And the award goes to…

TOP-10I can’t believe it is already awards season. Where, exactly, has the summer gone? With the month of August screaming by, AIA Colorado’s Practice and Design Conference will be here before we know it.
Recently, I was asked to write a letter of recommendation for a firm that has been nominated for AIA Denver Firm of the Year. I’ll keep the individual who asked and the name of the firm confidential, (until they win, of course) but it is someone for whom I have a tremendous amount of respect.

I work for one of the larger firms in town and I think it might be a little easier to forget that there are still larger things outside the door. As a firm, we participate in many different markets, have people involved in all levels of the AIA and have a presence on community boards ranging from the Downtown Denver Partnership to Stapleton. We work with consultants that have strong relationships with other design firms, developers and municipalities. We hear things running through the undercurrents and, occasionally, are familiar with an inside track on an issue. These relationships cast a wide net, but there is always more out there.

Specific to the firm up for the award, I know two of the principals well, I know people that have worked for them, and I am familiar with a few of the projects that they are responsible for. However, I was amazed at how much work was on their website that I didn’t know about. It’s a reminder that there are always things outside of a specific sphere of influence, and it requires conversations with new people, or a walk just off your typical beaten path to find them.

It’s all too easy to stay in the bubble. From the front door of my apartment there are a few thousand apartments units being constructed in several multifamily developments. If one of those developments was to win an award at the conference in Keystone, it would be old news to me. But year after year, I am struck by how many of the award winning projects (and occasionally, firms) I am unaware of. It’s unreasonable to assume that one can be aware of everything that is happening across the region. If it doesn’t have a tower crane to mark the activity, it takes considerably more effort to seek out the activity.

My point is that there is a tremendous amount of great work going on. Some of it easily recognizable because of its location or its size (think everything at Union Station) and some of it will only be observed by those that live next door (this spectacular residential gem I stumbled across in Telluride a year ago).

So, what are you seeing? What are you working on that we should know about? What is the best of all that is new in your neighborhood? What projects are an absolute must see. What is on your top 10 list and who is doing the great work?

It’s amazing what can happen in a year…

rear view clock
It might seem like an odd time to do a “year in review” sort of post, but bear with me. This past weekend, I rode 200+ miles through the mountains around Copper for the 2013 Courage Classic, a charity bike ride for Children’s Hospital Colorado. This was my ninth year riding the event. For the last 4 years or so, the team that I captain has been made up of the same people; 15+/- friends and family, some from as close as my own house and some from as far away as Long Island. We raise money and ride up the passes (along with 2,500 other cyclists) in support of the hospital.

Some of these people I see just about every day, but others I only see once a year, and I don’t talk to them much more frequently than that either. As someone walked through the door of our condo, the first question out of his mouth was “How was Dubai?” I struggled for a minute. After all, my trip to Dubai was in October of last year. It finally occurred to me that the only impressions he had of my trip were the random images that appeared on Facebook while I was there and after I came home. Time had essentially stood still for him. The last time I saw him, I was just about to leave on my trip. To him, it was as if I had just gotten back. We spent the next hour talking about the project that took me there, my impressions of the country and the region, and whether or not I had any desire to return.

I returned to the office on Wednesday morning to some unsettling news about a project I am currently working on, and I was struck by how much can change over the course of a 4 day office absence. These recent, light speed project developments juxtaposed against my recent conversations with people about what I had been up to over the last year has me contemplating all that can happen over the course of 4 days, or the course of a year.

In the last year, I have completed documentation and construction of a Cafeteria at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. I have worked through a demanding schedule for the conceptual design of an initial master plan and then a modern Souk in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia (hence the trip to Dubai). I have worked through the initial concept design and programming phases for some substantial work for Western Union. Lately, I have worked through the initial programming, concept design, schematic design, and now design development for a headquarters expansion for First Bank. In addition to projects, I have taught over 100 people in 6 in-person ARE classes and 3 webinars. I attended AIA Grassroots in DC, attended and presented at both the State Practice and Design Conference and the National Convention, and participated in numerous other activates through my involvement with the AIA Denver Board. I have also cycled almost 4000 miles, ran somewhere around 650, and completed countless meters in the pool. I built a dining table… I am sure if I really thought about it, this is just the beginning of the list.

