Developments in Construction Defect Reform

Denver is the most recent city along the Front Range to introduce a construction defect ordinance in hopes to foster development of more owner-occupied multifamily housing.

The unwillingness to develop multifamily projects is largely blamed on the toxic climate spawned from construction defect litigation under the Colorado Construction Defect Action Reform Act (“CCDARA”). After what was perceived as a significant failure of the Colorado General Assembly to pass meaningful reforms in 2013 and 2014, a number of cities took it upon themselves to tackle the chilling effect of construction defect litigation.

Aurora, Commerce City, Lakewood, Littleton, and Lone Tree have all enacted ordinances in an effort to encourage the development of owner-occupied attached housing in the words of Littleton to “insur[e] a sustainable and diverse mix of housing options that allow individuals to invest long-term in the community.” Click here for a pocket guide summarizing some of the key concepts in these local ordinances.

While the ordinances are an optimistic step in the right direction, the ordinances merely alter “first steps” in the notification phase of defect litigation. None truly protect builders from the aggressive damages and attorney fees provisions of Colorado state law – nor is it likely Courts would allow local ordinances to restrict owners from remedies available under state law.

More than one year since Lakewood passed its ordinance, the Denver Business Journal reports that no applications have yet been filed to construct an owner-occupied condominium project which leads me to believe that developers and construction professionals are not comforted by local attempts to reform construction defect litigation.

What would encourage new development of multi-family housing in 2016?

Keeping Perspective through the AREs

As I’ve written on here before, my wife and I are in the midst of taking our registration exams. I personally know at least a dozen other people that are taking them right now as well and another few that have completed them within the last handful of years. The story is always the same: it sucks.

I have yet to meet some one that is going through the process or has already gone through it that says, “I really enjoy taking those tests and am glad that it is occupying a major portion of my life right now”. That’s not to say that they definitely don’t exist. If I ever meet a person that truly feels that way about the Architectural Registration Exams, it will probably be the same day that I give up on being an architect and enroll in Hogwarts instead (get it..?…Because both of those scenarios are so unlikely to happen…? You get it).

Yesterday, I took my latest ARE: Site Planning and Design. In general, throughout the ten months that I have been taking these tests, I have done my best to keep others from knowing when I am going to take them. I just really don’t want the added pressure of other people knowing about me taking them. I would have much rather walked into work one day and informed people that were wondering that I had taken a test and passed it rather than them knowing I was taking one, asking about it, and then having to tell them about my fate.

For this past test, I was unable to sneak around under the radar. Because I needed to take time off from work, it was on our office calendar. And because of this, people would consistently ask about the test and about my level of preparedness. Eight months ago, this scenario would have filled me with anxiety. I had already put a huge amount of pressure on myself to pass the tests on the first try and didn’t want the added pressure of people knowing. What if people found out I was taking one and then found out that I had failed it? Would they look down on me as a worse employee or person? That (over)thinking and apprehension has recently given way to a new point of view: indifference.

Indifference is probably not the right word. A sense of acceptance is probably more accurate. When people ask me if I feel prepared for an upcoming test (usually the day before said exam) my go-to response is something along the lines of “Well, I guess so. But, if I’m not, I guess I’ll just take it again…” with a self deprecating chuckle. I have no idea how people take this response. It seems like many times people see this as me not caring or even as arrogant. I would argue that this is simply my attempt at verbalizing my acceptance of the current situation.

One of the biggest differences in my approach to these exams now as opposed to the beginning of the year is that I no longer look at them as a challenge to be conquered. Instead, they are just something that we all have to get through. Before, I would put an unreasonable amount of pressure on myself to pass these tests. Now, the ARE is just something that needs to get done en route to becoming a fully licensed architect. This is probably over-simplifying the situation and makes me seem like the type of person that more closely resembles The Dude from The Big Lebowski. To say that I don’t get nervous the morning of a test or care greatly about passing them would be a total lie. I want to do well and I want to pass because I have worked for years to become an architect. I will say, though, that I have settled into a state of mind that these tests do not define any of our careers and are really just another speed bump that we must endure in the long road that is architecture.

If you happen to disagree with this outlook or just think that I am being naïve, well, you know, that’s just like… You’re opinion, man.

CREJ Interior Design and Architecture Conference; WELL-ness, Choice, and the Next Gen…

“Next Generation Designers” panel featuring Drew Marlow, Leah Romero, Rick Sommerfeld, and MIke Sudolsky, moderated by Beth Mosenthal

This past Tuesday I attended and participated in the annual Colorado Real Estate Journal Commercial Interior Design and Architecture Conference.

