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.

 

AIA Denver Roundtable – Sign Up Now to have your voice heard!

As the Outreach Coordinator for the AIA Denver this year, I wanted to share a unique opportunity to help shape the AIA Denver’s 2017 agenda re: issues and initiatives that might benefit Denver’s collective A&D community.
As an AIA member, please consider signing up for our first AIA Denver member roundtable on April 11th from 4-6pm to share your important and unique voice as well as to learn about opportunities to become more involved re: issues of advocacy that directly impact our practice and Denver’s evolving built environment:
Thank you for your time and consideration!  Hope to see a wide cross-section of Denver’s firms and voices at this important event.

Beth’s Farewell Blog Post for the AIA Colorado EP Blog; Reflections on my on-going experience as an “Emerging” Professional

According to the American Institute of Architects, an emerging professional is someone “considered to be intern architects aspiring towards licensure, as well as those who have been licensed for 10 years or less.”

Recently, on a call for another publication with which I’m involved, a contributor informed our team “technically I am no longer an emerging professional…” and announced his plans to roll off our committee in the coming months.  What might be considered “unique” about this conversation is that this individual was in his early 40’s, had over 15+ years of experience ranging from intern to licensed professional to firm leader, as well as a myriad of other “adult-like responsibilities.”   His omission and decision to mark a clear departure from emerging professional status seemed fair, and frankly, overdue.

After the call, I found myself once again revisiting a question that seems to remain ambiguous and unresolved: when, in architecture, are we no longer an “emerging professional?”  When are we just a “professional,” that could strike out on our own, or lead, or feel content in our grasp of architectural skill and knowledge?

There are many milestones in life that mark when we transition from one life stage or level of seniority to another.  From graduation to moving into a first apartment, jumpstarting a career, and achieving financial independence, many life milestones serve as small and large measuring sticks for personal self-evolution.  In my own life, I distinctly remember the day I bought a “real” couch (I defined this as a furniture item that was not a futon or snagged from Goodwill or Craigslist) to mark a personal milestone of perceived “adulthood.”

Architecture, while seemingly marked with milestones (completion of internship, licensure, promotion, etc.) is a profession in which personal advancement seems to be measured by the acquisition of individual experience and a sense of self-awareness and progress, rather than a universal checklist of skills and accomplishments that lend themselves towards a sense of prescribed seniority.

This may be attributed to the concept that architecture typically demands a lot of in-put before one starts receiving tangible “output” in the form of two-pronged advancement.  The first prong lends itself to the acquisition of relevant technical and design knowledge.  This can vary highly from person to person in terms of how project experience is acquired and what its outcomes are.  For example, someone might work on a large-scale project for the first few years of their career, participating in each phase.  Others might work on a series of short, quick projects in which their contributions and learning experiences focus on a specific aspect of the trade.

The second form of “tangible advancement” could relate to leadership and, quite frankly, the often long-term process of building towards compensation opportunities that transcend a mediocre payscale in comparison to known hours of demonstrated effort and work.  This issue is larger than the individual, and is being looked at in different ways as the architectural profession continues to work to redefine both its public perception and economic value to clients and society alike.

When I started blogging for the AIA Colorado Emerging Professional’s Blog almost four years ago, I was  a fairly new transplant to Denver via Chicago.  At the time I was still pursuing IDP hours, and had not even begun to take me ARE’s.  As my career evolved in chorus with natural timelines, being able to put pen to digital paper regarding my experiences as a young architect felt just as important as the design work I was doing, and this continues to be true.

This blog has been a resource for me to discuss a wide range of experiences that range from profession to place to personal thought and forum.  From “leaning in” to exploring “The Ego and the Architect” to exploring what it means to be an extroverted introvert, to covering the many important events and resources for young architecture professionals in the Denver community, each post has been a rewarding opportunity to distill experience and opportunity into a public format that is now hopefully part of a larger shared dialogue.

