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safety, accessibility, and aesthetics shape pedestrian suspension bridges

There is something wonderful about a walk in the woods. The nearness of nature, the wind rustling through the trees, the magical light almost any time of day, and never knowing what’s around the next bend. For Gus Smithhisler, PE, it’s an adventure that never gets old. Smithhisler is a Natural Resources Engineer for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR), where he has worked since graduating from Ohio State University in 1994 with a degree in Civil Engineering. ODNR’s mission is to ensure a balance between the wise use and protection of natural resources for the benefit of all; an ambition Smithhisler and his colleagues live every day.

“I love connecting people with nature. My role with ODNR gives me firsthand experience with the joy and beauty of the natural world surrounding us. There is no greater reward in my work than opening that up to others,” says Smithhisler of his career. Within natural resources, ODNR segments its services into several divisions: the Division of Natural Areas & Preserves, Division of Wildlife, Division of Forestry, and the Ohio State Parks & Watercraft. A licensed Professional Engineer with a civil concentration, Smithhisler is ODNR’s road, bridge, and trail expert, and he has made getting the public closer to nature his life’s work. Over his 28-year tenure with ODNR, Smithhisler has led the development and maintenance of many miles of trails through the state’s parks and preserves and overseen the construction or rehabilitation of dozens of different bridges along the way.

“In the realm of the physical infrastructure we introduce into natural environments, there are a few musts in everything we do,” says Smithhisler. “The first is sensitivity to context; it has to fit in. Public safety, of course, is critical. Next is low-maintenance durability; it must last. And certainly, it has to positively enhance the experience of nature in a meaningful way.”

Of all the assets Smithhisler and ODNR are responsible for maintaining within the state’s expansive parks and preserves, the most dramatic have to be Ohio’s pedestrian suspension bridges. Generally located deep within a less-than-accessible wilderness, suspension bridges are making a resurgence in parks across the country. Smithhisler is delighted to have a hand in bringing these one-of-a-kind engineering marvels to the public’s attention.

“ODNR has built several different suspension bridges throughout our state parks system in the last few years,” he says. “A bridge suspended over a river in the middle of the woods embodies the adventure and untamed spirit of nature in a way that is accessible both literally and figuratively.”

ODNR’s first new pedestrian suspension bridge was built in the Hocking Hills State Park, located about 60 miles southeast of Columbus, Ohio. Recipient of the 2018 Outstanding Special Purpose Bridge Award from the Association for Bridge Construction and Design, the Hemlock Pedestrian Bridge has a suspension length of 100 feet and a walkway length of 64 feet. Suspended 10 feet above the bottom of a stream, the bridge features a deep V configuration that is 42 inches wide at the handrails and 16 inches wide at the walking path. The thrill is two-fold. Located deep within the park, getting to it is a challenge in itself, and once there, the swinging sensation while crossing is unmistakable.

“There is a cave on the far side of the site that we wanted to reopen access to. When we conceived the idea for building a bridge at the Hocking Hills site, we originally considered suspending it from some very large, live trees,” says Smithhisler. “That proved unworkable for a variety of reasons, but the sense of adventure in that idea never left us.”

While considering more traditional options for building a bridge, ODNR quickly realized standard solutions simply were not going to work. The site’s remote location and the inability to get any heavy equipment made off-the-shelf solutions an impossibility. That’s when ODNR put out a Request for Qualifications for engineering service. They selected Woolpert, an architecture, engineering, geospatial (AEG), and strategic consulting firm specializing in solving infrastructure’s most compelling challenges.

Tom Less, PE, SE, is a Senior Associate and Discipline Leader at Woolpert who manages Transportation, Aviation, and Water Resources Design teams. Less played a crucial role in designing the Hocking Hills bridge and several other pedestrian suspension bridges that the firm has recently developed in remote locations.