In short, it’s nice to have the reminder every now and then to take the time and reflect on all that has been accomplished. Examine your activities; both the successes and the failures and analyze how that have shaped you both personally and professionally. Today, I am telling myself that I am going to do my level best to do this type of reflection more frequently. I’ll let you know how successful the effort was after the charity ride in 2014.


ARE Study Seminars & Trivia Nights

 If you were looking for more motivation to get your AREs finished and your license in hand, 2013 has turned out to be a banner year for news that affects Associate Members. Towards the end of 2012, AIA Denver managed a significant re-work to their ARE study seminars, bringing in new instructors and aligning the class offerings to the current divisional realities of the exam.  With a successful first run of the program completed in June of 2013, a second session is being offered starting in July.  The attached schedule outlines the dates, but we will begin on July 13th with a 4 hour general test taking and strategy session as well as a 4 hour Site Planning and Design (SPD) Session.  In subsequent months, we will cover the remaining divisions, taking advantage of synergies between divisions and the compounding nature of the tests.  With over 100 participants during the first run, we saw impressive pass rates and received extremely positive feedback on the quality and value of the program.  For our second series of sessions, we are offering the same seminar options as the previous term with the added benefits of monthly trivia nights and optional study groups for the seminars beginning in July.

Why is this important to you?  Because the ARE is changing (please read the link below for preliminary information).  If you are considering taking the AREs within the next 18 months, it is important to take advantage of these programs now because the days of the current version 4.0 are numbered.  NCARB has announced a transition to version 5.0, and at this time, there is little information about what changes we can expect.  However, what we do know is that the programs, knowledge, and experience we are able to offer now will be significantly impacted by this new version.  As we have seen with previous transitions, there will be a significant period of time during which we will need to re-learn the specifics of the test divisions significantly affecting our ability to offer the same quality of education that we are currently able to provide. 

In addition, legislation at the state level has increased the value of licensure (SB13-161).  The word “architect” has essentially become a protected title.  Candidates are required to carry a license in the State of Colorado in order to use the term architect or to use any derivative of that term when referring to their businesses or the services that said businesses provide.  An exception has been provided for interns, allowing certain individuals to identify as Architectural Intern. For more information visit the follow link

It is important for all Associate Members to understand that as a State, Colorado now supports concurrency.  Essentially, this allows candidates that have an NAAB accredited degree and a minimal amount of professional experience to sit for their exams while working through their IDP requirements.  For more information on this, please contact Meg Kullerd Hohnholt, AIA, at

Download the ARE Seminar registration form  –

For more information on the upcoming ARE Seminar sessions please contact Nathan Gulash at or Jenna Cather at

T minus 11 days, and excitedly counting.

building leaders

It’s almost here! With 11 days until the AIA National Convention, things are really kicking into high gear. Offices and their staff are cleaning up, making sure their spaces look great for anyone who happens to walk in; the AIA staff is putting in some long hours (no, seriously, you have NO idea who much of their lives these people have dedicated to this event over the last year); and the crew from AIA National is drifting into town over the next week to make sure we are ready for the 20,000 or creative types dressed in black with killer eyewear that will be descending on our city.

And of course, there is all of the last minute training. Training for speakers (that’s me). Training for those that are giving tours (that’s also me) and training for those of us that represent our local AIA community on our various state and local chapter boards (once again, that’s me), making sure we know all that we need to know to showcase Denver’s architectural community at it’s best.

While registering for continuing education classes a few weeks ago, I was reminded how insulated we can be given our professional roles in our respective offices. While my office functions in many markets, it seems that people generally follow the same theme. For my 5 years of professional practice, my work has been dedicated to NetZero Federal Facilities, and more recently, build-to-suit corporate office. Sure, there has been the odd design exercise thrown in there, but I find it frightening that I can sum up my professional experience in a single paragraph.