A little over a year post-licensure, I can still say that I am an emerging professional.  From waterproofing to work authorizations, the peg board of gaps in my knowledge looks light a light bright waiting to be fully-illuminated, but a large enough surface area that I know I have to pace myself.

With that said, I’ve decided in the spirit of adapting to all of life’s change and milestones, to pass the torch to younger professionals’ with more early-career stories to tell and lessons to be learned.  Thank you for your time, readership, and dialogue, and please keep reading the blog for important and relevant messages from our peers, co-workers, and contemporaries.

Cheers, Beth

 

The Architect and Design Thinking; Navigating the business sector’s eager adoption of architecture’s iterative process and language, and architects’ potential role in its acquisition and deployment…

I recently edited an interview for the Young Architect’s Forum “Connection” magazine featuring a conversation at the 2016 AIA Convention between Elizabeth Chu Richter, FAIA and national President of the AIA in 2015 and Virginia E. Marquardt, AIA.

When asked what changes Richter would like to see 15 years from now in architectural professional practice, she replied, “ We [architecture professionals] have talked about expanding our services so that we don’t bracket ourselves within ‘just’ design. Architects need to find ways to apply our set of skills, knowledge, and ability to solve problems creatively.  I think being able to find options is one of our main strengths as architects.  We are not formulaic and that’s what makes us so valuable when it comes to weighing options and helping our clients sort through whatever issue might need a solution.”   She proceeded to say that, “While architects shouldn’t bracket themselves, it’s very important to realize that architects build.  We build buildings, we build spaces.  We can’t forget the core of our profession.”

Richter’s comments regarding the architects’ ability to think iteratively and in an option-oriented manner highlighted one of my favorite aspects or our profession. When approaching a design problem, we already know that there is no one perfect solution, but rather, a multitude of options that must be studied and explored in order to build consensus regarding which option is most appropriate given a specific array of constraints and overarching project goals.

This past week I began to think through the potentials of diagramming a site for a new project. Wrapping my head around how I might create 4 distinctive options that solved a similar problem but in different ways was teased out in a quick sketch exercise, followed by study and some preliminary testing, conversation, and of course, more drawing.  The results felt exciting and latent with potentials that will continue to be tested against our client’s vision, needs, and long-term goals.  Already I am excited to see which scheme has the most promise, and do not feel married to a specific parti in favor of recognizing that the iterative process needs to once again be fed through a literal feedback loop that will garner new strategies and results.

Having returned this past May from C2, a conference in Montreal geared towards “Commerce and Creativity,” it seems that “big business” is also seeking this type of iterative thinking– and with great marketing gusto and enthusiasm.  During my time at C2 I attended a Master Class taught by a partner with Deloitte Digital, a self-described “digital consultancy” that “brings together all the creative and technology capabilities, business acumen, and industry insight needed to help transform our clients’ businesses.” The class was titled “Innovation in the Digital Era,” and focused on “exploring how leading innovators are able to disrupt their markets.”

Not sure what to expect, I was amazed to find myself in a class that was teaching principles and strategies of design thinking and prototyping paired with product development and outcomes. When I met someone in the class that worked for Deloitte Digital, they mentioned that some of their staff was comprised of architects, and that these individuals were achieving success in their new roles.

Much in the way that IDEO and other companies that aim to use design thinking as a lens with which to solve problems, architects’ process of working iteratively to generate quick solutions to evaluate and refine is being adopted and celebrated across industry sectors and various forms of media.

When I asked Mia Scharphie, founder of Creative Agency, a social impact design firm based in Boston, about the concept of “design thinking” being appropriated across a wide range of business sectors as a tool for re-thinking existing issues or initiatives by engaging users directly and prototyping potential solutions, I appreciated her initial response “they [the corporate sector] stole our words!” She then countered by adding, “The design process allows for uncertainty and creativity, which is deeply optimistic and imaginative.  To see examples of that being valued in the world outside of design is something I feel great about.  Design thinking as the marriage of ethnography and open-ended problem solving is a great process that can produce great things.”