 “One of the things I enjoy most about my work is Woolpert’s willingness to take on challenges that are outside of the norm,” says Less, who earned both a B.S. and an M.S. in Structural Engineering from Ohio State University and teaches part of the University’s Senior Engineering Capstone program. “These suspension bridges are an excellent example of a non-conventional situation that pushed us to go back to the fundamentals of engineering: sound analysis, following the load path, and proper material application.”

On the Hocking Hills bridge, the difficulty of site accessibility exposed a series of situational challenges that are rarely considered on a vehicular bridge. The planned crossing was in a relatively shallow flood plain. Heavy rains routinely flood the site. The fear of a flood’s impact on a pedestrian bridge made of cable and wood members was not necessarily damage from the rising water but damage from debris floating downstream. If water levels are high enough, a small tree or a clump of branches floating downstream could snag on the bridge and damage it. A large tree could destroy it.

“Scrutiny of the site and the potential for damage in a storm event led us to develop a unique floating foundation system,” continues Less. “When the water rises, the lower deck attachments can rise as well, allowing the walkway to lift out of the way of debris being swept downstream. It can then be reset by park staff after the flood subsides.”

Accessibility and the delicate nature of the bridge were not the only particulars at Hocking Hills. Once the bridge was designed and ready to build, ODNR and Woolpert were not able to find contractors interested in building it despite their best efforts.

“Typically, on bridge projects, we get between 3 and 10 competitive bids from general contractors who are eager to do the work,” says Less. “On the Hocking Hills bridge, we got none – literally zero bids.”

Less explains there are various reasons contractors won’t bid on a project, all of which boil down to perceived risk. When the design is non-standard and in a relatively inaccessible area, contractors see the cost, effort, and profitability equation as disadvantageous, which generally increases the price. Furthering matters, given the unconventional nature of a bridge built in the woods that is subjected to routine flooding and potential damage, long-term safety concerns can put the project beyond insurability for some carriers. Without qualified bidders, ODNR was left to their own devices on Hocking Hills and ended up building the bridge themselves through the skill and ingenuity of parks department employees.

With the first pedestrian suspension bridge receiving a very enthusiastic reception from the visiting public, ODNR decided to expand the program and commissioned a second suspension bridge for Mohican State Park in Loudonville, Ohio. Building on the lessons learned from the no-bid environment of the Hocking Hills bridge, this time, ODNR decided to solicit Design-Build services rather than Design-Bid-Build, as attempted previously.

“The Mohican bridge is a 120-foot suspension bridge that traverses the Clear Fork River,” says Smithhisler. “Up until the late 1960s, there was a bridge there that the oil and gas industry had put in. It used to be sort of a pilgrimage for local teenagers and adventurers. However, that bridge was destroyed by a flood in July 1969. ODNR wanted to build a new bridge because it makes the existing trail system a loop and opens up access to some more challenging hiking terrain.”

For the Mohican bridge, general contractor, The Righter Company, Inc. elected to team with Woolpert as their engineering partner for the Design-Build execution. Completed for roughly $840,000 in 2020, the bridge was designed and built in less than a year. From a foundation of experience, Less shares some design insights that illuminate the behind-the-scenes thinking that shapes a buildable solution.

“Understanding site-specifics goes beyond accessibility,” shares Less. “Geotechnical conditions at the bridge’s connections points and a detailed hydraulic survey of the waterway below are imperative pieces of information from which design begins. Those relate to structural stability, but as with any infrastructure, the asset’s anticipated use is also quite significant.”

Though the need to accommodate foot-traffic on a hiking trail is obvious, Less points out that in some cases, that could mean people walking exclusively single file, in others a person pushing a stroller, a wheelchair, or even the need to account for something as wide and heavy as the ATVs used by park maintenance staff. The wider the bridge, the more loading it is subjected to and the stronger all the members must be. Less shares that the three pedestrian suspension bridges designed by Woolpert in recent years have all accounted for pedestrian loading of between 65 and 90 pounds per foot. After the Hocking Hills bridge was open, the local high school football team reportedly tried to see if they could overwhelm it and found they could not.

