Automobile Speech (‘Car Talk’ is already a thing, I guess)

Over the past few years, I have had the opportunity to work in a variety of roles within an architecture office. Recently, I have been leading the CA effort on one project, while leading the design of another. Working on these two wildly different projects has opened my eyes to an idea that is never taught in architecture school, never comes up on the ARE, and has no hours to be logged via AXP: how do you work with and manage a wide variety of people throughout a project?

A few months ago I had a much more experienced architect in my office lament to me about not being able to motivate some of the younger staff (of which I am one, but that fact seems to have gone unnoticed). This got me thinking about ways that humans are motivated, both in a professional and personal manner. I realized (unfortunately after the conversation took place) that everyone is motivated through different stimuli and that the best way to motivate and work with people is to observe what works for those people and adjust your own style to work with them instead of hoping that they eventually come around to your way of thinking and working .

As people who know me will attest, I am a big fan of using unlike stories to illustrate a point. That being said, here it goes: working with and managing people is like moving a car without a key. Sometimes the car is broken down and needs a good push so that it can fall into gear. Once it’s in gear, it will run just fine like nothing ever happened to it. On the other hand, sometimes the car is already rolling downhill and your job is to absorb its momentum and navigate it in the correct direction. If you try to force your will upon the car that moving car, it will run you over and then end up in a ditch.

That seemingly obscure analogy lends itself to each project in the following ways: on one project, it took some real effort to motivate many team members, both internally and externally, to care about the project. Once people became invested in the project and felt ownership over it, though, everyone gained momentum and they no longer required as much pushing in order to move the project forward. On the other hand, the polar opposite was experienced on a different project. I came into the process about halfway through schematic design and the team was already wholly invested in the design and nuances of the project. At first, I came in with the same mentality that I had had to “push people in the direction that I wished them to go”. However, when the team already had momentum, it became twice as difficult to move things to where I thought they should be. Instead, I took a step back and used the momentum that was already in place and gently shifted decisions and ideas one way or another. While neither method is perfect and both require effort, I am sure that I avoided many headaches by tailoring my approach for each project.

Ultimately, what I have learned is that the best way to motivate and lead a project team is to adapt my approach to each team and even each team member to what they require. There can’t be a “one size fits all” approach because people are about as varied a species as there is. We can shift and customize our approaches within a spectrum, but it is important to recognize that people and situations will always vary and we need to be flexible enough to adjust accordingly. It’s just too bad I couldn’t think of all this when the question was originally posed months ago.

Forest City Revisted

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More than a year ago, the Colorado Court of Appeals issued an opinion in Rogers v. Forest City Stapleton, Inc. (2015COA167).  My post then noted the decision could significantly impact developers and construction professionals in Colorado.

The lawsuit involved a dispute between a homeowner in the Stapleton neighborhood and the master developer of the community (Forest City).  Before any new structures were built, Forest City subdivided the former Stapleton International Airport land into individual lots to create a new residential development.  Undeveloped lots were sold to a professional homebuilder (Infinity Home Collection at Stapleton, LLC).  Infinity improved and finished the lot, constructed a house on it, and sold the lot to Rogers.

Rogers claims that an undisclosed high water table beneath his house, coupled with calcite leaching from nearby roads, infiltrated his basement.  Rogers’ claim against Forest City included breach of implied warranty.  His theory was that by allowing Infinity to construct a home with a basement on the lot, Forest City had implied that the lot was suitable for that purpose.

Forest City argued that it did not have any role in the builder’s or homeowner’s decision to build a basement on the lot because it had provide the builder with all of the information available respecting the lot’s subsurface and groundwater condition.

Before the Court of Appeals decision, no Colorado appellate court had recognized an implied warranty running from a lot developer to a subsequent home buyer where the developer is not involved in construction of the house.

Although the opinion attempted to carve a narrow exception for implied warranty claims against a developer, developers, builders, contractors, and designers may now be exposed to more frequent and successful claims for breach of implied warranty.

The Colorado Supreme Court considered the case and has issued it’s ruling. The Supreme Court concluded that because breach of the implied warranty of suitability is a contract claim, privity of contract is required in such a case.

