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.

 

Remembering a True Artist; Celebrating the Life and Work of Zaha Hadid

Each day we experience what one might best be labeled “pragmatic architecture,” because it is exactly that.  From America’s beloved big box store with the gigantic (and changeable) sign to the prolific utilitarian gas stations that dot the corners of our residential fabric, utility is convention, and thoughtfully-designed architecture, sadly, is often the exception.

As children we are taught to draw a house in the form of a square with a triangle roof, windows where bedrooms might be, and a door for entry on the first floor.  Each element has a purpose and a lesson, but the drawing is symbolic rather than artful; explanatory rather than suggestive.

c1d8c5bafd9953f3d2a25e0ed8500fefIn late March the architecture community lost an architect that preferred architectural pyrotechnics to pragmatics; exploding onto the scene in the late 1970’s/early 80’s, Zaha Hadid is and will always be remembered equally weighted as an artist and architect that understood form as something fluid-but-faceted, expressive, and at its best moments, uninhibited.

After digesting the many articles that have been written in her memory, I was amazed to learn more about the person (and personality) behind the dramatic pictures (of Dame Hadid and of her work.)  Born in Baghdad, Iraq, Hadid studied mathematics at the University of Beirut prior to moving to London to attend the Architectural Association in 1972.  After working at OMA with rising Starchitect Rem Koolhaas, a friendship sustained throughout her lifetime, Zaha left to pursue her unique and individualistic architectural approach.

Starting her own practice in 1980, Hadid became prolific in the mediums of drawing and painting as tools to explore architectural investigations one might only think possible with a computer.  This type of representation led her to notoriety after winning the prestigious international competition for the Hong Kong Peak Club.  Although the Club was never realized, commissions followed including her seminal Vitra Fire Station (1993,) a buoyant ski jump in Innsbruck (2002,) the Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art in Cincinnati, Ohio (2003,) and many more impactful projects that today, according to the Zaha Hadid Architects website, totals 950 projects across 44 countries/55 nations.

Growing up as an aspiring architect in the 1980’s and 90’s, as a child my architectural role models were pretty boiler plate.  There were Frank Lloyd Wright coloring books, history books touting the famed woman architect, Julia Morgan, and fancy spreads of New York penthouses and Aspen ranches in Architectural Digest issues that I admittedly devoured each month.

It wasn’t until my 20’s and immersion into architecture school that I fully understood the challenges, achievements, and artistry of contemporary architects like Hadid.  This understanding was fully reinforced when Hadid was recognized as the Laureate of the Pritzker Prize in 2004; the first woman to be awarded the prize.

Despite a smaller portfolio of built work at the time, architects such as Bill Lacy, speaking as the executive director of the Pritzker Prize in 2004 remarked, “Only rarely does an architect emerge with a philosophy and approach to the art form that influences the direction of the entire field. Such an architect is Zaha Hadid who has patiently created and refined a vocabulary that sets new boundaries for the art of architecture.”

Many people say Hadid was the most influential woman architect of our time.  I prefer to look to her as a role model, but to share a sentiment that has been expressed that she is simply one of THE most influential Architects of our time.

Firsthand Experience : Learning Through Design-Build

Ever wondered why the University of Colorado Denver’s Design-Build Program, “Colorado Building Workshop,” is so popular amongst students, faculty, and Colorado residents?  Aspiring architect and graduate student Samantha Strang provides us with a guest post this week regarding her experience as an active participant in a project to design and build year-round cabins in Leadville for the Colorado Outward Bound School.  Read ahead to learn about what she aptly describes as a “layered design process.”   

Thanks Samantha!

-Beth R. Mosenthal, AIA, LEED AP BD+C

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Photo credit: Rachel Koleski.   Description: Students presenting during the final design crits with the client, Colorado Outward Bound School

As a developing architect, I aim to approach all projects with a committed contemplation for detail, place, time, material, craft, and people. I hope to always represent those who will use the space through an informed design process based on sensorial and emotional understanding as well as environmental and regional components. These powerful elements invoke a timeless relevance and open direct lines of communication between people and the architecture that surrounds them.

 

My participation this semester with the University of Colorado Denver’s Design-Build Program, Colorado Building Workshop, has given me (as well as many collaborators) the opportunity to utilize this layered design process to achieve a built outcome. Working and learning from our clients, Colorado Outward Bound School, while helping to build their community is a unique opportunity to enhance and contribute to the school’s sense of place and identity. As opposed to generating a theoretical design problem, I’ve found that CU’s Design-Build program allows students to develop key skills to explore the integral relationship between architectural design, people, and building construction.