“Choosing contextually-sensitive materials is also essential to a finished product,” Less says of the considerations shaping specifications. “Generally, we are specifying weathering steel that will turn a rust-brown for the tower members or built-up timber sections. In addition, the cables and concrete used are coated with matte, earth-tone finish sealers, and we specify low-shine, galvanized steel connectors.”

Sensitivity to the site in material selection can’t overlook environmental factors that cause materials to degrade over time. Long-lasting, low-maintenance choices are even more important than aesthetics.


“For the wood, we specify white oak,” says Less. “This is the same kind of wood that was used to build the historic covered bridges in this area that have been standing for generations. White oak is unique. It is a closed-pore timber with self-sealing properties that resists the elements in exposed conditions.”

Since the successes at Hocking Hills and Mohican, Less and the Woolpert team have completed a third pedestrian suspension bridge in Ohio, the Stillwater Prairie Connector Bridge, which recently won an American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC) 2022 Engineering Excellence Award. At 170-feet-long with a deck width of 32 inches, the Stillwater bridge is the longest of the three. Built for the Miami County Park District, the Stillwater bridge connects the Stillwater Prairie Reserve and Maple Ridge. What stands out to Less as unique about this project wasn’t the application or materials, but the mathematics required to deliver it.

“We had an interesting situation on the Stillwater bridge during construction,” he shares. In this case, after the primary cables were affixed to the towers and the contractor began adding the decking across the 170-foot span, the bridge seemed to drop dangerously low as the first few feet of flooring were installed. “We went to the site, took a lot of measurements, and went back to work in our modeling software. We did a full construction stage camber analysis to reveal that the uneven load of starting the decking on one end gave an impression of excessive deflection. Once the decking passed the center point, the bridge began pulling back up toward the other end and straightened itself out.”

Unlike bridges designed to accept the live loads of vehicular traffic moving across them, pedestrian suspension bridges don’t fall under the National Bridge Inspection Standards, which requires they be formally inspected every two years.

“We recommend clients like ODNR conduct an inspection of the entire bridge using their staff at least once a year. In addition, they should schedule a professional inspection and analysis every two to five years,” says Less of the need to always keep public safety front of mind. Meanwhile, Smithhisler says the public’s response to the suspension bridges ODNR is responsible for could not be more enthusiastic.

“Both the Hocking Hills Bridge and the bridge in Mohican State Park have become destination amenities for the public,” he finishes. “People are coming from near and far to see these signature structures in Ohio’s parks, and they are enjoying a wonderful walk in the woods along the way.”


Sean O’Keefe is an architecture and construction writer who crafts stories and content based on 20 years of experience and a keen interest in the people who make projects happen. You can reach him at

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finding clarity defines tenor, tempo, and destination in design

By Sean O’Keefe

The prairie-style influenced the design of The Freyer-Newman Center for Science, Art, and Education posits the building as the backdrop for the landscape, giving the natural order the reverence it deserves.

Architecture is art and inherently art is rather ambiguous. From the intersection of program, profit, and possibility, finding a meaningful point of view that remains both discernable and relevant deep into the future is no small order. David Daniel, a Principal with Denver’s Davis Partnership Architects doesn’t like to do it any other way and feels the process is as important as the purpose.

“Design is a journey, best taken in the company of clients and peers,” says Daniel, who joined Davis Partnership in 2004. Now as a Principal, Daniel has a hand in the design of many of the projects the firm touches. He expects that collaboration will always be the cornerstone of success in his work. He smirks at the idea of the infallible genius in a black-cape and barrette. “I don’t think we benefit from believing we know the answer before we even start. I don’t think true architecture is created that way.”

Daniel’s journey in design began in earnest after he was already on his way. He graduated from the University of Virginia with a bachelor’s degree in architecture in 1993 but admits that his attention was hardly fully focused on design during his undergrad years. It wasn’t until he and a couple of friends took a cross-country trip after college exploring many U.S. cities and towns that the spark was ignited. Escaping the confined experience of his roots in suburban Richmond, Virginia, Daniel was able to experience places like New York, Chicago, L.A., San Francisco, Austin, Santa Fe, San Diego, and Portland and began to see the power of design on a limitless scale.

