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

Whose Wife are You?

Yesterday, you might have caught #internationalwomensday flying around your social media. If you live in New York, you might have noticed a series of ads that were missing their women, titled the “Not There” Campaign. International Women’s Day is nothing new. It has been around since the early 1900’s. Arguably the movement had the greatest influence in 1908 when women marched to demand better pay and voting rights.

Citation: New York Times

Citation: New York Times

As a young female in architecture, I am fortunate to have found myself in a firm, which is split 8-7 with females in the majority. I graduated in an architecture program that was 50% female and currently serve on an AIA Board that has more female leadership than male. While these percentages are not reflective of the majority, it goes to show that we, as a profession have engaged women.

However, national numbers show we have major strides to make for women in architecture. Various architectural groups have conducted studies to highlight the disparities of men and women in firm leadership. AIA San Francisco circulated a survey last year gathering research about Equity in Architecture. The Missing 32% Project has started to circulate and has sparked interesting discussions on where women are when it comes to leadership. While the survey is neither longitudinal nor a representative cross-section, it helps us to gain insight and start the conversations.

Cited: Missing 32 Percent

Cited: Missing 32% Project

Architecture has been notorious for being a heavily Caucasian, male-dominated field. Even as the number of female students in architecture programs has reached 50%, only 17% of AIA members are women (AIA Numbers and Figures). This has trended up from 9% since 2000. While we are going in the right direction, we need to take the time to train women with the proper skills for leadership in the future of our firms.

This is a national issue. This is a firm culture issue. This is an AIA issue. It is imperative to the future success of architecture that women are being prepped and primed just as males are. Men and women think differently and bring different skills to the table. It is key that we utilize the strengths of both genders to create the greatest environment for all that are entering and continuing in the profession.

I have been fortunate to have great female mentors and leaders, who have guided and provided me with adequate skills to feel comfortable in this field. I have also been lead by great males who treat me no differently than the males they are priming for leadership. While my experiences tend to have been positive, there have been times when they have not. I once attended a dinner for an AIA event. After the dinner, I was mingling with fellow members. One man that I had not yet been introduced to bluntly asked, “Whose wife are you?” After I responded that I was there on my own merit because I was a board member, he realized the error in his question. To illustrate that this is not just unique to architecture and men, a female colleague described a situation in which she mistook a female practicing attorney for a paralegal. Comments like this make us circle back and realize that our work as a larger population is far from finished. We are not there yet. And for the future of the young women who will come after me, it is important that we get there sooner rather than later. It is important that we keep this profession balanced in diversity.

View All Comments…

The comments section… where any and all opinions, well thought out or not, go to fester and stew up controversy. From YouTube to news articles, people have no reservations about voicing their opinions behind the shield of a keyboard (and yes I realize the irony of writing this, my opinion, via a keyboard and in a blog post).

This week, an article was brought to my attention on the Denver Infill Blog ( about a project at the edge of downtown Denver in the Five Points neighborhood. After scrolling through the comments section, which I normally try to avoid, I noticed that there were over sixty comments on the project and most of them… did not love the soon to be built project. In fact, most ignored the actual article altogether and proceeded to comment solely on the images provided.

The majority of comments centered around how ugly the building is, how it does not fit the area, the longing for brick on the building, and generally how moronic the developer and architects are. I could sit here and defend the choices of the architect, the developer, the program, or any other choices made, but that would only fuel the ongoing arguments, which I have no intention of doing.

Instead, I propose that we pull back and look at the situation from a more macro level: over sixty comments were posted on this website and all of them were focused on the idea of architecture, urban planning, neighborhood context, and the future of Denver.

In a year where the AIA has launched its “I Look Up” ( campaign to raise awareness about architecture and the value of architects in society, it should be a point of optimism (again, from a very macro perspective) that so many people cared enough about a building going up to voice their opinions on said building. Whether or not those opinions are well informed is another topic, but the fact remains that people actually do care about the work that we do (even if many think we are idiots).

If we look at these comments through the lens of grouping them in the context of the public at large, we see that people genuinely do care about the work that architects do, but often have differing ideas for what is good or bad or know the parameters in which a project gets built. Most generally do not know the market climates in which we try to build or the painstaking process that is undertaken in order to get things even to a conceptual level.

Let’s look at this comments section not as an attack on architecture, a firm, or a group of individuals, but as a sign that people care about what we do. It will never be possible to please 100% of the population, as opinions are as varied as paint swatches. That being said, having a population that is at least informed about what architects do and what our thought process involves is not an insurmountable task. This is something that we have to take upon ourselves; to broadcast what we do and the amount of thought that goes into every design decision that we make.

It’s easy to assume that others will do it or that people will just “get it” someday. The real challenge is to take notice of the fact that people are genuinely concerned and interested in the built environment and that it is our task to communicate as effectively as possible the value of architecture and design.

Otherwise, comments like this are our future:

“Ugly,Ugly, Ugly says it all for this building. Love to see new development in Five Points, but this is a poor design choice…”

Baby, I Got Your Money


Now that I have your attention, please forgive.  Sensing I may have a captive audience today thanks to the weather, I am compelled to step up on my soapbox for a moment and discuss getting paid.

For better or worse, the law is a tool. If you are not prepared, it will likely only be to your detriment. Unfortunately, too often it is esoteric or unwieldy and the expense of lawyers prevents many from seeking counsel when they could most benefit. Few things pain me more than meeting a client who lost a significant advantage in recovering funds rightfully owed, either through an aversion to the cost of legal counsel, inexperience or just plain ignorance.

Mechanic’s liens are an area this seems to happen time and time again.

State law (specifically Colorado Revised Statutes, Section 38-22-101) grants construction professionals the right to put a lien on property for unpaid services or materials rendered in the improvement of that property. In essence, this allows construction professionals to become a secured creditor; which infinitely better than merely hoping a hand shake and good will can get delinquent invoices paid.

Too often professionals hesitate to file a lien because they do not want to tarnish a “relationship” or other emotional reasons. I would implore any would-be lien holders to consider the business and financial implications of failing to file a Mechanics Lien. It is akin to a mortgage lender releasing security in the purchase property for fear of losing popularity. (And in the case of a mechanic’s lien, the debtor has already defaulted on payments – isn’t the relationship already going downhill?)

Because the Mechanic’s Lien is a creature of statute, there are certain “magic words” and deadlines that must be satisfied to preserve your legal rights. However, once you have completed the process a few times, it becomes rote. Every professional should have the forms, processes, and procedures in place before the necessity arises. In that way, a Mechanic’s Lien can be swiftly executed in the brief window after the work is completed before the opportunity to become a secured creditor has passed forever. Educate yourself and accounting department about the deadlines involved in filing a Mechanic’s Lien to take full advantage of the law.

Before you can file a lien, the owner(s) of the property and the principal contractor must be notified via registered or certified mail (return receipt requested) or via private process server. Information about the owners is readily available through the public records. The statute outlines precisely what you need to include in a Statement of Lien and Notice of Intent to File. Ten days after serving the Notice, you can file your lien.

Once you’ve filed your lien, you will have to file a court action to foreclose on the property within 6 months of filing the lien, or completion of the construction project, whichever is later.

Even if the debtor has become insolvent, Bankruptcy Code Section 362(b) allows a creditor “to perfect, or to maintain or continue the perfection of, an interest in property.” This exception has been applied to Mechanic’s Lien creditors to allow the filing of a lien even after bankruptcy proceedings have begun.

The next time accounts receivable get too aged, use a Mechanic’s Lien as a legal tool; do not allow emotions or hollow excuses to forfeit your legitimate business interest.