The home buyer was not in privity of contract with the developer and thus cannot pursue a claim against the developer for breach of the implied warranty of suitability.

Thankfully, the Colorado Supreme Court decision assuaged concerns raised a year ago by the court of appeals’ decision.

Denver Street Level… with a Stroller, A Guest Post from a new(ish) Mother

Nothing re-contextualizes a city’s public, street-level environment quite like having an infant in tow.  While life’s errands and events were once a seamless rhythm of transitions from home to mode of transport to destination, leaving the house as a new parent comes with an entirely new choreography.

Six months into parenthood, while I’ve eased up a bit since the early months, I still catch myself considering a list of logistics rivaling a CIA operative about to embark on a strategic mission each time I leave the house. 

What mode of transportation should I bring—a stroller or a baby carrier?   Are there sidewalks? And if so, what condition are they in? How long will I be out?  Can I run multiple errands while visiting one location?  Will this location have a changing station and/or nursing room?  Is the space I am visiting outdoors or indoors, and what additional blankets or shading do I need to temper my baby’s microclimate? 

Prior to parenthood, there were many specific ways in which I engaged with the city’s urban fabric.  As a practicing architect working near the heart of Downtown Denver, I have ridden on my fair share of entertaining mallrides, felt the warm glow of the cosmopolitan bustle at Union Station, and spent many dusky Friday evenings perusing Rino’s cultural and epicurean venues.  A fan of local businesses, seasonal markets, and public parks, I have walked and biked through many of Denver’s unique, rapidly-developing neighborhoods.

Fast-forward to early parenthood.  Suddenly my means of navigating the city has become less about novelty and more about predictability.  Prior to having an infant, I hadn’t considered IKEA’s sinuous walking paths, set amongst the backdrop of carefully-organized living environments, as an exercise and entertainment destination on a rainy day.  Nor did I appreciate the diversity of merchandise available under the roof of America’s beloved Super Target.  Despite my proximity to Cherry Creek North, I didn’t give much thought to what I now consider one of the more well-planned pedestrian environments in the City of Denver.

Borrowing Bob Dylan’s words, things have changed.

As a new mother that aspires to remain an active, urban-dweller throughout maternity leave and beyond, here are several planning features that might facilitate a positive parent outing/ experience.  While most of these planning principles cater to universal design strategies, these features have quickly become important enhancements to the quotidian routines of early parenthood.

  1. Wide, flat sidewalks with curb cuts and generous indoor circulation paths.

Many Colorado parents opt for all-terrain strollers that support the state’s “active lifestyle.”  These strollers tend to have a wide frame and impressively-large all-weather tires.  While navigating narrow, cracked sidewalks and jumping curbs might appeal to those that enjoy testing their strollers’ off-roading capabilities, a smooth and barrier free experience remains preferable while pushing perhaps such precious cargo.

While the Denver Post recently reported that the City of Denver’s 2017 operating budget has earmarked $2.5 million for new or fixed sidewalks on city-owned property.  Perhaps more challenging is how Denver might provide assistance in improving neighborhood sidewalks that fall within the responsibility of the homeowner.

This principle also applies to the idea that indoor spaces have wide circulation paths that might accommodate strollers in aisle-ways and areas surrounding displays in retail environments.

  1. Mixed-use retail environments that mimic the urban microcosm.

Three months into parenthood, I’ve appreciated mixed-use developments that necessitate only one trip via car or public transportation.  Upon arrival, being able to accomplish many activities and tasks on-foot without having to open and fold a heavy stroller or strap a sleeping baby in-and-out of a carrier numerous times creates a more enjoyable experience for all participants involved.

My new-found appreciation of Cherry Creek North stems from its rich diversity of programming and thoughtful attention to the pedestrian scale and public space(s).  In many ways creating a parallel to a small village, one might meet a friend for coffee or a meal, pick up groceries and other household items, fit in a workout, stop by the library, and/or engage in a round of retail therapy all in one trip.  These activities are enhanced by a pleasant pedestrian scale that boasts wide sidewalks and pedestrian-preferred crosswalks, ample landscaping and benches, continuous stretches of active, ground-level retail, and fairly inexpensive metered parking.

