Alternative Practice(s) In Denver

When I’m not architecting or blogging, I’m editing for the Young Architect’s Forum “Connection” e-zine, published by the AIA.  One of the best parts of editing is getting to source new content, and in the process, the chance to meet people that are being bold and brave in pursuing their passions and making them realities.

Over the past year or so, I’ve met a lot of people that are pursuing what I might call “alternative practice.” This isn’t a new term, but perhaps a varied term in regards to how it’s used. I would define this as individuals that are pursuing design in methods that correlate with architectural tools and processes, but their intentions and outcomes often diverge from a functional “building.”

For example, for the upcoming issue of Connection, I interviewed a Professor I worked with in London, Alain Chiaradia.  While he began his career in architecture, he quickly realized his passion for design research and analysis on the urban scale.  He now teaches at Cardiff University, while researching and practicing urban design aimed at transformation through spatial analysis.  Prior to featuring Alain, I showcased the work of Viktor Venson, Co-founder of “No Right Brain Left Behind.”  As an ad-man-turned-designer, Venson has been working to create prototypes of new learning environments meant to facilitate learning and creativity in schools.

While architecture lends itself to being interdisciplinary (each project requires becoming a pseudo-expert in a different type of program, building typology, etc.,) I have become increasingly interested in the range of applications architectural tools and thinking can be applied to for various problem-solving efforts on a wide range of scales.

As a resident of Denver, what is interesting to me is that the Colorado design community also seems to have a growing number of professionals that are pursuing “alternative practice.”  Here’s a quick snapshot of two dynamic individuals based in Colorado that balance architecture with other multidisciplinary pursuits, Kelton Osborn and Julie Spinnato:


Kelton Osborn

Kelton Osborn

Kelton Osborn,  Artist and Architect

(1)    What is your background (educationally and professionally)?  How did it get you to where you are now (professionally)?

My undergraduate degree is in Architecture with a minor in Printmaking from the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. Right out of school I worked for an adobe home builder where I gained immense knowledge about construction. After building several homes, I secured a position working for Antoine Predock also in Albuquerque. After two years, I moved to Denver to attend the University of Colorado at Denver where I earned my Master of Architecture degree. While in graduate school I was lucky enough to cross paths with professor Douglas Darden. Douglas became my mentor – motivating me to operate outside my design comfort zone and pushing me to uncover my true design process.

Over the years I have worked for several Denver architecture firms, each offering valuable personal and professional experiences. Looking back, I’m proud to have had a hand in many exciting projects.

In 2009, I was laid off from my full time architectural position. I decided to take advantage of the situation by switching my primary focus to art. This also allowed me to spend more time with my young daughter. In the past several years, I have completed my first public art commission for the city of Denver and my first solo show at a downtown gallery – while continuing to practice architecture. The difference is, I am able to take on a wider variety of project types.

(2)    What role does architecture play in your current work?

My art and architecture have always meshed and influenced each other. To me, it is all design, whether it is painting, building furniture or designing a building. I am fortunate in that I am able to create things from a very small and intimate scale to a large habitable scale. The Berkeley Lake public art commission I completed last year is a combination of landscape design, architecture and sculpture.

(3)    Can you give an example of a project you’ve completed that employs architectural thinking or processes that yield an unexpected or “non-architectural” outcome?

I suppose that my recent paintings are the result of my “architectural thinking” because I believe most everything in our lives can influence design. I tend to start with a notion or process that is very intuitive. I believe that any starting point in the design process is valid and if you allow your intuition to lead, you can discover many unexpected outcomes.

My current show at the Carmen Wiedenhoeft Gallery “fragments revealed: a continuous process” illustrates this process.

Some impressive examples of Kelton’s work, on display now at the Carmen Widenhoeft Gallery, as well as his recent commission for Denver’s Urban Arts Commission:

StrataGall IMG_1187 Buoy_cropDSCN1709 - Version 2Linear_crop Berkeley Park Public Art


Julie_headshotJulie Spinnato, Architect, Yoga Instructor, and Artist

(1) What is your background (educationally and professionally)?  How did it get you to where you are now (professionally)?

I received a B. Arch from Carnegie Mellon University and spent a year studying abroad at University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia.  I spent a summer during college working as a wrangler at Colorado Mountain Ranch in Gold Hill and fell in love with Colorado.  Upon graduation, I interviewed at firms in Denver and was offered a job at one office’s Vail office.  I worked in three firms in Vail before opening my own firm, Studio Spinnato in 2007.  I moved to Denver recently and have recently accepted an associate position with a friend from Vail, Ken Bridges at Blueline Architects.

(2) Do you find any overlaps between teaching yoga and practicing architecture?

I think that through teaching yoga I have learned to communicate effectively as well as listen throughly.  I also think that clients can be overwhelmed in the design and construction process and to teach them through the process is a valuable tool.

(3) What type of art do you do?

Primarily I am a painter.  I usually paint what is in my immediate environment.  While living in Vail, I painted a lot of landscapes, primarily aspen trees.  I spent time in New Mexico and have painted a lot of Western scenes.  I currently I dabbling with the idea of a juxaposition of the West and the cityscape.

(4) Can you cite a project you’ve completed that employs architectural thinking or processes that yield an unexpected or “non-architectural” outcome?

I entered a recycled art show last year and painted on recycled shutters from Habitat for Humanity. The piece, “Dark Horse Shuttered” won first place.

Some examples of a range of Julie’s work:

dark horse shuttered practicing yoga  aspens-potrippin bootsARCOBCCOHEN0357

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