Building Hope

I find conferences, both day and multi-day, to be either totally engrossing or average. This is not to the fault of the conference planners or speakers, but rather to the similarities of “hot” topics which are spoken onRMCS-logo-header.

Yesterday, I attended the Rocky Mountain City Summit put on by the Downtown Denver Partnership. This daylong seminar (in which I only attended half of due to a tight deadline on an RFP) was of the totally engrossing type. Leaders from across the Rocky Mountain region coalesced in a dark room at the Sheraton to discuss city building, placemaking, urban biking, walkability and any other buzzword that floats around common architecture/planner/politician/developer language.

Coming from a background of both architecture and planning, these sorts of events are what motivate me personally and push me forward, IF the event is motivating. I had heard great things about this event, so my expectations were high. It did not fall short.

As expected Mayor Michael B. Hancock opened the day. David Kenney of The Kenney Group introduced him. One remark that Kenney made was “make friends that are smarter than you and steal their ideas.” This got quite a few laughs but also spoke to the magnitude of relationships in the room and how true this might actBill Stricklandually be. We now live in a society where sharing is accepted, welcomed and encouraged when it comes to big ideas and changing the places we live.

The keynote was by far one of the most inspiring I have ever seen. If you are not familiar with Bill Strickland, I urge you to research him and his work. He is not an architect. He is not a planner. Yet he has molded the lives of poverty-stricken children in the Pittsburgh area with the simple idea that environment drives behavior. The most poignant statement he made was “people are born into the world as assets, not liabilities.” He has used this as the ethos to drive the development of the Manchester Bidwell Corporation that has built schools that educate these low-income children in a way that provides them with the hope to climb out of poverty and see the sunlight in the world everyday.

His idea of developing places that nurture and foster a safe environment for kids to learn and provide them with skills that will give them hope is one that needs to be spread to great lengths across this country and across this world. In fact, Strickland’s company is doing that. He is planning to open an education center in Chicago and Israel.

This idea transcends the very nature of what we are supposed to do as professionals and speaks to how we should care for everyone as a society. Those that are in need and suffering from poverty-stricken living conditions have the hope inside them. They just need a place and someone who cares to unlock it.

This session nearly brought me to tears as it was, but then something really inspiring happened during the break. Three individuals came forward and announced they would support the formation of one of these education centers in Denver. Let it be noted that there were already boots on the ground searching out a place and the resources to start one in Denver, but the individuals who came forward are powerful leaders within the community. They have the skills and the networks to get this done. I am proud to say, one of those people was a Denver architect.

After sitting in a room listening to great minds speak about initiatives, design and policies changing our cities, it has instilled a great lesson in me. While political systems move slowly and change can take years, there are efforts to be made at an individual level. It just takes one man, who was saved from poverty, to build a center that gives hope. We all have the ability to give hope. We just need to decide how we want to use that ability.

Missing the Mark?

The regular session of the seventieth General Assembly of Colorado is scheduled to close on May 6, 2015.

AIA Colorado supported House Bill 1197 – Concerning Limitations on Indemnity Obligations in Public Construction Contracts, which I am pleased to report was sent to the Governor.  The bill aligns municipal contracts with the private sector on issues of defense, indemnification, and liability.

AIA Colorado has also supported Senate Bill 177 – Construction Defects reform. As a lawyer who frequently represents design professionals (and an active member of the Colorado Defense Lawyer’s Association’s Legislative Committee) I have been watching the bill move through the General Assembly with intense interest.  SB 177 passed its first test in the Colorado General Assembly and is slated for its second reading today, April 10.

I am a legal wonk, a research nerd.  I get caught up in the history, the legalese, grammar, canons of construction, and procedural ramifications.  Then, last night, at a networking event I was asked the questions that really matters:  If the bill passes, will it really make a difference in the number of residential construction projects – especially affordable housing- in the Denver Metro area?

As a strong supporter of SB 177, I had to take a step back and examine the bill.

The bill was touted as a necessary remedy to encourage desperately needed affordable residential housing.  The rational being that it was too easy for an zealous minority of owners within an association to hijack the litigation process and drag all units within the condominium association into expensive, protracted litigation.

While I am a supporter of SB 177, and I think changes to the current statutory scheme are overdue, I am not sure SB 177 will be a panacea.

SB 177 would do little to encourage the construction of affordable housing.  In my experience, owners of affordable housing were not the parties hiring counsel to file multi-million dollar construction defect claims.  SB 177 would ensure that a majority of owners within an association are informed and consent to initiating a lawsuit against the developer, designers, or other construction professionals.  If passed, it surely would curb frivolous lawsuits.  However, I doubt developers and contractors will exhale in a collective sigh of relief and rush to initiate affordable housing projects.  (Nor do I think the passage would protect “laggards [who build defective homes]” as Denver and Boulder Democrats warn).  Cynical as though it may sound, they money just is not there.  Why build affordable housing when you could build a multi-family development that would sell at the market rate? (In Denver, the average housing price is $317,000.00 according to the Denver Business Journal).

