Le Se Le Bon Ton Roulette

Well, dear readers, the time has come for me to make my way on to new horizons. For the past three plus years I have shared my experiences, (mis)adventures, and general architectural tomfoolery with this blog and its faithful readership. It has been a great ride, and I realize as I write this that this is my 40th post for this blog! Sounds like a nice round number to go out on.

So I submit this, my last post for the AIA Colorado Emerging Professionals blog, with pride, humility, and thankfulness. I’m proud to have contributed to what I feel to be poignant discussions, I have been humbled by the skill and dedication of my fellow writers, and I am thankful for all of the opportunities that writing for this blog has brought me. During my tenure I have brought new life into this world (love you Clayton!), created deep and lasting friendships (Meg, let’s grab a beer!), and started a career with what I consider Denver’s most talented group of Architects in Shears Adkins Rockmore Architects. I have had a great time participating in this endeavor and will look back on this time fondly.

Of all the posts I’ve penned, here are a few of my personal favorites:

Gray Hair – my first post, sort of like your first child I suppose
We are analogue – I still think back to this experience when presenting to clients
-2,916 hours and counting – getting closer every day
On materials – Exciting directions for architectural solutions
You may be an Architect if… – stolen, but fun
How to create a work of art – I still find this applicable, even if just laying out a drawing sheet
The office “all-nighter” – what is your experience like? (you know you do this too)
Clyfford Still Museum – allied works architecture – my personal favorite, and the blog’s third most read post!
A talk with EB Min, AIA – I’ve been lucky enough to interview a number of top Architects through this effort, and EB was simply a pleasure to spend some time with
A beautiful start – a recounting of one of the most impressive design charrette’s I’ve ever been involved with

I would love to continue writing about the crazy things going on in my life, but between an exciting career, side projects that keep me working until about 1 am every day, a new home, a loving wife, and a growing boy, I’ve decided that it is time to pass the torch on to the next generation of writers. So if you like to put pen to paper and have something to say, now’s your chance! Join one of the nation’s only voices for Emerging Professionals in Architecture, the AIA Colorado EP Blog! If you can get out of it half of what I have you will be better off for it.

So thanks for all the good times and great memories, and as they say on the Bayou…well, you read the title.




Stapleton International Airport was Denver’s proud contribution to air travel from 1929 to 1995, ferrying millions of travelers to and from this great city through its decades of operation. Today, the nearly 7.5 square miles of land that once was home to miles of runways and acres of parking lots, terminal buildings, and a vast complex of support facilities is called home by a new resident: the young professional.

Sure there are a few outliers, as the master plan probably calls for, but my experience thus far (disclosure, I do not currently live in Stapleton, but close on a house in a few short days so have spent a fair amount of time there) is that there is largely a population of thirty something’s with babies.

And I haven’t even experienced Halloween there yet.

Apparently toddlers appear from mid-air, climb out from behind bushes, over-populate the surroundings and eventually the parents can be seen riding a massive title wave of young people all grabbing at a sea of candy.

Ok, so this may be an exaggeration. But maybe not.

That may sound terrifying to many people, but strange enough, this is part of the appeal to my family. You see we have one of those little people to contribute to the masses. And frankly, the thought of him participating in an involved and burgeoning community sounds great. Stapleton is one of America’s largest, and in many respects, most successful and sustainable master planned communities and we’re excited to be a part of it.

Stapleton today is a mix of single family homes, multi-family and apartment homes, retail destinations, entertainment venues, and even a strong and growing educational system. What you perhaps give up in personal space, you are in turn rewarded for in quality of life (I can bike to work as opposed to a 45 minute car ride) numerous options for spending your time (amazing trails, a park system that will keep my boy busy for years) and proximity to both urban and natural environments (downtown is only 7 miles away and the bluff lake nature preserve is just across the street).

Of all the things Stapleton is, it is foremost a young community. The complexity of the story unfolding is going to be written with both failures and successes. Drive by The Berkshire on a Friday evening and you will see a thriving example of success. Look at the extensive fencing system that separates Stapleton and its neighbors to the south and east and you will see how rapid, planned, and in some ways invasive development can be at odds with existing contexts.

But things are still growing.

As the thrust of development moves north in the form of massive building efforts, the fabric just laid in my neighborhood of Bluff Lake (eastern Stapleton) is being filled in. A new elementary school is being built, the roads are being connected to the surrounding grids, and fences are being removed. There is a second town center slated for eastern Stapleton that will place more restaurant and retail opportunities within walking distance. And although the trees are barely taller than I am, the xeriscaping is growing and the children are keeping pace.

Print it!

Architects are adept at evaluating space, probably more so than most. But the mind’s eye can only see so far. Drawings, models, and computer renderings, these are all tools of the trade for the modern architect. Despite the relatively simply process of creating design studies on the computer, most architects I know still turn to the time honored traditions of building quick sketch models to evaluate their designs.

To clarify for those of you who may not spend every waking moment considering various massing options for various design problems, a sketch model is a physical model, often at a small scale (say 1/16” = 1’-0”) and usually created out of scrap materials. These are purposefully abstracted, and often used early in the design process to narrow down the landslide of ideas that inevitably comes from a blank canvas.

