In Conversation: Cody Armbrister, Sr. Managing Director | Crow Holdings

The Crow family name has been known in real estate and development circles for three-quarters of a century. As Senior Managing Director in the Office Development Group for Dallas-based Crow Holdings Development, Cody Armbrister is leading the firm’s return to the office sector. The latest project in that effort is Southstone Yards in Frisco, Texas. The Phase I office structure will be seven stories tall with 242,300 square feet of retail, and the developer claims it will be the largest mass timber office building in the United States. We spoke with Armbrister about how a firm that helped define modern architecture in Texas and around the world is today embracing mass timber in the office market.

Southstone Yards

  • Render credit: Crow Holdings Development
  • Render credit: Crow Holdings Development
  • Render credit: Crow Holdings Development

Think Wood: What’s your background?

Cody Armbrister: I’ve been in the real estate business for 20 years. I spent a vast majority of my career in Houston on the services side, and then made the transition to Dallas in 2020 when the Crow family decided to resuscitate the office development arm of the family’s holdings. Crow has a long lineage with all of all types of development, but we had not had a dedicated vertical focused on office for a long time.


What is driving Crow Holdings’ interest in wood and mass timber buildings?

We’re looking to do things a little bit differently than the rest of the competition. We’re trying to be really thoughtful about the occupant experience. How can our buildings function differently? How can they perform differently? How can they look different aesthetically and architecturally? Being ground-up developers gives us an opportunity to be at the tip of the spear for what tenants want today and deliver that for them tomorrow.


How do you approach the use of wood?

We really want to accentuate wood, and we want to highlight that not only from the occupant’s perspective, but also from the general public’s perspective. That helps us from a marketing and placemaking standpoint. But it helps make sure that we can continue to communicate that our building is different. 


How did wood factor into the design of Southstone Yards?

We want to make sure that everything about the project is best in class, whether that’s location, indoor air quality, amenities, clear heights, vision lines, mechanicals, etc. And then we’ve got something that no one else has, which is a biophilic environment with wood that is aesthetically pleasing for occupants. So, from an experience standpoint, that gives us a really compelling value proposition to offer tenants. 

We’re also able to highlight the mass timber by making it visible through the glazing. If you’re going to develop a new Class A office building in any metro, you’re going to have a curtainwall system. It’s all about pulling in natural light. So that was the first thing we said to the design team: no punched window expression. We are a curtainwall; we are floor-to-ceiling glass. And oh, yeah, by the way, if we do that, and we have a wood building, we’re also highlighting the wood.


What difficulties have you faced?

We’re really fortunate that our building is located in Frisco, Texas, which has a very progressive building department. We were pleasantly surprised that Frisco was anticipating one of these buildings coming to market. They had already done their own studies. They had already traveled around the country and visited with other officials. So, we were fortunate in that regard. And as we continue to underwrite opportunities in other markets around the country, it’s always interesting to see those municipalities and how advanced their thinking is. Some are really advanced, adopting 2024 IBC. And some you have to start with square one.


Where do you see growth opportunities for mass timber?

There’s a lot of momentum. I think people are just trying to find the right application of the materials for the right asset class. It’s not just limited to office; we’ve got industrial buildings now that are using some mass timber end panels. I think there’s more and more to come, particularly as the market becomes more aware of it, as municipalities continue to up their education, and particularly as the mass timber manufacturer supply chain continues to develop capacities and capabilities.


How have biophilic design principles informed your development process?

Biophilic design is employed through a number of different strategies, but certainly wood is the chief one amongst them. Biophilic design contributes to increased workplace satisfaction; lower levels of stress; and increased concentration, which leads to better productivity, reduced absenteeism. There’s this cool thing now where employees have said, “Hey, I feel like my employer’s investing in my overall health and wellness, so thank you employer.” That creates a stickiness when it’s all about recruiting and retaining workers. That is really valuable for the culture of an organization. We’ve been studying these things and saying, “Hey, there’s something to this biophilic environment.” What better way to demonstrate that [connection to nature] than by way of wood?

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