This event, a mixture of panels and presentations by industry leaders and professionals both nationally and locally has proven to be a helpful snapshot of the trends, issues, and wide range of perspectives informing Denver’s interior commercial architecture in any given year. Topics covered ranged from workplace trends to sustainability and wellness to how to design for trauma and what it means to find “authenticity” in design.

In a quick Friday post, here are my take-aways from the conference, with some links to additional information should you find yourself interested in a specific topic or area of thought leadership.


In a panel of Denver-based sustainability specialists, including a developer initiating a WELL-certified development in Denver, Brian Levitt from NAVA Real Estate, Tom Hootman, AIA and Performance and Design Innovation Lead at MKK Consulting led a discussion regarding the relevance of the “WELL” building movement, and how WELL Certification differs from the LEED rating system.  To quickly summarize, the WELL Building Standard (WELL) “is the world’s first building standard focused exclusively on human health and wellness. It marries best practices in design and construction with evidence-based medical and scientific research – harnessing the built environment as a vehicle to support human health and wellbeing.”

From monitoring the quality and taste of building’s drinking water to the incorporation of antimicrobial materials in workplace cafeterias, WELL aims to go beyond a consideration of the environmental impact of a building to focus on the health of the occupant in the building, related to air quality, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort, and the mind. Championed by health-industry gurus such as Deepak Chopra and supported by the Clinton Global Initiative, many developers and companies are becoming interested in pursuing “WELL” in favor of, or in tandem with LEED.

For further reading:


We all know the struggle is real; the multigenerational workplace continues to test the comfort level of the 9-5, one-person-one-desk paradigm.

This panel, featuring workplace leaders in various firms in Denver including Gensler, Acquilano Leslie, Page, Kieding, Elsy Studios, and Interior Architects, focused on major trends in commercial interiors.

Moderated by Joy Spatz, head of Studio Collaborative, a consistent theme in the panel was that a successful workplace in today’s world is highly contingent on providing choice, flexibility, and a supportive, informal workplace-culture to employees.  The liberation of the worker as an individual with different needs, family structures, and preferences for working (whether it be posture, location, or productive hours of the day) continues to prove itself as an important tool for worker recruitment and retention, not to mention an important acknowledgement that providing choice to employees to incorporate work into life in a way that works best for an individual (within certain parameters) provides a modern adoption of generational preferences and realities.

Some further reading: ;


At the conference, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to moderate a dialogue regarding what I defined as “issues and interests informing the next generation of designers.”

In this panel, I moderated a discussion with four “next generation” designers at different stages of their emerging professional careers. The lively discussion tackled difficult questions and varied perspectives related to issues that will become increasingly relevant for the next generation of designers to address. From more stringent sustainable design approaches, to adapting and adopting new technology and an integrated design process, to an anticipated change in general workplace attitude and mindset with the on-set of Generation Z in the workforce, this discussion provided a glimpse into the evolving issues that will continue to emerge amongst a newly-defined multigenerational workforce as well as a society with limited resources and a need for smart growth and design solutions.

Rick Sommerfeld, Assistant Professor and Director of Colorado Building Workshop, the design build program at the University of Colorado Denver, provided important insight into how students are working in both digital and analog, to create complex, quick design solutions and iterations to a myriad of different design problems. Mike Sudolsky, a designer at Gensler, talked about his fascinating perspective as someone interested and fluent in video game visualization and software, and how this will continue to impact the field of design visualization and user experience.  Drew Marlow, AIA and Principal at Acquilano Leslie spoke of the skill sets that are relevant for recent graduates and new designers when looking to join a firm, as well as the pros and cons of being a “jack of all trades” in the industry vs highly specialized.  Leah Romero, a workplace leader at OZ Architecture spoke to the invaluable necessity of mentorship in the effort to recruit and retain the next generation of workers, that have already expressed a preference to switch jobs every 3-5 years.

For further reading: ,

Overall, the conference was thought-provoking and familiar; I recommend it to anyone that is interested in connecting with their peers in the industry while contributing to dialogues that will hopefully continue to push Denver’s design thinking and solutions further.

Architects as Civic Leaders

Leaders in AZLeadership comes naturally to some. However, in all cases of leadership, we must hone the skills and gain a greater understanding of how to use our natural leadership to guide, lead and empower.

