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.


Architect Barbie, and Other Important Advancements in Architectural Practice

2-0011I recently stumbled across an article titled, “ Building on the Past; A History of Women in Architecture,” by SUNY Buffalo Architectural History Professor and PhD, Despina Stratigakos. In her account of women’s advancements in the field of architecture, she begins the article by recounting Architect Barbie’s debut at the 2011 AIA Convention in New Orleans.  Flanked by booths of materials, technology, and a polarizing ratio of 78% male conference attendees, the pink-and-white Mattel booth was both an anomaly and bright spot on the convention floor.  Serving as an educational area to introduce concepts of architectural design to young women (and by young, I mean as early as 5 or 6 years old,) this booth provided clever programming as a means of possibly diversifying the profession’s current gender disparity.

Three years later to the day (the 2014 AIA National Convention is happening right now in Chicago–a city that is an architectural masterpiece in its own right), Architect Barbie seems to be a mere foreshadowing of an undeniably exciting time for women architects.

One only needs to look at Jeanne Gang’s “Aqua Tower,” the leadership of the AIA’s 90th President, Helene Combs Dreiling, or take note of the 2014 AIA Gold Medal Award given to Julia Morgan (only sixty years after her death!) to see that women are gaining recognition, dynamic commissions, and interesting leadership positions, all the while transcending any makeshift glass ceilings that may have previously existed.

Furthermore, current data reinforces women’s growth both in numbers and leadership within the profession of architecture. This past May, the Architect’s Journal reported an increase in the proportion of women to men in top practices in from 22.7 to 27.5%.

As a young woman in architecture, I find this information to be exciting for a few reasons:

(1) This may mean that many architecture firms are and will continue to become more balanced in terms of women and men leaders/mentors for the next generation of architects,

(2) Architecture’s former reputation as an “old boys’ club” may be lifting to build a more balanced workplace,

(3) Women who have been practicing will hopefully continue to receive the recognition they deserve. An example would be a designer such as Charlotte Perriand, whose genius was cloaked by male counterparts like Corbusier until only recently.

(4) The sky might just be the limit for what type of work and opportunities my female co-workers, friends, and former classmates might want to pursue in the future within and outside the boundaries of our profession.

While there is no race to be won or any concrete, gender-balanced targets for architecture offices to meet (I still believe an office must be comprised of the best talent, and how this shakes out gender-wise is subjective,) I hope to convey this information only to share the message that for women who in early stages of practicing architecture, there will likely be more women with shared experiences to guide them in partnership with male counterparts.

While 27.5% is not a staggering number, interesting statistics such as Stratigakos’ mention that in 1900 there were 39 licensed women architects, and today, 30,000 makes me feel thankful for being born in the 1980’s as opposed to the 1880’s..

What a difference a century makes!


For more information, I highly recommend a read through Stratigakos’ article.

And please note: This article does not aim to touch upon the challenges of motherhood, the Lean In phenomenon, etc.  Another discussion for another time!  Just looking at the rise of women in the profession from a global perspective!

Emerging Professionals’ 2014 Exhibition .. Getting Your Work Out There

Donahue, Cheng, and Lemke's accepted 2014 submission

Donahue, Cheng, and Lemke’s accepted 2014 submission

Just a quick post to highlight  work currently on exhibit in Washington, D.C. featuring Emerging Architectural Professional’s design work.   I’d recommend architects/architectural interns in the Colorado area check out the exceptional work their peers across the country are designing, researching, and building, with potential hopes of inspiring future submittals for next year’s 2015 exhibition…

The exhibition is described by the AIA as the following: “The American Institute of Architects, Center for Emerging Professionals sponsors an annual exhibition of architectural work, art, and designs of emerging architectural professionals across North America. This annual exhibition promotes the compelling work of the rising generation of architects and designers and inspires professionals to continue to mentor and engage the many talented and motivated emerging professionals across the country.”

This year, Colorado’s own Katie Donahue, Assoc. AIA, Yandy Cheng and Mason Limke are featured for the “Pulp Wall” they designed and fabricated while at UC Denver.  The 2013 exhibition featured an impressive (2x) accepted submissions from Brad Tomecek, AIA.

A submission typically consists of project boards (2d or 3d) as well as a submittal form and a release for imagery to be waived.  Stay tuned on the AIA’s website for 2015 submission dates if this peaks your interest…

MOST RECENT PORTFOLIO Katie Donahue Page 006

Visualization Tools: A Quick Debrief on the State of Design Representation in Denver

3d topography model of speculative landscape project, generated in Rhino, rendered over with vray and Rhino. Copyright: Mosenthal, all rights reserved.

3d topography model of speculative landscape project, generated in Rhino, rendered over with vray and Rhino. Copyright: Mosenthal, all rights reserved.ideagram2 water copy

Yesterday I moderated a panel titled, “Visualization Tools” at the CREJ Architecture and Interiors Annual Design Conference.  This was a great opportunity to accomplish the following:(1)  The first benefit was meeting local architects/designers from other firms also fully engaged in the art and practice of visual representation.  Panelists included Drew Marlow, AIA from Acquilano Leslie,  Lynsey Grace, AIA from Burkett Design, and Sarah Barker, IIDA from RNL.  Each panelist had a rich and varied perspective on the importance of visualization as both a design tool and deliverable for clients.  While Marlow hand-renders (often post 3d-modeling) images to create an artful representation of a future space, Grace and Barker utilize tools such as SketchUp, Podium, and 3ds Max to create computer-generated renderings.