Like most things today, even the sacred tradition of the sketch model is subject to rapid evolution. In this instance I’m speaking about the amazing advancements being made in 3D printing, rapid prototyping, and the integration of CAD/CAM into full scale building processes. No longer is the world of creating physical objects through digital input beyond the reach of the masses, on the contrary, for surprisingly little money you can purchase a desktop sized machine that will literally print practically anything you can imagine.

Obviously we’ve all seen the cute little teacup, or Eifel Tower/Big Ben/Pyramid trinket. But that’s not what I’m talking about here. How about designer clothing, high-end jewelry, sports equipment… even fully functioning kidneys? For the past twenty years, large manufacturing outfits have used 3D printing for prototyping, but now the push is to the general public and beyond. Architecture is being affected as well. While it is still the outlier firm that is actively integrating the full possibilities into their processes, more and more firms are asking themselves how they can utilize this newly accessible technology. My own firm is currently using outsourced opportunities to obtain quick sketch models that are simply printed from our computer models offsite and mailed to us the next day.

Behrokh Khoshenevis, director of the Center for Rapid Automated Fabrication Technologies (CRAFT) at the University of Southern California, has set to the task of perfecting a technology that he has coined “Contour Crafting”. In simple terms Contour Crafting is 3D printing at the scale of full buildings. A cementitious mixture of high tensile concrete is extruded through a machine that is designed to lay continuous beads, layer upon layer, following computer generated data at extremely precise locations and amounts. Entire buildings can simply be printed in a matter of hours, complete with integrated structural, mechanical, and routing systems. Because the patterns can be organic in nature, and are optimized through computer analysis, the resulting buildings can contain less material and produce virtually no waste.

While we may be a ways off from printing our built environments, and given the realities of the construction industry this may not be a technology that ever reaches that level of potential. I can, however, certainly see a real opportunity to print complex construction details on site in the GC’s trailer, hand that physical object to the guys in the field and say, “here, make it look like that”. If a picture is worth a thousand words, in that case an object may be worth its weight in gold. Or at least thermoplastic powder.


The American Institute of Architects is a venerable institution, the voice of our profession in fact, both a standard to sustain and a community to involve. The AIA has over 156 years of dedication towards “promoting the scientific and practical perfection of its members, and elevating the standing of the profession” (The founding members stated goal!).

“Well that’s just your biased opinion!” you shout?

Perhaps, but consider this: the AIA is ever evolving. In 2012 the AIA introduced the AIA Repositioning, an initiative representing the most extensive research and strategic assessment of the organization ever conducted. Graphic Design and Branding firms La Placa Cohen and Pentagram spent a year exploring the perceptions, beliefs, attitudes, needs, and value of “the Architect.”

A noble undertaking for a Sesquicentennial, don’t you agree?

Through interviews, discussions, and other probably more secretive branding techniques, the initiative sought input from not only AIA member and non- member Architects, but also EPs, students and faculties of institutions, clients…even out to the general public. The AIA Repositioning initiative is the Institute’s proactive shift in perspective, an honest questioning of just what the purpose of the AIA is today and what it should be moving into an uncertain future.

Now the fun part begins, actually implementing the lessons learned.

So just what are those lessons? Well obviously my little 500 word post can’t begin to skim the surface of this very deep pool, but the Repositioning the AIA website tells us that the central focus is that the institute’s aim should be to empower its members. Two key points emerged around that theme. The first is that the AIA must “align its organizational structure to demonstrate that it is structured around and guided by member needs and interests”. The second is that the “AIA’s ideal role is to act as visionary member organization.”

To assist during this period of growth as an organization, the AIA offers the following Statement of Purpose:

The AIA is a visionary member organization providing advocacy, leadership, and resources for architects to design a better world.”

From that Statement of Purpose comes four Position Statements:

  • AIA members create enduring value.
    We benefit clients and communities through innovative design solutions.
  • AIA members drive positive change.
    We work collaboratively and creatively to transform clients’ goals into reality.
  • AIA members lead with vision.
    We meet the ever-changing challenges of the designed environment.
  • AIA members shape the future.
    We value talent and diversity in new generations of professionals.

Finally, four focal points were identified as topics to consider moving forward:

    -Component autonomy versus unity
    -Component structure
    -Tier coordination
    -Engaging emerging professionals
    -Effective communications
    -Prioritization of initiatives
    -Resource allocation
  • LEAD
    -Leadership (tenure and agendas)
    -Board (size and composition)

So go ahead and call me biased, but this all sounds pretty good! As a profession we face unique challenges each and every day. Doesn’t it make sense to have an ally in our corner? Perhaps Michael Bierut of Pentagram puts it best:

“…This thing we do cannot be done alone. We need clients who can believe in the power of a reality that doesn’t yet exist. We need to listen to the people who will live, work and play in the places we create. We need leadership in our communities, and in our profession. We need each other.”

But don’t just sit back, what do you think? Have insights to share? The AIA is listening! Now’s our chance, let’s not miss it this time around.

A beautiful start

I recently witnessed something rather extraordinary: a gathering of design professionals representing the wide spectrum of the built environment, architecture, construction, financing, even government, all sitting around tables, pencils is hand, collaboratively working on a common design problem. Not some abstract design problem, but the future development of an entire city block in downtown Denver.

The room was alive with collaboration. Ideas were flowing, sometimes challenged, sometimes confirmed, but never brushed aside. Having recently seen a presentation on the working methods of Ideo, I recognized the power of such fervor, I believed in what could come out of such collaboration. I felt like I was in a graduate design studio again.

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