Advocacy, SpeakUp, & (1) Pun

Last summer I had the opportunity to participate in the national AIA SpeakUp conference that was hosted here in Denver. The purpose of the conference was to give participants a crash course in what it means to advocate and lobby for the architecture profession. At a hotel ball room in downtown Denver, I met dozens of architects, designers, lobbyists, and AIA staff members from across the country as we attempted to learn the ropes of what it means to advocate for our profession.

Now that I am a handful of months removed from the conference, I’ve taken the knowledge gained over those three days and apply it to the rest of my AIA life. So, I figured now was as good a time as any to attempt to share my impressions with more than the few people who have had to listen to me over the last few months.

One of the first things that dawned on me at the conference is that advocacy exists on a spectrum. There are some people that will be willing to go up on the hill and testify in front of Congress and there are those that would like to sign a petition once in a while and move on. While having experts available to meet face to face with Representatives and Senators is vital, also having a large pool of architects who are willing to mobilize for a cause is the foundation of a robust advocacy effort. If people care about their profession then they need an avenue where they can direct their attention.

Which brings me to my next point: people need a variety of ways to get involved and be invested. The more focused options that are available to people, the more the base of people willing to help will grow. Here in Colorado, our AIA chapter has a variety of methods that are already in place. We have a full time lobbyist who works tirelessly on the hill standing up on behalf of architects. We have a full time staff member whose role it is to manage and direct all things related to state government affairs and how it relates to architects. The Government Affairs Committee sifts through the hundreds of bills that come through the state congress every session and helps to direct AIA Colorado’s position on those bills and issues. And finally, the local advocacy directors serve as the conduit between the state board, AIA Colorado, and local members. However, most of these efforts require something beyond volunteers and time commitments. They require funding.

Political Action Committees (PACs) are the backbone for AIA advocacy efforts. These exist on a federal and state level and the funds are allocated accordingly. The bipartisan group identifies candidates, existing members of congress, bills, causes, and efforts that we as architects can get behind and whose support can benefit us from a policy level. Regardless of your feelings on such groups, they are part of the political landscape and it is critical that we as architects are able to have a seat at the table. Even our small donations can make a long lasting impact on candidates and policy makers. In fact, these small donations, especially ones handed from an architect to a politician (instead of being given by a lobbyist), can have one of the most meaningful impacts for our efforts. One of the sayings that most resonated with me at SpeakUp was from a staff member at AIA National: “if you don’t have a seat at the table, you’re on the menu”.

Finally, from a purely logistical standpoint, I realized that it is crucial to provide small victories and milestone goals. Often, our greatest advocates are not people that are paid to do it, but are ordinary AIA members who volunteer their time. However, these efforts are only sustainable if they are maintained. It’s easy to rally around a cause in short bursts, but keeping that effort up over the long haul is a big ask. It’s critical to set smaller and attainable goals on the way to the larger goal so that we don’t burn out our volunteer efforts. Quick and achievable wins are the surest way to keep people engaged and helps to build a solid base of volunteers and advocates.

In the coming year, AIA Colorado and AIA National will be focusing even more on our advocacy efforts, especially on a state level since that is where most of us can have the greatest influence. I would urge you all to take a look at existing programs and tools (and, of course, make a contribution to the PAC), and to keep your eyes out for more opportunities in the near future. The best way to make your voice heard is to reach out. The greater our base, the larger our resources and the louder our voices become. We just have to be willing to speak up, first. (See that? See what I did there?)

The Grass is Always Greener…

The Denver Green Roof Initiative passed earlier this month.  Initiative 300 requires new buildings of 25,000 square feet or larger to devote a portion of the roof to gardens and other green coverings that would absorb rainfall and reduce heat.  Some existing buildings will need to upgrade to green when their roofs are replaced.

The technical aspect will be addressed by an 11 member Green Roof Technical Advisory Group appointed by the Mayor of Denver.  The members “shall possess expert knowledge and professional qualifications concerning green roof technology and have a working familiarity with the building code.”

Initiative 300 may paints an idyllic image of lush rooftop gardens.  It certainly has aesthetic appeal, but I am a born cynic.  I submit my doubts to the Emerging Professionals audience for debate and insight. (I am just a legal geek, after all.)

Is the Green Roof Initiative a good thing or could it prove to be a misguided trend?

  1. I assume green roofs involve dirt, irrigation, plants, and probably some heavy duty membrane to stop leaks.  Doesn’t that require significant structural support for the roof?
  2. Perhaps I am naive but won’t the increased load create significant structural modifications for those older buildings required to “go green” when their roofs are replaced? That can’t be cheap.
  3. What other cities have successfully implemented green roof mandates? How do their climates compare to Denver? Cue #4…
  4. How will owners maintain green roofs in the face of drought and water restrictions? Seems counter-intuitive to require vegetation on our roofs when water conservation is so important.
  5. Are snow loads a concern? Don’t all these green roofs have to be relatively flat? What is going to happen when Denver gets a record heavy, wet snowfall?

I am looking forward to hearing from you…and see what the Technical Advisory Group produces.



Take a moment. Close your eyes.  Feel the sun on your face… shutterstock_228722404

Actually, this is not a Friday morning mediation.  But a title and tagline discussing “contracts law” would hardly promote readership.

