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.

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