  1. Clean, sanitary restroom facilities that go beyond code. 

On a recent trip to Japan, I was struck by the universal design features in the majority of public spaces, transportation hubs, and cultural institutions.  Besides the elaborate electric toilets with multiple cleansing options, each accessible stall had an infant seat in which a child under six months could be placed while their mother used the facilities.  This small addition to public amenities would make a seemingly simple need safe and less awkward for parents out with their child.

Upon expecting, several new mothers I met told me of their appreciation for Nordstrom bathrooms, which boast comfortable couches and areas for privacy in nursing/resting while shopping with an infant.

A little extra care and investment in public restrooms for functions such as nursing and changing enable parents to feel more comfortable in leaving the house for extended stretches of time.

  1. Don’t underestimate the importance of public, urban parks.

During the first two months of life, a newborn is not vaccinated, and it is typically recommended by the Pediatrician that parents avoid confined areas.

So where to go to get out of the house?

Public parks and open spaces within walking-distance of neighborhoods are critical resources for exercise, fresh air, and an opportunity to “reconnect” with the outside world.

I can’t count how many times I walked around Washington Park during the first few weeks of my child’s life (sometimes twice in one day,) but I know that this beloved public park served as a savior of both my sanity and post-pregnancy recovery.

While babies grow quickly, the first several years of life provide parents with numerous considerations that seem counter to a spontaneous, out-the-door approach to small and large outings.  My hope is that as Denver continues to grow, design features that demonstrate empathy and sensitivity to parents with young children might be incorporated in new and existing public spaces, cultural institutions, and neighborhoods and mixed-use developments.

 

Guest Post: Emily Axtman – “Finding Our Voices” – recap of AIA Grassroots 2017

This week’s guest post is by Emily Axtman, who recently attended AIA Grassroots in Washington D.C. as a representative of the AIA Colorado North Section. The following post originally appeared on the WORKSHOP8 blog (it has been edited to fit this format).

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I have had the opportunity over the last year and a half to serve on the Colorado North AIA Board as the Associate Director (2016) and now the President-Elect (2017). Every year, the President-Elect and President of each region travel to Washington, D.C. for the annual Grassroots Conference, an AIA leadership event. Grassroots brings together AIA members from around the country to talk about the most pressing issues we face within our communities and how architects can take leadership roles to create healthier, more sustainable architecture that will improve the built environment for all. It was an eye-opening, inspiring three-day event that will have a lasting impression in my mind for years to come.

A few B I G picture items came to me on this trip:

  • Exposure to diversity is key to combating fear. In this political climate of fear, diversity is key.
  • I have a voice. I have an opportunity and a responsibility to use that voice.
  • We really are stronger together.

Lesson 1: Exposure to diversity is key to combating fear: Public transportation is an amazing way to expose yourself to diversity. It provides a means for every walk of life to get from point A to point B. When you are put into situations where you are in close proximity to those whom you do not know, you are more likely to understand that he and she are actually quite similar to you. While traveling to D.C. I witnessed a few situations like this: a Latino man and a European man striking up a conversation about their pasts and similarities, a Muslim airport worker leading a blind man onto the tram, and a train security guard helping out two homeless people on the train. Watching people of varied backgrounds show each other compassion and understanding re-affirmed that all is not lost– and that public transportation rocks!

Day 1

On the first day of the conference, we had the chance to sit down with members of Congress to discuss federal issues that are important to our AIA Members and our professional community. Stacee Kersley, the North President, and myself sat down with Congressman Jared Polis’ Senior Legislative Assistant, Blaine Miller-McFeeley, to discuss ways in which young architects can help serve their communities in exchange for student loan assistance. It was a successful and rewarding conversation; and a great experience for me as a young designer. After visiting Congressman Polis’ office, we sat in on both the House of Representatives, as well as the Senate. It just so happened that the very day we were visiting Capitol Hill was also International Women’s Day. As I walked across the US Capitol lawn, I stumbled upon a women’s equal rights protest. It was awesome– free speech! It made me proud to be a woman, a designer and an American- with a voice.