I still support SB 177; but not because I believe it encourage wary developers to construct affordable housing.

Our conversation left me wondering: What would it take to promote construction of affordable housing in the Denver Metro area?

Every Building Has an Architect

CAM_Logo_2015Every year architecture around the state of Colorado is celebrated during April. The different regions of the state host different events from Box City to the viewing of Architectural films.

Over the past year AIA Colorado has reevaluated how best to celebrate Colorado Architects and architecture. You will see events that have happened for years, South’s Box City or Doors Open Denver, and brand new events such as the self-guided brewery tour that takes you across the state to different breweries designed by Colorado Firms.

This is a time to celebrate the buildings and our cities but also to share our knowledge with friends and family that aren’t familiar with every building’s architect. While Denver has great works of architecture, this is a month to celebrate all architects within the state. This is our opportunity to highlight the importance of architecture in our everyday lives and encourage the community to see why design matters.

If you are curious about what events might be happening in your part of the state check out the AIA Colorado Calendar for events!

To help raise awareness of great architecture in our cities, participate in the Colorado Architecture Month Photo Contest. Upload a picture of your favorite architectural site and use #CoArchMo15. Submit your entry on the website and earn the chance to win a $50 Amazon Gift Card!

Guest Post: A Multidisciplinary Approach To Architecture


Audrey and Alex Worden, recent Boulder transplants and multidisciplinary designers

Is Boulder the new Brooklyn?

I had to ask myself this question after my first meeting with recent Colorado transplants and designers, Alex and Audrey Worden. Co-founders of the Boulder-based design firm, Studio TJOA, Alex and Audrey left their jobs at Enclos in New York and moved West after Alex landed a job with Studio NYL, a progressive structural engineering firm based out of Boulder, Colorado.

With hopes of finding home in a new city with the presence of an emerging design community balanced with a tangible ease of living and creating, in the few short months since their move Alex and Audrey have already become contributors to the design, parametric, and maker communities that continue to grow rapidly both in Denver and Boulder.


Lily pad by TJOA

With Alex’s background in architecture and Audrey’s education in product design, Alex continues to explore the synergies between architecture and structural engineering for NYL, while Audrey continues to explore design, fabrication, and representation through a wide range of scales and media.

Having both explored alternative career paths than their traditional architecture and design backgrounds might prescribe, Alex and Audrey serve as co-authors of this week’s post, exploring the benefits of multidisciplinary architecture and the opportunities it might provide…

Thanks Alex and Audrey! – Beth Mosenthal, Assoc. AIA

 Guest Post: A Multidisciplinary Approach to Architecture

by Alex and Audrey Worden

Entering the field of architecture requires years of study, beginning with a foundation comprised of core classes followed by a concentration in art and design, culminating with an intensive focus on architecture. Through this process, the general field of vision becomes narrower and more myopic. Following undergraduate studies, designers generally join firms whose focus is not just on “architecture” in a general sense, but rather a specific practice area such as commercial, residential, transportation, healthcare, etc., design. As a result designers tend to become more specialized.

However, what many students of design education are learning is that there are many career paths that can be launched from a design education.


“ExpressGlam” product design

The skills learned in an architectural degree program are transferable to many different disciplines. These can include engineering, construction, industrial design, animation, fashion, graphic design, or manufacturing to name a few.

With a wider skill set, designers can be more flexible, often finding meaningful work outside of the traditional architecture practice. For example, after graduate school Audrey worked for a few years as an industrial designer for a branding firm, practicing skills in packaging, product displays, digital and CNC modeling, photography, and photorealistic product rendering. This opened up the opportunity to design a perfume bottle. Such a chance is widely valued by designers and architects of all kinds, but it all came about through the skills Audrey had fostered after studying architecture and digital fabrication.

TJOA_LilypadIn graduate school, Alex took a different approach to his studies. In his thesis, he proposed that the textile technique of crochet can be a perfect analog to the digital parametric tools architects have begun to use and explore. Alex then used the skills he developed from his research of integrating textiles and tools like Rhino and Grasshopper to join a facade contracting firm, Enclos. The experience gained as a facade designer has not only allowed him to gain an in-depth understanding of building enclosure systems but see how parametric modeling can aid in the optimization of the whole construction process from design through field installation.

These types of diverse design experiences can influence a designer’s thought process. For example, having knowledge of structure can streamline decisions during initial design phases, thus saving both time and money as the project progresses. Knowledge of materials and fabrication techniques gained from the industrial design field can allow designers to push the boundaries of these capabilities, extend the life of the building, or make routine maintenance easier.