“The spark for me in seeing all of these cities was that great architecture contributes to making great places. I wanted to be a part of that,” says Daniel. He selected the University of Colorado Denver School of Architecture in pursuit of his master’s degree in architecture and landed at Tryba Architects after graduation. There he learned the ropes, climbed the ranks, and eventually became the firm’s Design Director over the course of a decade.

Since joining Davis Partnership, Daniel’s influence has grown across a wide spectrum of market segments from mixed use and urban infill to civic to healthcare. However, process and collaboration remain fundamental to any discussion on design he is willing to have on his own work.

At Davis Partnership, Daniel and his colleagues have an almost holistic suite of design disciplines at their direction. Architecture, landscape architecture, interiors, entitlements, lighting, signage, and wayfinding all under one RiNo District roof. In-housing top-flight expertise in so many interconnected and critical facets of the design process has driven Davis Partnership’s headcount to around 180. The benefit is control.

“We like to help clients control everything users will touch, see, or feel in the building,” says Daniel. Davis Partnership’s organizational structure allows an architect to connect with a lighting designer and an interior designer on a personal, lunch-buddy level. The results are hard to debate, Daniel, reports that the firm enjoys a repeat clientele on more than 90% of their work. A steady stream of industry and peer recognition greases the wheels.

“I believe that if we produce the best work, then the business will take care of itself,” says Daniel. “Better work means better clients, better projects, and better staff.”

Commenting on the skyrocketing Denver real estate market, Daniel feels strongly that taking the best work is derived from meaningful dialogue with clients. A strong client vision is an asset in architecture and what Daniel hopes for in every commission.  Good design must also respond thoughtfully to a combination of context and community in a way that makes the sum greater than the parts.

Designed to embrace context and scale, The Colorado Health Foundation Headquarters’ architecture reflects a thoughtful outward mission and community embrace.

The Colorado Health Foundation Headquarters, a Davis Partnership project completed in 2016 lives its mission in every detail. An ideal intersection of Davis Partnership’s varied disciplines, the design for this non-profit, community resource rejects the maximization of density in favor of a building scaled to the neighborhood. Smaller primary masses; the deliberate insertion of a courtyard entry plaza; and the incorporation of board-formed concrete all combine to bring the building down to a human scale.

Inside, the building’s grand staircase is the center of attention and embodies the client’s design objective of health-positive architecture. Soaring through the building’s most high-profile space as a swirling, vertical circulation spine, the stairs compel physical activity and increase the likelihood of chance interactions and spontaneous discovery among building users. The clean curves of the stair are animated as the precise, elegant geometry for the form reveals itself in tones of shadow and light.

Beyond understanding the owner’s objectives, Daniel feels that it’s important to appreciate that effective architecture in the context of city-building requires structures of many magnitudes. Trying to make every building an icon is a mistake.

“In this heated market, there is a lot of commodity going on,” says Daniel. In the rush to claim and repurpose parcels for profit, density and speed-to-market seem to define objectives, especially Denver’s recent rash of pop-up multi-family developments. Daniel diplomatically suggests that for some developers it’s a matter of temporary versus timeless, the latter taking far longer to accomplish. Davis Partnership, of course, strives to be on the side of enduring architecture. “Some of the most important architecture in Denver has been deliberately designed to become part of the urban fabric as a background building.”

Understanding place, purpose, and point of view, at Davis Partnership architecture and city-building considers both the micro and macro.

