Guest Post: A Multidisciplinary Approach To Architecture

Partners

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.

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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.

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“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.

TJOA_GObox_FabTJOA_GObox_2

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.

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Studio NYL Wall Assembly Study

 

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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.

 

WE.ARE.BACK!

Greetings readers! It’s been a while since we’ve posted anything on the AIA Colorado Emerging Professionals Blog but I am excited to announce that we are BACK! Since most of our readership are students, interns, and young architects I know I don’t have to tell you that the life of an architect can get busy – there are always deadlines demanding time, midterms and finals need our attention, there are jobs and summer internship to obtain, and ARE’s to pass – truth be told, that is exactly what happened to our lives, all at once.  The unfortunate outcome of our busy, but good, life is that the blog fell out of sight. To all our loyal readers, we must apologize. But it is because of you that we are back, committed once again to making this Blog a spot where we not only share our personal experiences, but also give the Emerging Professionals a national voice.

In 2010, Meg Kullerd Hohnholt (then, just “Meg Kullerd”) started the AIA Colorado Emerging Professionals Blog. Meg had a voice and she wanted a forum to share it with other emerging professionals. Meg’s vision for the blog was something she shared with the original bloggers. Equally as excited, we joined together to make the success of the blog surpass any of our wildest dreams. Since that first blog post on October 1, 2010 we have had 7 full-time writers and a number of guest writers. The blog has had a total of 44,307 all time views and has reached out to all parts of the world. To this day, The Ted Mosby Illusion is our most viewed post, with 1,830 total views. To add to its success, some of our writers have been published in national publications in the past. Though the years, this blog has provided a voice for Emerging Professionals, near and far, and we will continue to do so in the future.

Over the next few months we will introduce you to new writers and a number of invited guest writers. We will strive to provide you with our own personal experiences as well as share with you information we find intriguing, thought-provoking, and just down right cool.  You can expect our “traditional” 500 word essays, as well as links to other articles around the web that we want to share with our readers. I invite you to come back often, encourage you to share our site with other professionals, and hope you comment on our posts as we want to provide an open forum for all to share their thoughts along side ours. We want to thank you for supporting us through the years and coming back over and over again!  We look forward to sharing so much more with you in the future!

Stapleton!

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.

It Takes a Village…

city skyline_mosenthalA few weeks ago I attended a Downtown Denver Partnership event profiling several large-scale development projects in and around Downtown Denver.   Titled “Downtown Development Takes Off: 
Creating a World Class City,” the event was formatted as a presentation/discussion with moderator Brad Buchanan from RNL and presenters Ed Schiel of Integrated Properties, Tommy Nigro from Stonebridge Companies, Jim McGibney from First Century Development, LLC, and Duane Risse, CFO  and VP of Administrative Services for the Community College of Denver.  Subsequent projects presented were, in the order of presenter, 16th and Market, the Renaissance by the Marriott, the IMA Headquarters, and the CCD Student Learning and Engagement Building.  Each presenter was tasked to present “information on their upcoming projects and explain how these projects will enhance and impact our center city and surrounding areas.”

In the event you aren’t familiar with the DDP, it’s a non-profit business organization “that creatively plans, manages and develops Downtown Denver as the unique, diverse, vibrant and economically healthy urban core of the Rocky Mountain region.” After exploring many different organizations relevant for a young Denver architect to commit rare “free” time to, I have personally found my involvement with the DDP to be extremely worthwhile due to its strong, diverse programming and long-term investment/dedication to improving Downtown Denver.

This event was no exception.  While observing the differences in outlook and approach between developers and architects is already of great interest to me, my biggest take-away from this event was the brief presentation given by Jim McGibney of First Century Development.   Rather than talk at length about the many amenities and design features of the IMA building (which, to paint a quick picture, is an under-construction five story commercial office building set to open near Union Station in late 2013), Mr. McGibney showed slide after slide of names of people and companies that had collaborated and contributed to this single project.  From government and transit officials to architects and designers to developers, engineers, facilities managers, neighborhood and community organizations and non-profits, Mr. McGibney’s presentation effectively illustrated two important realities of an urban development project:

(1) It does, indeed, take a village to create a successful large-scale urban development project.

(2) By engaging a village in building a successful urban development project, hundreds to thousands of jobs are created or supported, directly impacting Denver’s economic health and growth in a more tangible way than one might initially think.