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Photo credit: Samantha Strang.  CU-Denver Design-Build students in Leadville conducting Post-Occupancy evaluations of the fourteen cabins from the 2015 build.

This semester, twenty-eight students are designing seven year-round accommodations. The housing, which includes three single occupancy units, three double occupancy lodgings, and the Executive Director’s cabin, will be built in Leadville during the CU-Denver Maymester. Expanding upon last year’s build of fourteen summer-use cabins, these seven units will be roughly 300 square feet, fully insulated, and will include electrical. Working in teams of four, my classmates and I have worked intensely throughout the design process to personalize our particular cabins to our sites and project concepts. Simultaneously, we have had the challenge of relating to the previous build while creating works which are individual to our class’s design sensibilities.

Working much like a professional studio, we have come to rely on one another’s strengths. Aside from our design teams, students work within other groups including areas such as Logistics, Structure, and Budgets which serve to keep the project focused as a whole. This ensures communication exists between the seven cabins while promoting a cohesive design approach relating to the architectural language and techniques employed in the fourteen cabins built last year.

Within the program, every student has the potential to bring unique insight to challenge and improve the architectural design. I have learned not only how to deal with structural issues and budgetary restrictions, but also the importance of efficiency, on-site problem solving, and adherence to deadlines. I’ve noted the clarity of communication necessary to maintain organization and the intricate detailing of construction assemblies required to fully understand how a project comes together. Needless to say, it has become exceptionally clear that one’s understanding of every detail matters.

As an aspiring architect, I want to experiment, pose questions, be questioned, and collaborate to create unique works. Learning and readjusting after each step through an iterative process is part of the Design-Build program. This is where I can bring all of my skills and put them into practice, learn from students with other backgrounds, and potentially teach others as well. This in-depth experience promotes the ability to comprehensively design, define career goals, and affords students the potential to be a more informed, valuable member of a professional studio in the future.

Studio and the Seat

Having spent my first several years in practice immersed in workplace design, I bore witness to the changing paradigms of what might be considered a “modern” work environment.

Despite the range of industry types (ranging from advertising agencies to biotech to executive search firms to a multi-tenant non-profit center), relevant dialogues and design thinking related to wellness, flexibility, choice, and culture became central to the process and outcomes of the resultant environments.

As employers continue to adopt mobility programs, champion shrinking physical footprints, and invest in collaborative and shared amenity spaces, I remain somewhat ambivalent about the future of the architectural studio/office; a workplace typology that feels rightfully caught between the past and the future, between rich and evolving traditions paired with the uncertainty of the unknown.

Why the confusion?

Because, after many discussions with industry colleagues and peers, I’m still not sure if an architectural studio (a space type presumably based on daily team collaboration paired with explorations, iterations, and discussions of physical models, pinned-up drawings, and digital media) can translate as productively within the confines of remote-work and online sharing as it can by spinning my chair around at work and asking a teammate what they think of a sketch I’m working on.

Unlike professions that thrive with a high concentration of individual contributors, the team-like structure and iterative nature of design work seems to lend itself to the benefits of face-to-face communication as a means of problem-solving, constructive critique, and ultimately, team-based decision-making.

If I’ve dated myself with this previous statement or made the reader sigh with contempt, I don’t apologize, but rather ask you to share what’s working; that is, if you’ve found solutions for your office or firm that empower the employee to be more mobile and flexible without suffering from a sense of absenteeism or lack of energy in the studio/workplace, what have been the tools for your success?

While the transition from desktops to laptops and creating robust online-collaboration and communication capabilities are obvious first steps to facilitating workplace mobility, I am curious about the broader implications of an architecture studio that thrives on virtual presenteeism and collaboration, or, alternatively, an “alone together” approach in which people are encouraged to engage in individual work and to come together for less spontaneous, less frequent but theoretically more “productive” collaboration time (along the lines of this recent discourse: https://hbr.org/2014/03/why-you-should-stop-brainstorming/ or http://www.fastcompany.com/3033567/agendas/brainstorming-doesnt-work-try-this-technique-instead)

I welcome, as always, any discussion on the topic as a response to this blog post.

Guest Post: A Multidisciplinary Approach To Architecture

Partners

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.

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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.

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“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.

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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.

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Studio NYL Wall Assembly Study

 

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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.