Guest Post: A Multidisciplinary Approach To Architecture


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.


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.


“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.


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.


Studio NYL Wall Assembly Study



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.


NCARB’s up to something.

Just when you thought the dust had settled from IDP 2.0 and ARE 4.0….

Just when you had fleshed out your IDP excel spreadsheet…

Just when your office had finally collected all the updated study resources…

NCARB goes and starts changing things.

Sure they are kinks in the system now, but why change? We know intricacies and the red tape to avoid, so why change the system and cause complete chaos!?!

NCARB’s reply? To stay relevant to where the profession is and where it is going. -Fair enough.

Hi! My name is Meg Kullerd Hohnholt and I am AIA Colorado’s former IDP Coordinator. I say former because earlier this month NCARB gave my volunteer position a new title – Architect Licensing Advisor. Fancy, I know!

Yes, NCARB is changing things and after hearing about them at the IDP Coordinator’s conference earlier this month, I am both concerned and excited. Concerned for the process of shifting mindsets to these new changes. Excited to help this process begin.

So let’s do this…

Modified Six Month Rule (Lost Hours – Found!)

You can now get credit for experience hours completed beyond six months! This is great news, especially for emerging professionals in Colorado. Why you ask? Because as of January this year, Colorado’s Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA) will only accept experience through the NCARB’s IDP program.

More Frequent ARE Retakes (Oops, I did it again.)

NCARB will now allow candidates who have failed a division to retake the division as soon as 60 days after the previous attempt, up to three times in a running year for any one division. We went from 6 months down to 60 days for a retake. This is awesome news for those who have found the momentum for taking the ARE exams because they can not worry as much that a failed test will push back the entire process for half a year.

ARE 5.0 (Did you say fewer tests?)

Hold on to your smartphone, because here’s the BIG news. Yes, ARE 5.0 is coming and its format will completely change how candidates approach the exam. So remember the ARE 3.0 to 4.0 switch and how most the study materials still aligned to the exam sections and vignettes really didn’t change? This won’t be like that.

First of all, the vignettes are gone. The Dorf book that I told to you beg, borrow or steal for your only hope in passing the vignettes, it can now be used as a coloring book.

Second, they’ve added new question types to the test. You’ll still have your ol’ reliables of “Single Select Multiple Choice”, “Check All That Apply”, and “Quantitative Fill in the Blank”, but now you’ll have prepare for “Hot Spot” (pick a point on a drawing to identify the___) and “Drag and Place” (place the following object(s) on a drawing).

Third big change is there will be Case Studies in the tests. These will be written scenarios with context and resource documents that you’ll be tested on.

But wait!…There’s more..

The final big change is that there will be only six tests in ARE 5.0.

NCARB knows exam transition will be challenging so they sweetened the deal. For those who select to transition from ARE 4.0 to ARE 5.0, there is a way to only take five tests to pass the ARE. So should you start planning your transition between the test versions now? Not unless you want to hold off your licensure (and your career) another two years.

ARE 5.0 won’t be launched until late 2016, and ARE 4.0 is going to continue for another 18 months after that (June 2018)! For those starting to test and for those contemplating on when they will start their ARE endeavor, now is the time to dive in while the study materials and the support community (those who’ve recently taken ARE 4.0) is there for you!

More Changes are Coming!

These are just this fall’s the hot topics. Stay tuned because it has been proposed that   IDP will get an overhaul too.

Wanna get started? Get Organized.

We would like to welcome another writer to the AIA Colorado EP Blog.  Christy Riggs, AIA is a licensed architect in Colorado Springs with her own practice, 308 LLC.  She has a diverse architectural background starting with a B.Arch and B.Art from Ball State University in Muncie, IN in 2002.

After graduation, Christy moved to Colorado to fulfill her IDP requirements with a multi-disciplinary firm, Pinnacle DesignWorks, in Woodland Park, CO.  She then moved to Comstock & Associates in Colorado Springs and Janitell Childs Design Group before starting her own company in 2011.

Christy is the mom to two very active girls and the wife of an architect in addition to Owner-Architect-Designer-Drafter-Accounting-Admin for 308 LLC.

Wanna get started?  Get Organized.


I’ve had a lot of people ask me how I was able to start my own architecture and design company.  The easy answer is to pay the State a minimal fee to Register a business name, another $1.00 to register your Articles of Organization, and then it’s FREE to apply for a federal Employer Identification Number so that you can pay all of your own taxes!  The difficult answer is what to do once you’ve checked the remedial paperwork off your list.  That answer is… you should have already done the next step. Get organized.

When I was employed at previous firms, I paid attention to the plans in place for everything from the way that time sheets and billable hours were tracked, to the material library sample logs, to the way redlines and yellow lines were drawn, processed, completed, and reviewed.  I would catch myself often thinking “this filing should be done by the Admin staff” or “I’m a creative person! Why am I wasting my time with this drawn out accounting system?”  But, even if I didn’t agree with it, I paid attention.  And I learned to realize that even though I might have a different way of tracking projects, having a system in place that I wanted to modify is far better than having none.  Monkeys may not be your thing, but it worked.