While I cringe when I see large-scale suburban developments, big box stores, and parking lots the size of football fields continue to encroach on the pastoral lands that mark the interstitial spaces between my travels from Denver to nearby cities, I feel more optimistic and supportive of the continued development and in-fill of Downtown Denver.  Smart urban growth and the continued densification of downtown continues to make Denver one of the most sought-after, attractive cities for people between the ages of 25 and 35 in the United States—a promising idea for continued economic, social, and cultural growth in Colorado.  I’m going to take a leap and say that this demographic is not moving to Colorado because of the great access to Walmart and TJ Maxx.  I predict they are moving here because as our Downtown continues to grow as does its appeal and reputation as a more cosmopolitan, world-class city…that happens to be driving-distance to some of the most amazing natural amenities one might hope for.

 

To “Lean In,” or not to “Lean In;” That is the question.

Full disclosure: being a “nerd” isn’t nerdy anymore. Oh, and being a woman in technology is DEFINITELY not nerdy.  In fact, it is the epitome of cool.

At this point, this might be old news.  One only needs to go to his/her local coffee shop to observe youthful people and lovely ladies wearing threadbare granny sweaters and oversized glasses, sipping tea and reading a tattered copy of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance to remind themselves that it is seriously hip to be seriously square.

What is not old news is that the historically “nerdy”  tech industry is instigating a heated dialogue about women in the workplace, and specifically women’s roles in tech-related fields.

Last Wednesday I attended an event at Google’s Boulder office titled “Google Recognizes International Women’s Day.”  The evening began with networking amongst the members of the Society of Women Engineers, the Meetup group “Women Who Code,” and the National Center for Women and Information Technology.  Oh, and there I was, a female Intern architect that happens to have a younger sister in the group “Women Who Code.” Networking was followed by a panel of two impressive women in technology-related fields—one as a successful programmer at Google, the other a renowned Computer Science professor at CU Boulder

While I might not be a programmer or web developer, the evening was of interest to me as a female representative of the architecture industry for several reasons:

  1. Architectural representation, documentation, and in many ways, construction and fabrication is reliant on current and emerging technologies.
  2. While the needle is definitely moving fast and furiously, architecture has historically been a male-dominated field (I believe the technical term is “Old Boys’ Club”).
  3. Discussions about work/life balance will forever be interesting and relevant to me.

As the evening and discussions progressed, the last question for the panel addressed the theories and attitudes about women in the workplace in the new book, Lean In; Women, Work, and the Will To Lead, by Sheryl Sandberg, the former VP of Global Online Sales & Operations and current Facebook Chief Operating Officer (this is the point in the blog post where I insert an obligatory “You go, girl!”)

In the Amazon.com description of Lean In,  the book summary is as follows:

“Thirty years after women became 50 percent of the college graduates in the United States, men still hold the vast majority of leadership positions in government and industry. This means that women’s voices are still not heard equally in the decisions that most affect our lives. In Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg examines why women’s progress in achieving leadership roles has stalled, explains the root causes, and offers compelling, commonsense solutions that can empower women to achieve their full potential.”

In Sandberg’s examination of why women’s progress in achieving leadership is stalled, she cites disappointing but close-to-home examples of how many women make concessions in the workplace that men typically won’t (for example, negotiating salaries or asserting themselves for job promotions, etc.).   She also proposes solutions for ways to seek  “professional achievement with personal fulfillment” while abandoning the myth of “having it all.”

The panelists were asked whether or not they agreed with the idea of “not having it all,” and in many ways, prioritizing their careers so as not to lose momentum before or after having children, etc.   Answers were mixed, and a heated debate ensued amongst an audience comprised of women of all different ages and stages of life.  Many women felt “leaning in” was unrealistic—surely women had to make worthwhile sacrifices that fit the job description of “Mother.” Others felt that Sandberg was right—backing off on professional ambitions often meant pressing a dangerous “pause” button on potentially blossoming or thriving careers; not to mention this was a decision men rarely had or have to make.

When I go to work each day, I feel fortunate that I work in a demographically balanced office with many women rockstars.  Whether it’s vocalized or not, it is easy to sense how much effort and gusto my co-workers put into completing deadlines and delivering great work while still getting home in time for a child’s recital or to construct an architecturally-impressive Halloween costume, or to be present and able to take a break from work to prioritize precious time with significant others, family, friends, and side-hobbies/pursuits.

I’ve ordered a copy of Sheryl Sandberg’s  Lean In, and am admittedly excited to read it.  With that said, I am already proud of the various communities of professional women in Denver/Boulder. Just knowing there are groups such as “Women Who Code,” “Women In Design,” or “The Society of Women Engineers,” that exist to provide support, mentorship, and resources to women within similar industries gives me hope that moving forward, women will have enough resources and support to continue to pursue historically gender-imbalanced fields, skills, and opportunities in whatever capacity they might feel most comfortable.