Illustrating his point, a downtown parcel developed by Shea Properties at 17th and Curtis provided Davis Partnership with the unique opportunity to do both a background building and an iconic edifice in collusion on the same site. Combining a 28-story residential tower offering best-in-class amenities with a 94,000-SF office building that features a dramatic, glass enclosure along the 17th street frontage, the two distinctly designed buildings are conjoined by a shared parking garage. 1776 Curtis, the residential high-rise is dressed for downtown in soft-hues and straight lines and easily fits in below the taller surrounding office buildings without making a scene. At just nine-stories tall, The Prism, however, will be instantly recognizable for glass diagonal folds creating six angled planes whose points intentionally conspire with the adjacent Hotel Monaco to extend visual impact by embracing context.

“At Davis Partnership, together, we are driven to create places that inspire, elevating the joy and dignity of the human experience,” says Daniel when asked about ethos. Binding that sense of character into the work begins by bringing clients, consultants, contractors, and participants into the process as much as possible. Designing something that is both indelible and enduring that is capable of elevating the human experience requires a grander contextual conspiracy.

At the Denver Botanic Gardens, Davis Partnership is approximately half-way through construction on The Freyer-Newman Center for Science, Art, and Education. This public-facing gem will entice visitors from the corner of 11th and York and operate as the only place in the Gardens that doesn’t require a ticket to enter. The two-story, prairie-style design takes obvious influence from the Gardens’ iconic precedents but also confidently embraces the duality of being both a beacon and a background building on an architecturally-rich campus.

“Thoughtful architecture requires thoughtful conversations, and thoughtful conversations take time to unfold,” finishes Daniel. “We are interested in designing enduring buildings that embrace place, purpose, people, and point of view in intended proportion.”

About the Author
Sean O’Keefe is an architecture and construction writer who crafts stories and content based on 20 years of experience and a keen interest in the people who make projects happen. He can be reached at

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The Museum of Flight explores the unlimited potential of 3D laser scanning with Datum Tech Solutions

By Sean O’Keefe

At the intersection of history and technology, Peder Nelson has found a sweet spot. He is the Digital Engagement Manager at The Museum of Flight in Seattle, Washington where he finds a thrill in blending his love of technology with his expertise in history and museum studies in innovative ways. As an exhibit developer focused on creating interactivity that allows museum users to experience history in new ways, Nelson finds himself on the forefront of what could be the next big thing – virtual archeology.

“My work at The Museum of Flight concentrates on using emerging technologies to create new access points to the museum’s many large, historical artifacts,” says Nelson of his role. The Museum of Flight is a 23-acre complex adjacent to King County International Airport – Boeing Field in Seattle that takes pride in being the largest independent, non-profit air and space museum in the world. Hosting more than 640,000 visitors in 2019, the museum showcases a collection of more than 175 different aircraft and spacecraft along with tens of thousands of related artifacts, millions of rare photographs, and dozens of interactive exhibits and visitor experiences within roughly 430,000 square feet of gallery space. As the Digital Engagement Manager, Nelson is on the front lines of merging the digital world of virtual reality and 3D modeling with the large-scale history of human-powered flight in new and exciting ways.

“In telling the exciting and complex story of aviation and space flight, we deal with extremely large, yet somewhat delicate artifacts,” says Nelson of the museum’s work. “Creating 3D models of these planes is an important next step in the process of historical documentation and interactive programming but not something that is easily done on artifacts of this size.”

In the spring of 2020, Nelson and his colleagues at the Museum of Flight were experimenting with ways to capture some of the planes and galleries using 3D technology when an unexpected call came in from Datum Tech Solutions. Led by a team of experts who are passionate about providing innovative solutions in the world of 3D laser scanning, Datum Tech Solutions is on the cutting edge of digital geometric shape-data capture. Commonly employed in many ways throughout the architecture, engineering, and construction industry, point cloud generation involves the use of precision 3D laser scanners to create identically accurate surface data points and high definition images of an object, interior space, or exterior environment.

“Datum Tech uses the very best in high-tech laser scanning and a flexible, solutions-oriented approach to lead innovative reality capture projects of all sorts,” says Co-founder, Amy Lawrence. She and her husband, Stanley Lawrence, founded Datum Tech Solutions in 2014 to meet a growing need for accurate digital representations of the built environment among Seattle’s AEC community, and the business has thrived from the very start.