For me, these are the key areas that I found having a detailed organizational plan were crucial when starting my own company:

  1. Project organization. A project number and name tied together works great so that you can remember the project based on a client’s name, and when it comes time to do billing and accounting, the number is easy to plug into the accounting system. Example: 14-123_Smith in my office means it is the 23rd project of 2014 and the client name is Smith. When I do invoicing the “Smith” part of the project number is replaced with “01” or “02” to signify the number of billings sent to the client. Easy, right?
  2. Drawing organization. Have a list of standard drawings and notes that go in to every project. While this may seem inherent to doing a set of architectural drawings, there are times that work is moving fast and you can miss something like the elevation of the tile on the back of a restroom wall. Consider your drawing checklist to be like a spell check so that your work is complete before sending it to the client.
  3. Accounting organization. You don’t need an accountant, but I highly recommend at least using something like Quickbooks Online to keep track of proposals, invoices, banking, etc. Asking clients for money is definitely not one of the pleasant parts of having your own company, but it’s nearly impossible if you don’t have accurate records for what you told them the fee would be, when you were going to bill for it, and how much is remaining.
  4. Family and/or personal organization. This is one of the most important, yet it’s one that tends to be the “I’ll just wing it until I figure it out.” Make a plan for how many hours you’re going to allow yourself to work, ESPECIALLY if you are going to be working from home. Set up a plan for letting yourself have vacation days, personal days, unexpected sick days, or even “spend special time with the kids”. I think as architects we often feel that our work is important in the world, and it is, but if you’re not setting goals and limits to the amount of time that you’re spending on this venture, you will be miserable which will make your work and home suffer. When starting your own company, it’s a great idea to set up an office at home so that there is very little overhead cost and you can focus on building clients rather than paying rent. However, it’s also very tempting to just write one more e-mail after dinner, and then finish up that one detail, and then send out that one pdf file, and write that outstanding invoice, and… oh… it’s 2am again. It’s ok to adjust your plan and you won’t be able to follow it all the time, but having one in place gives you something to measure against to make sure you’re still a living person and not a drafting zombie.

It’s really quite easy to start an architecture company if you pay attention to how it’s already being done by others.  Setting up CAD standards and shop drawing logs and all the daily organizational tools are important too, but you likely already know and are using a system that works, so pay attention to it.  Getting a company organized takes thought and time, and it ends up being a lot of trial and error at first, but having a plan to test and adjust is crucial when getting started.

note: it’s also a good idea to consult Colorado’s Small Business Development Center for help in filling out the required business forms. 

Christy Riggs, AIA, LEED Green Associate |  308 LLC

We Built This City on Rock and Roll


By Cynthia Fishman, AIA| NCARB| LEED AP

“Music is liquid architecture; Architecture is frozen music.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)

Music and architecture have always gone hand in hand for me.  I was one of those students (and am one of those architects) who has to listen to music while working and who goes through a TREMENDOUS amount of it on a weekly basis.  I am a huge music fan and having the right tunes helps me focus, be more creative and sometimes just stay awake.

I’ve been reading a lot of articles lately about the increase in headphone use at work due to open floor plans.  Music is essentially taking the place of walls in offices.  The Denver chapter of Architecture for Humanity is having a panel discussion tomorrow (May 27th) about the intersection of sound and the built environment titled “Dancing About Architecture.” To me it seems like the topic of music and design is really, really, ridiculously hot right now.

However, as the Goethe quote implies, discovering the relationship between music and architecture is not new. Both have always fallen under the creative umbrella but they also share unique characteristics; they follow a set of rules, rely on tools and the end product is something that needs to be experienced.  They are both art forms that can be based on rhythm, proportion and harmony. These qualities set the two apart from other creative endeavors.  The idea that music and architecture are different forms of the same thing is so intriguing to me.  It makes me wonder, if I would have designed different things on a certain day if I happen to be listening to different music.

During a recent morning at work while I was making my playlist for the day, it dawned on me how many songs, bands or lyrics directly deal with architecture or architects.  Even if the musicians weren’t aware of the deeper connection between the two art forms, maybe just as I am motivated by their music they were inspired by design.  So in an effort to share and hopefully expand this interesting connection, I’ve compiled a list that subtly or overtly references our profession.  I hope you enjoy and help me add to it.

  1.  “So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright” by Simon and Garfunkel
  2. (The band) Architecture in Helsinki
  3.  “Don’t Worry About the Government” by The Talking Heads
  4. (The band) The Eames Era
  5.  “Come on! Feel the Illinoise!” by Sufjan Stevens
  6.  “Little Houses” by Pete Seeger
  7.  “Mansard Roof” by Vampire Weekend
  8.  “Sprawl I” by Arcade Fire
  9.  “Thru These Architect’s Eyes” by David Bowie
  10.  “Norwegian Wood” by The Beatles (even though this song is more about interior design, as a massive Beatles fan they had to make the list.)



Symphony of Modules by Istvan Anhalt

This Week: Doors OPEN Denver 2014

Despite not being able to attend due to my slightly ridiculous ARE study schedule (quick update: 2 down, 5 to go.. and yes, I am counting… all the while feeling strange swings of both hope and despair at the temporary but extended loss of freedom in exchange for quality time with the Prometric staff, uncomfortable noise-cancelling headphones, and the baristas of my neighborhood coffee shop…) I’m using this post as a chance to highlight Doors OPEN Denver, an event I would recommend to architecture enthusiasts, or really anyone that is curious about what the interiors of many of the old, historic, potentially-haunted buildings of Downtown Denver might look like…

The 2014 event is happening this upcoming Saturday and Sunday, April 12th and 13th.  The event is free and entails a literal translation of the event title: many historic buildings in Denver simply “open their doors” for the public to tour their spaces.

Tickets are required for expert-led tours (see website below for more information, as well as the tour map)  but I was both impressed and wooed by the overall informality and accessible nature of the event– whether you want to visit one building or ten, most sites were relatively flexible about people moseying through their spaces for a short or long look at antiques (I highly recommend the Kirkland Museum,) oddities (found in many themed Bed and Breakfasts in Capitol Hill,) and/or grand architecture of a time and place when budget and time were not they key drivers of a project…

For more information/to plan your route: