Teaching Up; Learning from our Summer Interns

Just yesterday, our summer interns gave a final presentation regarding a Denver-specific research project they have been working on in tandem with project work for the entirety of the summer.

 Upon first initiating the project, our intern committee’s hope was that the research might be used as a vehicle for collaboration as well as a chance to become acquainted with one another and the city of Denver.

 After the presentation, and hearing the interns talk about their experience, it seems the research exceeded our expectations. Serving as a vehicle for sharing ideas and skill sets, the project became an important opportunity to merge and acknowledge different work styles, processes, and modes of thinking amongst students from different disciplines including architecture, interior architecture, interior design, and illustration/environmental graphic design.

 Not to get too warm and fuzzy, but the interns smiled as they described their experience working together on a shared project as transitioning from “difficult” to their new team description—“four hearts and one mind.”   This Captain-planet combining of forces, skills, and viewpoints led to a cumulative design that articulately blended their different ideas and disciplines into one cohesive design—a feat I wasn’t entirely sure could be pulled off in the brief interlude of summer, but is now under consideration for potential realization.

 Watching them present was a refreshing reminder of the importance of teamwork, and the beauty of the multidisciplinary approach to design. When asked how the interns combined their work, they talked about looking for “the most important aspect” of their preliminary designs, and finding ways to prioritize the inclusion of these ideas while formulating a cohesive design. As my coworker mentioned, this provided a design solution based on the importance of function, rather than aesthetics.

This reminder of approaching group work as a chance to extract the most salient design ideas of individuals, and bring them together as a group to solve a problem was both refreshing and reaffirming.

While most of us have been taught to work in partners, groups, or teams since college or graduate school, I have found professional practice to be the ultimate litmus test for collaboration. Whether a project is a month or two years, the changing nature of project teams, the delegation of roles and responsibilities, as well as the mixture of different personalities often feels like experiencing one sea change after another.

I am always excited when a new project starts, as working with different people and clients is an inherent opportunity for growth and exposure to new work styles and ways of thinking. With that said, the nature of professional practice at times can lend itself to efficiently living within the confines of certain roles and responsibilities—a navigable but at times stifling way of working. What excites me about the intern presentation is that it reinforces that the best idea should, and must win, regardless of source or origin.

 Today is the interns’ last day—we are sad to see them go, but happy that they have “taught up” in providing a stellar example of what productive collaboration can yield- both in terms of building relationships as well as creating amazing work.



Constricting the Bounds of Originality – Separating the Protectable from the Unprotected in Architectural Works

One month ago we put out a call for Emerging Professionals who wanted to join our blogging team. We received quite a few responses and have begun the process to include new voices into our AIA CO EP Blog. As we discussed the future of the blog, we looked to voices that would shed light on diverse issues and questions about architecture and the profession, as well as varying personal backgrounds and differing experience within the professional environment. Over the next few weeks you will see new names introduced below. As we finalize our new team, we will provide them with their own usernames and work them into the regular schedule. We hope to create consistency and regularity in voices, but will also be supplementing those voices with guest bloggers.

Our first new blogger is Casey A. Quillen. Casey Quillen is a founding member of Ruebel & Quillen, LLC.  For more than a decade, she has represented Colorado design professionals as defense counsel for errors and omissions claims litigation, coverage counsel, corporate counsel, and as a business advisor. Casey is a professional affiliate member of the AIA. Her first article looks at the protected and unprotected elements within architectural design. Personally, I have rarely studied or read about copyright law within the realm of architecture – or any copyright law for that matter. Casey brings in interesting perspective as someone who represents architects. She breaks down the idea of copyright law and what can or cannot be protected under copyright law.



Constricting the Bounds of Originality – Separating the Protectable from the Unprotected in Architectural Works

Casey A. Quillen


Some architectural designs, like that of a single-room log cabin, will consist solely of standard features arranged in standard ways; others, like the Guggenheim, will include standard features, but also present something entirely new.  ArchitecGuggenheimture, in this regard, is like every art form.

Zalewski v. Cicero Builder Dev., Inc., 2014 WL 2521388 (2d Cir. June 5, 2014).  Architectural design within well-recognized scènes-à-faire such as neoclassical government buildings, colonial houses, and modern high-rise office buildings may be more difficult to protect under federal copyright law due to the conventional restrictions of the form according to the United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit.