“We offer fully-integrated 3D laser scanning, equipment sales, training. and support,” continues Lawrence. “However, our main focus is pushing the edge of possibility in this exciting field. The chance to work with the Museum of Flight is an excellent example of what the future holds.”

When the call came in to consider the use of reality capture at the museum, Nelson had some questions but was genuinely excited at the prospect of being able to create a digital twin of some of the museum’s most prized artifacts.

“Datum Tech was invited in to do a proof of concept demonstration,” says Nelson of the initial scope of work, which involved laser scanning two of the museum’s most unique aircraft. “We were not sure of exactly what could be captured in our situation. The museum has massive open-span galleries in buildings made almost entirely of windows and some of the airplanes are made of very reflective metal. We weren’t sure what the lasers would be able to capture, but Datum was certain of their capabilities, so we gave them a shot.”

In giving Datum Tech a shot, the museum allowed them to laser scan two of their rarest artifacts. The first is a Boeing 80-A, a trimotor passenger aircraft made of wood, steel, and fabric that was built in 1928 and is known to be the only one in existence. The second, a Lockheed Electra Model-10A is an all-metal, twin engine-plane with a highly reflective metal skin that is the same model aircraft flown by Amelia Earhart in her 1937 circumnavigation attempt. The plane had been in commercial use for more than 60 years when it was modified to be a near-duplicate of Earhart’s plane and subsequently flown on a similar route around the world in tribute to Earhart’s mission.

With the opportunity to have Datum Tech help create digital twins of the two planes, the Museum of Flight was opening the door to a sort of archival artifact recreation they had never attempted. Using a highly precise Leica RTC360 3D Laser Scanner, the team from Datum Tech spent an entire day capturing data on each of the planes to produce digital replicas of each. Creating a digital twin through premium quality 3D point clouds and high-dynamic-range imaging provides the Museum of Flight with unobstructed access to the digital twins in ways that are not even possible with the actual planes themselves.

“Having a digital twin of these planes allows us to study them in ways we simply couldn’t before,” says Nelson. “In fact, the doors of these planes have very rarely been opened since they got to us. We certainly have not let visitors into the interior of either, because they are so rare and unique.”

Asked about the uses of a digital twin in their work at the Museum of Flight, Nelson shares that the possibilities beyond simply having an archival record are immense.

“The digital twin is an invaluable way to extend public access to these artifacts,” Nelson shares. “We can create a 3D walkthrough of the interiors for educational programming that could put thousands of people through each airplane in a way that simply isn’t possible with the originals. Having a digital replica greatly enhances our capacity to study these aircraft. We are also able to share the digital twin with other museums or air and space researchers around the world very easily.”

Building on the success of the proof of concept phase, the Museum of Flight has invited Datum Tech back for another round of scanning. While the first set of scans focused on just the two aircraft, a second round of scanning intends to capture the overall gallery itself to understand what can be done at a macro-scale. By generating 3D data points of the entire facility, Nelson envisions many possible uses of the larger gallery scans that range from improved facility and event planning, building operation efficiencies, and full-scale virtual tours from remote locations.

“At the Museum of Flight, our work is about inspiring others. We dream big and look to the future,” finishes Nelson. “Datum Tech Solutions has demonstrated the unbridled potential of this incredible technology and we are thrilled to just be scratching the surface on what can be captured and what can be done with the digital twins.”