Lesson 2: I have a voice. I have an opportunity and a responsibility to use that voice.

Day 2

The second day of the conference was the official kick-off. We spent the day getting to know the AIA National Board, learning about what professionals are doing around the country to better their communities and gaining skills to become more effective leaders.

“WE CAN CHOOSE TO LIVE WHERE WE WILL HAVE THE LIGHTEST URBAN FOOTPRINT.”

Jeff Speck, City Planner and Urban Developer of Speck and Associates, blew me away with his lecture on “Walkable Cities”. Check out his new book “Walkable City” here. TED talk here.

“WE CAN’T CONSUME OUR WAY OUT OF THE PROBLEM.”

Jean Carroon, Principal at Goody Clancy, reminded us of the importance and value that existing buildings have in contributing to our future urban fabric in her lecture “Heritage Cities”. She stated that there are thousands upon thousands of square feet of existing buildings waiting to be re-used. And that “Old is the new, new”. Check out her book “Sustainable Preservation: Greening Existing Buildings” here. One of her lectures on historic preservation here.

“URBAN RESILIENCY IS THE ABILITY OF A CITY TO WITHSTAND DISASTER… NOT JUST THE IMMEDIATE SHOCKS.”

Michael Berkowitz, President of Resilient Cities and Managing Director at the Rockefeller Foundation, spoke about the necessity to equip cities around the world with tools to be more resilient against the physical, social, and economic challenges we currently face.

“THE BEST WAY TO MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN IS TO ADDRESS CLIMATE CHANGE.”

Tom Dallessio, President, CEO & Publisher of Next City, Philadelphia, challenged architects to think critically about what a 21st Century City is and how architects have the ability to shape our cities in positive ways.

And all this was before noon. The rest of the day focused on leadership workshops and gave everyone the time to connect with like-minded professionals. Throughout the day as I connected with more and more people, I realized that we are all working towards the same goals and had similar outlooks and hopes for the future. I felt as though I was a part of this big national team of designers, all pushing forward with support from each other.

Lesson 3: We really are stronger together.

Day 3

The third day focused on leadership workshops such as “Speak Like a Pro” and “Managing Cultural Differences.” The final keynote speaker: Catherine Pugh, Mayor of Baltimore, spoke of the unique capability architects have to create change for the better.

“BECAUSE THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT IS NOT SIMPLY BUILDINGS,” PUGH SAID, “BUT THE POTENTIAL TO SOLVE REAL-WORLD PROBLEMS THROUGH DESIGN.”

Overall, the 2017 Grassroots Conference was incredible. I am thankful to the AIA Colorado for this experience and to WORKSHOP8 for supporting me throughout my AIA Board roles.

 

AIA Contract Provision Void

In early March, 2017 the Colorado Court of Appeals determined a key AIA Contract Provision was void and unenforceable in a residential project.

In Broomfield Senior Living v. R.G. Brinkmann , the Court of Appeals considered whether Section 13.7.1 of the AIA Form A101-1997 Contract was enforceable against the ownership of a senior living project.

Section 13.7.1 of the AIA contract generally states that any defect claims against the general contractor must be filed within a specified date from substantial completion of the project.

The A101 contract is a popular agreement used by owners and general contractors in construction. In this instance, it was entered into between a national general contracting firm and a national company that builds and operates senior living centers.

Brinkmann argued that the AIA’s statute-of-limitations provision (using “substantial completion” as the starting point) reflected the parties’ intent to deviate from Colorado’s 2 year statute of limitation.  The appellate court concluded that such deviation was in violation of the express purpose of the Homeowners Protection Act (“HPA”).  The decision pivoted on the determination that the senior living community was “residential” in nature.   By declaring the project to be “residential,” the Colorado Court of Appeals nullified the concept that commercially-sophisticated parties can consent to modify the statute-of-limitations by adopting long-standing AIA contract language.

Commercial contractor should be aware that Section 13.7.1, which is found in several AIA contract forms, won’t be enforced in any Colorado project involving the construction of “residential” living units.