The other writers of this blog have their expertise as well. Adam is a multifamily guy, something I know nothing about. Heather did everything but live in hospitals for years, a subject I also know nothing about. Beth, Kevin, and David? The same story, three more times.

As a region, Denver is a bit insulated as well. We are the only large(ish) city for miles, and unless you have the money and the time to travel for pleasure or are lucky enough to occasionally travel for work outside of the Rocky Mountain Region, it can be hard to keep up with what is going on around the country. Denver is on a tare right now (10 construction cranes dot the downtown skyline alone!), but other areas are still struggling through the worst of times.

What I find myself increasingly excited about with respect to the convention is not what I have to share with the rest of our profession, but what they have to share with me. Yes, it is selfish, but it is also necessary for my continued professional development. I look forward to meeting people from other cities, from practices larger and smaller than my own, and from markets that I have never worked in. I look forward to keynote addresses by such national figures as General Colin Powell and smaller more intimate venues on the specifics of material specifications. I look forward to a robust discussion concerning the current state of the Emerging Professional in our profession (SA 216, I look forward to seeing you there!).

The profession is coming to Denver. What are you going to do to take advantage of it?

Things will be great when you’re downtown…


My apologies, I was channeling Petula Clark there for a minute.  Anyway, in the run up to the National Convention (June 20-22, you ARE going, right?) each of us is going to write a post about the neighborhood we live in, and as you might have guessed, I am lucky enough to live in downtown Denver.

More specifically, I live in LoDo; for those of you not familiar with our nomenclature (SoCo, RiNo, LoHi) that is Lower Downtown.  For Denver, this is the center of many things.  We have some of the best restaurants in the city, Coors Field is 300 feet from my front door, and there are more places to try a martini then there are paint chips in a Sherwin-Williams fan deck.

LoDo is the quintessential “old meets new neighborhood.”  Since the late 1980’s, LoDo has been transformed into one of the liveliest areas in the city. Lower Downtown has among the largest concentrations of Victorian and turn-of-the-century architectural stock in the country.  Many of the large old warehouses have been turned into loft style-condo building, often with a bar, or graphic design studio or advertising agency leasing the street level.  However, the next block over might feature a far more contemporary apartment complex that encompasses an entire city block. 

With Denver’s population set to explode over the next decade, the pace of residential construction in my neighborhood is like nothing I have ever seen.  From my doorstep, I can visit 6 active large-scale construction sites within a 6 block radius.  When all of these projects are fully leased, another 1200+ rental units will have hit the market.  Along with them, all of the support businesses needed to make a dense urban neighborhood function will continue to spring up as well.  Admittedly, some of the new design is decent, and some of it isn’t.  Perhaps there is another post here about the importance of city planning, design guidelines and review boards, and having the rigor to build with quality and to build beautiful, all the while recognizing the immediate housing needs facing our city, but I digress… 

While picking a true favorite isn’t always easy, I have a clear standout in the restaurant department. Grab and friend (or several) and head to Vesta Dipping Grill.  Kari, forever behind the bar, is one of the best bartenders in the city.  Tell her you want a blackberry Manhattan (made with Leopold Brothers Blackberry Whiskey, locally made and locally loved) but skip the sage.  Anything off the menu is a standout, and there are great things for us vegetarians as well.  When you are finished with dinner, hail a cab (which can be tricky in our city, I suggest you download on of the taxi company apps). And head to Beth’s neighborhood of Uptown.  Find your way to D-bar for some of the best chocolate cake you have ever had.  The Chef/owner was on the Food Network for awhile, and he wasn’t there for his pretty face. 

Since there is a limited amount of damage that one can do in 500 words, I can only encourage you to experience the neighborhood for yourself.  For those of you that are local, what is your favorite restaurant or bar in LoDo?  Do you have a favorite building?  For those that are travelling to Denver for the convention, what LoDo landmarks would YOU suggest are a not miss?  I hope to see you around!