As for my personal opinion, I second Richter that architects’ unique academic training instills a certain juxtaposition of rigor and “what if” that helps facilitate diverse, rich dialogues and thinking that hopefully result in, as Richter reminds us, amazing built work. What I also hope is that architects continue to sit at the table in multidisciplinary settings, where the rigor of the design process might add value to problem-solving even when built solutions aren’t required, not only as a means of generating unique solutions to various problems, but demonstrating a certain level of rigor and process that goes beyond the adoption of sometimes ambiguous or slippery words like “innovation.”

And I think it will: it seems like there has never been a better time and appetite to think iteratively not only in our work, but  in the diverse and applicable ways architecture professionals may want to utilize their varied skill sets.

Denver Design Week Recap (and still time to register for the closing event tomorrow night!)

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Photo courtesy of Modern in Denver’s facebook page.  Denver Design Week Moderator and Panelists (from left to right) Beth Mosenthal, Jeff Sheppard, Brad Buchanan, Jonathan Alpert, and Tobias Strohe participating in a discussion, “What’s Next for Denver: Harnessing the Power of our Built Environment”

If you haven’t checked your social media feeds this week or driven by a downtown streetscape where large foam letters spelling “DDW” sit boldly outside an event space, you might have missed one of Denver’s most trending topics regarding the city’s inaugural week-long series of events; Denver Design Week.

Denver’s first design week is described by the founder and organizer, Modern in Denver, as “a showcase for the region’s best architecture, interiors, art, brands, and technology. Eight days of education, home and studio tours, demonstrations, presentations, conversations, inspiration, collaboration, and a launch party that might be the highlight of your summer…Denver Design Week celebrates and elevates design because it shapes our lives. Good design has the power to change the world in real and meaningful ways, and better design leads to better living…Dozens of cities around the world host design weeks, bringing creative communities together, promoting a wide array of design industries and organizations and connecting the public to local design ecosystems.”

Throughout the week, I was able to attend and participate in several of the events offered. From a launch party in RiNo’s Glitterdome industrial-event space that combined social interaction with the artistic and experiential to discussions with various thought-leaders in the community regarding topics ranging from rapid urbanization to driverless cars to a dynamic discussion regarding on-going issues of equity in design, each event was thoughtfully-curated and well-attended by a diverse cross section of Denver residents.  Many events accommodating 100 or more people sold out, identifying a desire from Denver’s broader community to connect and learn more about various aspects of design and Denver’s design community.

At an event I participated in on Tuesday, “What’s Next for Denver: Harnessing the Power of Our Built Environment,” I found myself sitting next to a youthful and engaged husband and wife. After brief introductions, they explained to me that they were attending due to their 13 year old son’s burgeoning interest in architecture, engineering, and design.  They wanted to learn more about the design community, and were curious about different organizations and events in Denver that they might attend with their son to continue to facilitate his developing interest.  To me, this was an important moment in my design-week experience.  As a design professional, their presence and enthusiasm at the event felt very significant to me, and to the broader intent and positive implications of an initiative such as a city-specific Design Week.

Providing opportunities for connection and direct dialogue (almost all sessions involved an audience Q&A) between design professionals and members of the community helps demystify the inherent value of design in cities, while also creating greater access to residents’ concerns, priorities, and aspirations for the places in which they live, work, and play.

If you’ve missed the events thus far, there is still a chance to attend Friday night’s keynote with special guest-speaker Andrew Zolli, founder of Brooklyn Design Week and forward-thinker that “works at the intersection of global innovation, foresight, social change, and resilience.”

Much like Denver Start-Up Week, Modern in Denver’s first Denver Design Week has been a huge success, and will hopefully continue to grow and create more meaningful connections and opportunities between the city and the design community (and its outcomes) in the years to follow.