These facets of the design field can be learned a multitude of ways and for an infinite number of reasons. Specifically, we both deviated from the traditional approach to architecture. By working at a facade contractor, Alex had the pleasure of working on some high profile projects designed by a number of architects. The biggest benefit to working at Enclos, was having the opportunity to work with many different firms and getting a chance to help them realize their designs. By taking a M.S. Arch., Audrey could specialize in digital fabrication instead of the traditional M.Arch approach to a graduate degree. This allowed for a less rigid approach to architecture, while still being anchored in the field.


Studio NYL Wall Assembly Study



NYL Rendering

Our chosen paths have offered us the flexibility to design on a multitude of scales and explore many different mediums. Our diverse work experience has influenced our approach to design and our ultimately our decision to relocate to Boulder from Brooklyn. We both wanted to live and work in a place that is welcoming and has a community that fosters progressive thought and design. The plasticity offered by the skills we have both cultivated has allowed Alex to join Studio NYL as part of their SKINS Group and Audrey to move her practice, StudioTJOA to Boulder and begin working with groups like Boulder-based Live Architecture Network and aiding other firms with parametric and visualization needs. TJOA_HoneycombJust as the decision to go into architecture is hopefully owned by each individual, it should be remembered that each designer can choose how they want to shape their professional career and praxis. It should be noted that a hands on approach to learning the different facets of construction and design can have a more meaningful impact through practical application rather than study guides, flashcards, and exams can provide.Who knows, if you deviate from the path, you might come across something you never would have thought you would enjoy.


The Value of Architecture: From a Parent’s Perspective

Disguised Values: raising an aspiring architect

Credit: The Center on Central

Credit: The Center on Central

One reason our daughter, Korey, was drawn to University of Illinois’ Architecture Program was the year in Versailles, France. Had I known she’d visit 18 countries in 10 months, I’d sent my own application in. The dean of foreign studies gave compelling reasons why we should send our children abroad, with a lot of our money. Hmmmm, are we financing the next Rick Steves (European travel expert) or an architect? Of all the reasons, one resonated with me. “When these students return to campus,” he said, “they’re different. (Oh? Like HOW different…?) They’ve seen the world, felt history, tasted cultures and diversified their perspectives. I can pick them out on campus upon their return; they carry themselves with more confidence than other students.” This was huge for me, because curiosity and confidence are imperative values required of professionals-in-training; these cannot be taught in a classroom or conference. After much discussion, Korey’s dad relented. “But,” he said, “absolutely no trips to Greece or Spain, due to their fragile economies!” She went anyway. We learned that parents cannot control our architecture students. You must let them fly. They need to feed the value of remaining perpetual students and global ambassadors. How else will our cities and living systems get refined, repurposed and improved? And heaven knows many of these ills clearly need fixing.

In the meantime, we parents paid thousands to universities each year, for room and board, while our student architects lived in the studio, for days and nights before deadlines. I’d heard about these kids sleeping under their desks and assumed it was poor time management; or were they practicing to be homeless, should they not make it in architecture? Clearly, they were learning that in order to produce an excellent product, hours upon days upon weeks were required. Never mind one’s other responsibilities; real clients will have unrealistic demands and deadlines. Get used to it.

Architects must value this type of culture and possess discipline, persistence, the ability to accept harsh criticism, and the flexibility to correct, refine, present and defend projects in order to deliver them on time. All of this on sparse sleep and oceans of bad coffee.

Aspiring architects are different, all right. If our cities are to remain or become vibrant, we need perpetual students trained as critical thinkers, with an eye for efficiency and sustainability, not waste; for livability, not just structure; to look beyond our culture to learn how the world is solving similar problems and planning for trends.

It has become apparent that the value of an aspiring architect is so much more than just giving us drawings, specs and cute doll-sized models. They must possess the understanding of where we live and work and why; with whom as neighbors, in addition to how we move about, rest, work and play safely, efficiently, comfortably, affordably, tolerably and aesthetically. With a personal interest in Sociology, I love that young architects bring life to inanimate buildings, by incorporating light and design, until each structure has a unique personality. I’m thankful that aspiring architects honor the environment and will fight to save our shrinking resources: trees, energy, green space, and etc. Personally, I like these values which have been engrained in our aspiring architects; those dissatisfied with the status quo; those who will have a hand and a voice in repairing our cities and homes. Due to the last couple of generations who’ve mismanaged the above resources, we are counting on you aspiring architects to design quality places for us to live and work for a long time, in spite of us. We value your spirit and logic. Keep learning. Keep talking. Keep traveling. Keep helping. We’ll keep the coffee hot.

Bobbe White, Mother of An-Architect-in-the-Making, Korey White