mind. One half of the house acts as artist and owner, Nick Dong’s studio. The ICFs create a space where he can work comfortably while also using large machinery without disturbing the neighbors. The other half of the home is a living space complete with large blank walls that will soon be filled with custom art created by the homeowners’ friends. Both sides of the residence are connected by a beautiful greenhouse complete with plants, water features, coy ponds, and plenty of natural sunlight. It was very important to create separate individual spaces connected by the enclosed greenhouse. This helps maintain a work/life balance as well as bringing them closer to nature.

Exceptional Results

This home is designed to be incredibly energy efficient and ICFs are the primary material that accomplishes this goal. The house is designed to allow air to flow through the home and small fans are strategically placed in the ceiling to pull hot air out. Heating and cooling isn’t a primary cause for concern in the Oakland area but the homeowners stated that “even on days in the 90’s the home stays steady around 70 degrees with no air conditioning”. The concrete floor is finished with radiant floor heating to provide efficient comfort on cooler days. The homeowner stated that there was a great relief when looking at their budget and being able to skip over items like insulation, furring strips, and AC units. He accredits all of these savings to the ICFs.

This home is incredibly unique for its area. People stopped by both during and after construction to learn about the home and the materials being used. The homeowners stated that some of their neighbors were confused/concerned about the design and materials used on the house but after learning more about it they quickly became supportive advocates of the home, the owners, and ICF technology. One of the frequent visitors are firefighters from the local fire station located around the corner. They’ve come by to visit, ask questions, and share meals. They were very interested in the fire resilience and disaster resistance of the home and have brought friends, family, and other professionals to see the project. (Describing it as a house they don’t think they’ll ever have to respond to professionally).

Choosing the Best

oakland icf
The exterior of the house before finishes.

This project was extremely successful. The owners couldn’t be happier with the finished home. Not only were they able to build the house of their dreams but ICFs allowed them to finish the home within budget while still producing the results required for their living space and work studio. The owners commented on the peace of mind that they have knowing that their ICF house will keep them safe in earthquake country, comfortable no matter the season, allow them to work in private, and save them money every month on utilities. Earthquake and wildfire resilience are also heavy on their mind, even more so lately with the fires in the area.

The homeowner explored several ICF brands, products, and alternatives. He met with BuildBlock at both The World of Concrete and the International Builders Show in 2015 and was enthralled. The product, resources, contractor/installer relationships, and the staff knowledge helped make the decision easy. They had received a quote from another manufacturer but felt that BuildBlock was the best fit because the added features of the block made for a smooth build. They were also impressed by the knowledge and availability of the BuildBlock technical team.