The Colorado Supreme Court recently passed on the opportunity to consider whether sophisticated business entities could contractually modify the statute of limitations and agree upon an accrual period when constructing a project for residential use.  R.G. Brinkmann Company v. Broomfield Senior Living Owner, LLC and Sunrise Development. 2017SC351 September 5, 2017.

I had been watching this case with interest, not only because I was representing a subcontractor involved, but also because it could have far-reaching implications for all construction professions.  Frankly, the idea that sophisticated construction professionals could contractually modify the statute of limitation and agree to an accrual period for claims would have gone further in remedying the problems of the Colorado Construction Defect Action Reform Act and rising insurance cost than any action by the General Assembly last session.  The problem lay in the uncertain and amorphous concept of “substantial completion” and when/how defects are “discovered”.  Construction professionals face exposure for six or more years under the statute.  An attempt to contractually limit and define the period of exposure would be an obvious fix.  Although Justice Eid would have granted certiorari to review the questions presented by R.G. Brinkmann we have no other insight into the decision to leave the issues for another day.

Thus, we are left with the Colorado Court of Appeals decision and these takeaways: a commercially run senior assisted living facility is a “residential” project; even though none of the “residents” are homeowners, the project falls under the Homeowner Protection Act; and no matter how sophisticated the commercial entities are, they cannot modify the statute of limitations or agree to an accrual period for construction defect claims.


The Crippling Effect of ‘No’

At this point of the year, most architecture offices have either had a summer intern or have hired a recent graduate. These people come in with varying levels of experience, but for the most part, can be defined with a single term: enthusiasm. Most are younger and full of energy. They are coming from institutions that inspire and encourage thinking “outside the box”. The optimism is practically written across their foreheads.

Cut to a scene of a typical architecture office.

Most of us have lost a bit of the ‘fresh out of the box’ shine after a few years or even a few decades. We get bogged down by the limits of construction budgets, office politics, project schedules, and a myriad of other “they didn’t teach us this in school” subjects. It can be difficult to not project these extracurricular worries onto younger people that are fresher into the workforce. It can be hard not to see their optimism and eagerness and want to counter it with an underhanded comment about “in the real world” or “when you get further along in your career”. The biggest issue with countering enthusiasm with negativity is that it takes the momentum that people have and throws an emergency brake on it. Not only does it have the likelihood of curbing the current zeal for working in architecture, but it will also prove to be much more difficult to instill a sense of gusto in the future. People that have a sense of enthusiasm for work and the obvious want to do more should not have their energy stifled, but should be encouraged and guided.

This doesn’t just go for being a wet blanket when met with an overly peppy person. When they come to more experienced people within their offices with questions or ideas, the response should never be “ask someone else”, “we can’t do that”, or any other momentum killing “no” comment. It’s like the old adage of improvised comedy or acting: never say no. If someone comes to you with an idea in an improv sketch, you are not allowed to say no. Instead, you must take what the person has presented to that scene and play off of it in order to keep things moving forward.

We all have days (or mornings for some of us) where it’s difficult to find the enthusiasm and patience to deal with things that aren’t our own laundry lists of tasks. On the other hand, we have all been in the situation of being recent graduates and wanting more out of our careers and desperately wanting to prove that we are capable and worthy of being trusted.

We all have the responsibility of listening when people have questions, ideas, or just something to say and not shooting it down. Instead of stopping momentum in its tracks, we must guide it and turn it into productive learning because if we curb momentum early on, it will be just that much harder to start again later.

Construction Defect Disclosure Law Effective August 8, 2017

The Colorado Common Interest Ownership Act’s newest addition became effective August 8, 2017.  Colorado Revised Statute 38-33.3-303.5 (formerly HB 17-1279) was signed into law on May 23, 2017 and became effective this week.

The law requires homeowner association executive boards to satisfy new disclosure, meeting, and voting requirements before commencing an action against construction professionals under Colorado’s Construction Defect Action Reform Act (C.R.S. 13-20-803, et seq.).

Before beginning a construction defect action (defined broadly as any civil action or arbitration proceeding for damages….against a construction professional..for damages or loss to…real or personal property or personal injury caused by a defect in the design or construction of an improvement to real property…”), the executive board of a common interest ownership community must “mail or deliver written notice” to each owner AND to each construction professional against whom the action is proposed.  The construction professional must also be provided separate notice advising of the owner’s meeting.

The notice must contain a description of the  nature of the construction defect action, which identifies the alleged defects with reasonable specificity, the relief sought, a good-faith estimate of the benefits and risks involved, and any other pertinent information, including

Presumably, the notice of owner’s meeting would give the construction professional time to prepare a presentation, propose repair, or offer a monetary settlement to be made at the meeting.

Vague laundry lists of defects have been the norm in construction defect notices of claim and lists of defect.  While the new law could result in early notice and more full disclosure, there is no mechanism allowing the construction professional an inspection or to obtain greater detail and the new law lacks a strong enforcement mechanism.

The advisory notices need not be sent to any construction professionals identified after the first advisory notice is mailed, so construction professionals with discreet scopes of work may be left out in early stages.

As a practical matter, the new laws timing requirements may not provide construction professionals sufficient time to truly prepare a response to the allegations, much less rally the support of its insurance carrier and legal counsel before the owner’s meeting.  While there are benefits to open dialogue, construction professionals should participate in any owner meetings with caution: the association will clearly have retained counsel and has litigation on its mind; statements and presentations could be used as later evidence in a lawsuit; and early participation without the approval or involvement of your insurance carrier may also have coverage implications.