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.


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 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.