(2)  The second benefit of moderating a panel regarding visualization tools involved spurring my thinking about the current tools we are using in Denver’s A&D market at large.  My current perception (and please correct me if I’m wrong) is that in our current market, few firms have adopted programs such as Rhinoceros, prototyping software, or parametric design plug-ins such as Grasshopper to continue to allow their design potentials to evolve in a more complex manner.

Drawing of string art graphic pattern David  Tracy and I generated using grasshopper and Rhinoceros, and translated into Illustrator drawings.  Drawings then delivered to local string artist for final fabrication.  Copyright, Gensler, All Rights reserved.

Drawing of string art graphic pattern David Tracy and I generated using grasshopper and Rhinoceros, and translated into Illustrator drawings. Drawings then delivered to local string artist for final fabrication. Copyright, Gensler, All Rights reserved.

I recently attended a great training hosted by Thornton Thomasetti on how Grasshopper might be used to both optimize material quantities and the environmental impacts of a building’s envelope.  This type of knowledge acquisition has made me curious and optimistic about the impact on quality of design and fabrication of buildings and spaces in Denver if young professionals made a commitment to becoming highly adept at emerging software.   This would benefit Denver greatly; as our city continues to serve as a beacon for start-ups and other great talent, our design abilities and outputs must reflect a high level of sophistication that sets the tone and bar for Denver’s evolving skyline and image.

(3)   The third benefit of participating in the Visualization Tools panel was that it was a great opportunity to reflect on some current issues in today’s market regarding visualization.  In a pre-panel discussion with Marlow, Grace, and Barker, we discussed the realities of creating high-quality renderings, and the time these images often take to produce.  In many firms, there is a knowledge gap between office leaders and clients expecting rendering-level imagery to take only a few short hours.  Like most arts, while our tools have continued to evolve to expedite this process, creating a high-quality rendering can often take a full day to a few weeks depending on the status of the design, the resolution of what the materials will be, and the time it takes to model and carefully set up a scene and lighting to output the “perfect image.”  Another idea that came to light was the notion of our changing, preferred tools for both design and visual communication.  While sketching and hand-modeling remain relevant, 3d modelling has become a necessary and important part of the coordination process with engineers.   We agreed that while our options for software to generate different forms and designs are almost limitless, it is still important to be able to produce a quick hand-sketch to communicate an initial idea.

In conclusion, this is a brief summary of what was discussed, and touches on a few ideas regarding visualization that are relevant in Denver’s current market.

I would like to request that people in Denver’s design community who are experimenting or continuing to work with sophisticated visualization and design techniques reach out to me or comment on this blog regarding what tools you’re using and how they’re impacting design.  Marlow, Grace, and Barker would likely agree with me that it was refreshing to have a forum to discuss how we are communicating with clients as well as pushing our designs forward, and I’d love to keep the conversation going while giving young architects in the Denver community a chance to interact and promote knowledge-sharing, regardless of firm affiliation.  My guess is that by challenging one another to continue to push design and visualization across our market sector, we might not only increase the quality of Denver’s design, but also continue to build a vibrant, emerging architecture community committed to producing architectural design and fabrication methods that pushes boundaries within the broader context of our national architecture community and urban profile.

Just wondering about BIM

Last week I went out to drinks with an architect friend and after covering the ups and downs of personal life, we got to talking about architecture. We went covered spec’s, drawings, firm living, and firm dying before settling on BIM.

I have written before about how BIM or more accurately 3 dimensional modeling programs awakened a spatial sensibility in me that I didn’t know existed. The ability to see your ideas represented in 3 dimensions on the computer was a wake-up call for me. After working with modeling software in school and in firms, I began to wonder about the untapped potential in the building models I was making. Lots of ink has been spilled and pixels arranged over the potential of BIM but I think the conversation I had with my friend might be a new wrinkle.

BIM allows you to virtually construct a building and everything that goes along with that. Depending on how well you model things, a BIM file can tell you how much drywall is in your project and how much it is going to cost to purchase. It can tell you much area is you can rent, lease, or sell per BOMA’s byzantine guidelines. It can even estimate future energy use of a building, coming closer and closer to our engineers energy modeling programs with every passing day. This is all common knowledge and is utilized to varying degrees by architects the world over.

The new wrinkle the came up in my conversation was the following. Architects create these models and if their client is tech savvy enough, hand the BIM files over. The client then takes the file and mines it for all the useful data. They take that data and in some form hand it over to their facilities person who in turn uses it to learn how to maintain the building. This seems reasonable enough but to my friend and I, it seemed that in that process, there were a few unnecessary steps.

If the architect built the BIM file using software that is specifically designed to allow for information mining, wouldn’t they be the best people to manage this file as the building operates? They already know the file, the software, and the building intimately; to me that seems to qualify them as a manager this virtual file of the building.

I realize there are some problems but let’s explore the potential first. Imagine that as the building is constructed, the architect adjusts and corrects the model to mirror the built project. This would include wall location changes, material and product substitutions, etc. Then once the building is completed, the architect in conjunction with facilities, begins to record information about the building. What the life expectancy of that light bulb and when should it be changed. The BIM file becomes a mirror of the building itself expect unlike the building, it can talk back. Scheduling maintenance based on product information that already exists within the model.

To me this represents an extension of the architects’ role, one that puts him directly in touch with the actual performance of their design. It offers the potential of a new revenue source for architects as well and putting architects in much closer contact with their work.