Colorado Architecture Month: What’s Your Impact?

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It’s that time of the year again. Opening Day for the Rockies, at-capacity patios downtown, and Colorado Architecture Month! You might be familiar with some of the events that occur during April around the state, but do you know why Architecture Month exists?

Architecture month has the potential to serve as one of the greatest public outreach campaigns we do. A series of public events are set up all around the state to highlight the importance of architecture in our everyday lives and ensure the community also understands that design matters.

You can find a series of events on the AIA Calendar throughout the month. While the events are great, what are you doing to share the value of architecture? Does your firm have a blog? Are you able to share images via social media? AIA Colorado has put together a series of blog tips and ideas to encourage you to get out there and write.  Personally, I have found one of the best ways to share what we do as architects and why it is so vitally important to our communities is to just talk about it. The other day I took a Lyft and the driver asked what I do. As soon as I said architecture there was a sense of awe from the driver. I then took this as an opportunity to explain how our projects impact the community and why it is so important to have an architect. I don’t know if I converted a community member into an architect-believer but having these conversations with as many people as possible is the best way to engage the public and our neighbors.

As seen with this Lyft Driver, there is an aura of respect around the words architecture and architect. But we have a difficult time communicating why everyone and every community are deserving of good, well-designed architecture. In my opinion, good architecture doesn’t solely need to be the construction of a beautiful museum or new music hall. Good architecture should have an impact, whether big or small.

In October of last year, the Emerging Professionals of the AIA Western Mountain Region an afternoon and visited the 4th and 5th grade students of Silverthorne Elementary School in Silverthorne, Colorado. We took a few hours to explain to them the basics of architecture and why it is so important. We then took them through the process of design by designing Little Libraries, which will be installed in their communities. A few of our EP members, Max McCloskey, Assoc. AIA and Jim Hillard, AIAS UC Denver President led an effort to actually construct these little libraries. I have to say, the community of Silverthorne is quite lucky to have these well-designed, albeit little, libraries in their community. Our EP team is taking the rest of Architecture Month to finish these up and will then deliver them to the school for installation in the Silverthorne Community.

We all have the ability to impact our communities. Use Colorado Architecture Month as an opportunity to share your impact.

The Value of Outreach

If we think back to when we were ten years old, what did we believe architecture was? What about in junior high or high school? What was the point at which we believed we had a basic understanding of architecture and what it meant to the world we live in? Or, when did we decide architecture was more than what we found out from George Costanza? Did we ever grow out of that state? For some, the answers to these questions are simple and straightforward. For others, there may not be exact answers to them.

Recently, our office had the opportunity to help with some of these answers via the Cleworth Architectural Legacy (CAL) program. CAL is a program organized through the Denver Architectural Foundation in Denver Public Schools where we attempt to teach a basic understanding of architecture and the process of creating our built environment to a classroom of young children. We had the opportunity to work with a group of fourth grade students at University Prep in the Five Points neighborhood of Denver to create “space architecture”.

Because the idea of “space architecture” is such an abstract one that continues to fuel speculative and fantastical designs from even the most world renowned architects, it seemed like a great opportunity to allow the students to delve into the world of planning, three-dimensional space organization, and abstract concepts. While most students had a great time with the multi-week project, some did not see the point of creating something so impractical. After all, seeing the value of designing buildings and neighborhoods down to the stairway that you ascend every morning isn’t always readily apparent by using sticks, marshmallows, and plastic wrap to create colonies on Mars.

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That all being said, providing an outlet for fourth grade students to think about a community in which they imagine themselves living helps to provide a lifelong lesson, even if it is only over the course of few months. If we were all given the opportunity to imagine and physically create, even abstractly, the ideal environments in which we would like to live, would we still be living in the same environment today? Or would the value of design have been rooted deeply within us to demand higher standards?

This is all a very far-reaching claim to make from a few weeks working with fifty students in a single city. But, I can’t help but wonder what our buildings would look like if the public at large was more informed about architecture and held it to a higher standard from a very early age. I would venture to say that we would demand that our buildings perform at a higher rate, be more user driven, and push the envelope as far as possible in regards to aesthetics and a cohesive urban environment.

Ultimately, the point of architects reaching out to children is to help further the understanding of the value of architecture and design within the every day lives of every person. It may turn out that only a couple of these students pursue architecture as a career path and it may turn out that none do. What is an invaluable message, though, is that the spaces and places that they inhabit were (usually) carefully planned and that there is a tremendous value to fully thinking about the spaces in which we occupy and move through everyday.