In Zalewski v. Cicero Builder Dev., Inc., self-employed architect James Zalewski granted defendant builders licenses to use several colonial home designs he had created.  According to plaintiff Zalewski, after the license expired the builders retained another design firm to customize the home designs which the builders continued marketing without consent.  The architect asserted that the defendants had copied the overall size, shape, and silhouette of his designs as well as the placement of rooms, windows, doors, closets, stairs, and other architectural features.[1]  On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit considered the trial court’s ruling on summary judgment to determine whether those elements copied from Zalewski’s original design were protectable under copyright law.  Ultimately, the Second Circuit determined that builders copied only the unprotected elements of Zalewski’s design.  The Court compared the conventions of designing a colonial-style home to the use of iambic pentameter or folk motifs in literary works:

[T]he designs’ shared footprint and general layout are in keeping with the colonial         style.  There are only so many ways to arrange four bedrooms upstairs and a kitchen, dining room, living room, and study downstairs.  Beyond these similarities, Plaintiff’s and Defendants’ layouts are different in many ways.  The exact placement and sizes of doors, closets, and countertops often differ as do the arrangements of rooms.

Id.  The Court also noted certain design features used by all architects because of consumer demand or market expectations should not receive protection.

Federal Copyright protection for architectural works is relatively new having been formally added to the list of protectable material in 1990.  We should not be surprised to see Colorado State and Federal Courts apply similar reasoning when issues of architectural copyright arise.  A design professional facing copyright infringement would do well to head the admonition by the Second Circuit and strive to “distinguish those aspects of his designs that were original to him from those dictated by the form in which he worked”, so that he may prevail on his claims.



[1] Zalewski also asserted a cause of action under the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (“DMCA”) which prohibits intentionally removing or altering any copyright management information. 17 U.S.C. §1202(b)

Meaningful Work

Mosenthal_Chang, DenverThe 2013 AIA National Convention has come and gone.  Summer seems to have bloomed into its full expression, inspiring allergies, a sense of freedom, and a listless reminder to take action while the days are longer than the nights.

Despite the time, space, and temperature increase that stand between me and the Convention, I’ve found that this year’s themes regarding humanitarianism and the broad definition of the architect’s “role” in society continue to resonate with me in both my daily practice as well as the broader conversations I’ve shared with colleagues
and industry-related professionals.   In other words, like many things, the Convention’s keynote speakers and programming did a great job in challenging me to continue to ask myself “Am I doing enough?”  And
then my internal dialogue response/next question—“I’m doing a lot right now… But what do I need to focus on to make sure that what I’m doing is personally and professionally meaningful?”

The truth is that the answer to this question is probably different for all of us, and likely changes on a daily or weekly  basis.  As Emerging Professionals, we are at an exciting but tricky time in our career.  The decisions we make early on in our field regarding which organizations to join, which firm and type of work we want to do, and
what path we take to licensure and various certifications and areas ofexpertise often place us on different career tracks within the umbrella of the same profession.  While change is always possible and continued education/skill diversification a must, I have to believe that if we are thoughtful about the choices we make early in our career, the more fulfilling and potentially interesting the outcomes will be as things evolve.

My lingering take-away from the Convention is that whether or not we are doing “enough” on a daily basis to be Citizen Architects, in looking forward, we might consider what might be our best opportunities to contribute to the profession in a way that we find personally impactful.

In yet another recent article regarding us crazy, confident Millennials, the following information was gleaned from a study that surveyed “managers” (aka more senior workers from the Baby Boomer /Gen X generation) as well as
Millennials on similar topics.  The findings illustrated that while the managers believed that “Millennials are primarily focused on money, Millennials report themselves as more focused on meaning.  Meaningful work was identified by 30% of Millennials as the most important factor defining career success.”  (Boston College, Executive Briefing Series)

I would wage a bet that amongst young Emerging Professional Architects, that number is even higher, as most people in our profession can’t really claim they’re in it for the money.

As we forge forward as a new generation of architects just scratching the surface of a profession that is a life long
pursuit and learning experience, I challenge the reader to consider how we might consider pursuing meaningful architectural practices that are both fulfilling,but balance this with a collective pursuit of “meaningful” goals as an industry.

With architectural groups focused on monitoring and improving policy that impacts architecture and development, such as ArchiPAC, and other groups such as the USGBC and local government groups/officials that are pushing more progressive sustainable design initiatives, I hope that the current optimism and definitions of success hold and become more clearly defined as action items and collective goals with measurable benefits in the years to come.

In the meantime, I’m going to go write my to-do list for the next week…


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.


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.