Last week I attended the AIA Leadership Institute in Phoenix, AZ. Over the past few months I have been volunteering on the Planning Committee for the Leadership Institute. The planning for this event has been years in the making, so I came on board a little later in the process. Needless to say, I had my questions and concerns about another conference on leadership but as in most situations, instead of standing idly by and questioning, I dived in head first and started to help out with the planning and organizing of this extensive one-day conference.

I became invested in the success of this. Typical of new events, the biggest challenge is getting people to attend because they are unsure of the track record of the event. There are so many risks, yet as I found after a full day in Phoenix, so many rewards.

The organization of the conference was unique. The main hub was based in Washington, DC with four regional venues in Phoenix, Cleveland, Boston and San Antonio. Four speakers were broadcast from DC to the regional venues using Adobe Connect. The regional venues were responsible for then finding three to four of their own sessions to fill the rest of the day.

The conference started with a few technical difficulties, which was probably to be expected. During the extended breaks, I got to know some of the great leaders out of AIA Arizona and even toured the local SmithGroupJJR office. Once the technical issues were ironed out, I was surprised at how engaged a room of people hundreds of miles from the speaker could be. We clapped when the speaker said something great, and we laughed when they brought humor into their sessions. The chat feature built into the Adobe Connect allowed all of the regional venues to ask questions and make comments as if they were in the room.

While my part in the planning of this conference was small, I felt a great sense of accomplishment. Not that this day had gone so well, and I am sure there will only be an even greater event next year, but the targeted topic of leadership was different than the leadership conferences I have attended before. There were hundreds of architects from around the country not only learning to be better leaders, but how to be better leaders in our communities outside of the profession.

This was pivotal in the success of the event. It showed me that there is a network of people out there that are already leaders in the industry but are interested in becoming leaders of their communities, cities and country. One statistic that was mentioned is since 1991 there have been 2668 lawyers serving in the United States Congress and only one architect. As an architect, I may be a little bias in our ability to problem solve, but it seems to me that maybe we could benefit from a few more architects with a different approach to problem solving.

Ultimately, when we become better leaders in our communities, we become a stronger profession. We have shared our ability to uniquely solve issues regarding community, housing, and economics in a way that may be very different from the 2668 congressmen and women who’ve served in the past 25 years. The Leadership Institute was sponsored by the Center for Civic Leadership. If you participate in one conference outside of the normal ones next year, I urge you to participate in this one. It’s inspiring to have only traveled a short distance but remain tied into hundreds of great and aspiring civic leaders in architecture from around the country.


Hear No Evil

shutterstock_278179868I very much enjoyed meeting many members of AIA Colorado at Keystone this past weekend.  The weather was beautiful, but a number of you were kind enough to stay indoors over lunch and early in the evening to visit the exhibitors.  I thank you for it.

I was the only attorney exhibitor.  I may have been the only attorney in attendance at the Conference; I may never know as “attorney” and “lawyer” are too often words associated with evil.

As an exhibitor, I was amused by how many folks stopped by my booth out of curiosity and quickly scurried off muttering “I don’t need an attorney” or “I hope I never need to call you”.  Because the first thing that comes to an architect’s mind when they think about legal counsel must be a lawsuit.  Perhaps the boogeyman of a construction defect claim?

I wanted to present three ways an attorney may actually be pleasant – and painless.

  1. Business Formation

After years of study, and maybe a few practicing in a design firm, you have committed to pursuing your dream and opening your own firm.  But where do you start? An attorney can point you in the right direction and make sure you have an appropriate legal structure to let you and your firm flourish!

2.  Contract Drafting

Hooray! You land a big project and it is time to get the terms and details in writing.  The AIA has a standard form contract – but the client wants to make some tweaks.  We will not miss the anti-subrogation clause, will we?  What does all that legalease mean anyway?  A quick and painless phone call to a trusted an attorney can explain terms and clear up any confusion before you sign.

And what about compliance with local ordinances? Now municipalities are enacting ordinance that vary from Colorado construction defect statutes.  An attorney can explain the extent local ordinances differ from state law and the impact it may have on your project.

3.  Business Transition

After an amazing career, you are ready to retire – or at least retreat – from a full time practice.  You want to spend more time fishing, or chasing your grandkids.  How do you pass the reigns? Legal counsel can walk you through the process of transitioning ownership, setting up employee stock ownership programs, or even closing up shop.

4.  Insurance Coverage

What do you do if your insurance carrier denies a claim – or worse – brings a lawsuit against you because they want a judge to confirm whether they can deny a claim?  In either situation, an attorney in your corner will dramatically improve the probability of getting your claim covered.

At some point in your career, it is likely that at least one of these situations can arise and you could benefit from the insight legal counsel can provide.