Otherwise, most people may just end up sitting around a diner with a few friends speculating on what architecture is and the fanciful and out of reach possibilities of such an industry.

george costanza - architect

Shameless plug: if you would like to get involved with  programs like CAL, please reach out to AIA Colorado or the Denver Architectural Foundation for more information.

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.

TJOA_GObox_FabTJOA_GObox_2

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.

 

“The Problem with Parametricism”- Guest Post by Bill Allen and Tobias Hathorn

Is Colorado the last to jump on the parametric bandwagon?  Here is Bill and Tobias’s demystification of the parametric design process and its seemingly limitless iterative possibilities.. (and by the way, the answer is no, Colorado’s grassroots design community is already on board, with 1-2 people per firm that seem to be familiar with the tools, as well as a handful of fabricators and engineers locally.)  Is that going to be enough to push Colorado’s design forward in terms of form and fabrication?  The jury is still out, but as I see it, the more tools our design and construction community has in their repertoire, the fewer limitations they might have in creating designs that transcend the limitations of software and machines to create design that responds to the needs and potentials of the 21st century.  – Beth Mosenthal, AIA Colorado blog contributor

“The Problem with Parametricism”  by Bill Allen and Tobias Hathorn

Is parametricism the new bee’s knees?  If you have attended or taught at any University in the last 5 years, you are well aware that the University is pushing this idea of parametric model building with their students.  They are using such tools as Grasshopper and Dynamo coupled with Rhino and Revit.  Students are coming out with this knowledge in technology, however you may ask yourself the question as an Architect in this industry, is any of this really applicable to what I do day to day?

Undulating BeamsThis idea of parametricism is in fact is not a new concept at all, but in recent years has definitely become more main stream.  My journey began about 6 years ago when I attended an ACADIA parametricism conference in 2011.  I saw much value in the process during the conference, and decided to build my first parametric model using grasshopper.

My most recent parametric building….(clear throat)…“table” was a Design After Dark project with our team at OZ Architecture.  We used grasshopper to parametrically model a unique profile for every carpet tile.  We also programmed the tool to tag every carpet tile with a unique identifier and layer for fabrication of the table.

Build Table

You may be looking at these images, and saying to yourself, “well it only makes crazy curvy non buildable forms.  It’s great for making a wavy table, but there is no way that this can be applied to buildings”.  Well, allow me to enlighten you on some projects that I have been fortunate enough to work on.

 

 

 

Parametric vehicular canopy using adaptive components and dynamo

CanopyDynamo

Parking garage façade intended to simulate the mountains in Breckenridge,  Colorado

2014-05-09_8-46-322014-05-08_23-43-50Breckenridge Rendering

The Challenges:

These are the challenges I have come across personally when pushing and implementing these concepts in an architectural office.

  1. “It’s not buildable”

Inevitably when I show teams these types of projects, the criticism that comes up is that you can’t document it (or you will spend a long time documenting it) and you certainly can’t build it.  Tools like grasshopper actually offer us some amazing utilities to help us design functional and buildable forms.  Just one simple example of this is the planar test.  How planar is an object?

Planar

Also, digital fabrication has come a long way as well.  Rather than issuing “shop drawings” we can issue a “shop model”, and fabricate directly from a model.

  1. “I don’t want to be a programmer”

Below is a screen shot of the script I used to create the table with the carpet tiles I illustrated earlier.  No doubt at first glance an architectural designer could be turned off by the interface.  Give me Sketchup he or she says.

Grasshoper Script

The interface does take some time, but keep in mind that building an object parametrically gives you the ability to create an enormous amount of design iterations simply by moving graph mappers and slider bars.

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Additionally you can optimize your building design using Computational Design Iterations with Galapagos.

  1. “There’s no community”

With the advent of the internet and meetups exploding, this is no longer the case.  Grasshopper has its own community website at www.grasshopper3d.com.  Additionally in Colorado, we have created the Rocky Mountain Building Information Society (RoMBIS)  Boulder/Denver Meetup.  We recently hosted a discussion around the topic of “Construction and the Utilization of Parametric Technologies”.

RoMBIS Boulder RoMBIS Boulder (NYL)

In conclusion, I believe that there is a vast amount of resources and processes that we in the greater Colorado area have not even begun to scratch the surface on in the context of parametric modeling and Building Information Management.  I would like to invite you personally to come geek out with us at one of the RoMBIS meetups either in Boulder or in Denver.  Our meetups provide food, beverages, and knowledge.  Through your participation, we as a community will have a greater influence on the direction of our society and our industry.

 

 

The Year of the Advocate

If you haven’t noticed, the AIA has rolled out a new campaign titled the “Year of the Advocate”. (I can hardly blame you if you haven’t IMG_3774noticed). We receive multiple emails a day from National AIA, Advocacy AIA, I Look Up AIA, AIA Colorado, and various others depending on which lists you are subscribed to. However, I feel that this specific email regarding Advocacy is more important than the others. The mission of the campaign is to get AIA members involved in advocacy efforts and hopefully donate to ArchiPAC. Before you write this post off, bear with me. I want to explain why Advocacy is so vitally important to our profession. It is arguably one of the greatest benefits of the AIA membership. If you aren’t sure why advocacy is important or why ArchiPAC needs your money, I hope to help explain that.

Three Reasons Advocacy is Important

  1. Advocacy affects you (all of you!) It doesn’t matter what kind of work you do or where you work. The Advocacy branch of the AIA helps to reach out to elected officials (national works at a national level, states work at state legislature levels) and support those politicians that support architecture. If you own your company, if you care about the high cost of student loans or if you design energy efficient buildings, Advocacy should be a priority.
  2. Advocacy efforts and ArchiPAC are bi-partisan. If you are anything like me, you have followed the news closely and it seems that America may be more partisan than ever as well as the politicians that represent us. This is not true for ArchiPAC. ArchiPAC donates an equal amount to each party and its candidates. It is not about Republican, Democrat or Independent. The support goes to candidates whose views align with the legislative agenda of architects.

Wait… What is ArchiPAC? ArchiPAC is the federal Political Action Committee of the AIA. Fundraising occurs every year and then the money is dispersed to support leaders who support architects. It is important that we have a PAC because that is how support and awareness is raised in the Hill in DC. AIA is not allowed to donate to campaigns so ArchiPAC is funded solely through its members.

  1. Influence = Ability to Shape Our Profession. There has been one President that has been an architect. AIA Advocates aren’t asking all of us to run in the next presidential election, but sitting on community and local boards helps to create architectural influence within our communities. Architects should be sitting on Planning Boards, Infrastructure Committees; whatever it may be in your community. We are experts in our field and have a responsibility to share this expertise with the rest of our community. Not only does the community benefit when we share our expertise but architecture as a profession benefits when we are recognized as valuable and relevant. This is easily done when architects get involved in the community and helps the community to understand what it is we do.

Like most efforts, this takes a grassroots approach. Not everyone can donate a lot of money. Not everyone has the desire to serve on a local committee. The first step is figure out what you personally feel is important and advocate for that. When we all step up and advocate for the profession together, we are a stronger profession.

Speaking Numbers 

We all know money speaks. As of November 30, 2014, ArchiPAC raised $276,142.70 with a total of 1,610 contributors. (http://archipac.org/) There are 85,500 members in the AIA. Imagine if we all just donated one dollar? Even more than the dollar amount increase, can you imagine how much awareness would grow if every member donated a minimal amount? Influence comes in many forms. Money helps. But recognition is where the influence lies.

If you are now feeling inspired to support the future of the architecture profession, please make a contribution to ArchiPAC today.     http://archipac.org/

If you aren’t sold yet, feel free to reach out and ask me about your doubts.

Advocacy is important. Donating and volunteering may not be your thing. But I challenge you to reach out to one person today that may not know anything about an architect and ask them why they think architecture is important. You might just be pleasantly surprised in their answer, if they don’t have an answer take a moment an explain it to them. Just by spreading the word, you have supported the “Year of the Advocate”.


Information from http://www.aia.org/advocacy and archipac.org

Disclaimer: Under federal election law, all contributions must be from U.S. citizens or permanent residents. Contributions to ArchiPAC are not tax deductible. Federal law requires political committees to use best efforts to collect and report the name, address, employer and occupation of individuals whose contributions exceed $200 in a calendar year. Amounts are suggestions only. Contributions are strictly voluntary and do not affect AIA membership status. Corporate contributions are prohibited by law.