Author Bio:

Sean O’Keefe is an architecture and construction writer who crafts stories for Datum Tech Solutions and others based on 20 years of experience and a keen interest in the people who make projects happen. He can be reached at

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having a hand in the restoration of the Colorado State Capitol is more honor than obligation

Originally Published in Colorado Construction & Design

First opened for use in 1894, the Colorado State Capitol Building has stood sentinel over the legislative affairs of the people of Colorado for the last 125 years. Designed by architect, Elijah E. Myers, and constructed of Colorado white granite, the Capitol Building is intentionally reminiscent of the United States Capitol. Its distinctive, shimmering dome is covered in real gold leaf, which was added to the original structure in 1908 to celebrate the Colorado Gold Rush. On the interior, the building incorporates white Yule Marble and an abundance of Colorado Rose Onyx, an unusual rose marble. Taken from a quarry near Beulah, CO, the Rose Onyx is so rare, the stone used in the building represents the world’s entire known supply. From the precious, time-worn building materials to the intricate details of design and craftsmanship that went into construction, protecting The Colorado State Capitol’s historic integrity for generations to come is worth the investment.

Glimmering in gold, the dome is easy to spot.

Lance Shepherd is the Manager of the State’s Capitol Complex Architects, a team of dedicated professionals committed to overseeing the preservation, restoration, ongoing operations, and future rehabilitation of the Capitol and associated complex assets. He has been with the state for 20 years and the challenge of preserving the state’s most important piece of architecture is more of a thrill than a chore.

“It’s a dream job,” says Shepherd. “This is the most important building in the state. When it was built, construction started new industries in Colorado. Granite and marble mines opened, railroads pushed further out, and all of Colorado benefited from increased connectivity and commerce.”

Unfortunately, the building’s legacy hadn’t always been held in such high regard. When Shepherd started working for the State in 2000, the Capitol’s longevity had seemingly been taken for granted. A hundred years of service over a century of significant change with little investment in the building’s preservation led to a litany of critical building needs that would only continue to compound if left unchecked.

“Preservation was almost a dirty word in the 80s and 90s,” says Shepherd with a grin. “Back in 2000, a proposal to restore the Capitol in the hundreds of millions of dollars was turned down by the state legislature. That left us to fund rehabilitation projects independently in competition with other state agencies. Step-by-step, we’ve moved incrementally through many different phases to get where we are today.”

The first step was taken when multi-phase life safety upgrades were made to make the Capitol more compliant with modern code and ADA accessibility standards. A fire suppression system was installed and many of the building’s mechanical, electrical, security, and other systems were thoughtfully improved over seven years of work, led by GH Phipps Construction and Fentress. Just as the upgrades were reaching the final push, the building suffered a setback. After more than 100 years in Colorado’s punishing weather, water infiltration and decay had taken a toll on the Capitol’s dome. In 2006 fasteners holding a cast iron piece on the inside of the dome failed and the large piece fell onto the public observation deck, fortunately without incident. It was another four years before a funding mechanism was developed and the state could begin addressing the issue in 2010.

On the design side, the State selected a multi-faceted design team that included local and national experts. Led by Denver-based structural and civil engineering firm, Martin/Martin, architectural and historic preservation expertise from both Quinn Evans Architects and Humphries Poli Architects (now RATIO | Humphries Poli Architects) was united with Historical Arts & Casting, Inc. among others to assess the structure and develop achievable solutions. Two years of intense forensic analysis and preconstruction planning with GH Phipps took place before the team was ready to begin the restoration in earnest in 2012.

Iconic inside and out, the People’s House stands for all of Colorado, past, present, and future.

“The dome was a complex project. We repaired the damage, restored the tower, and re-gilded the gold dome without closing the building,” says Shepherd of the construction process that stretched into 2016. The gold leaf used to restore the dome was derived from the same Teller County, Colorado source that produced the gold used in 1908. The generous material donation from the AngloGold Ashanti’s Cripple Creek & Victor Mining Company was estimated at $125,000 including the cost to mine, refine, and transport approximately 65 ounces of .999-pure gold. The dome project itself stretched over four years, through multiple phases of funding, finally wrapping up in 2016. In the meantime, Shephard and the Capitol Complex Architects have had their hands full with several other restoration efforts running concurrently.

Noteworthy for being the nation’s first LEED Certified Capitol, in 2013, the building became the first state Capitol in the country to be cooled by geothermal power, when wells were installed. Three-phases of restoration on the House and Senate Chambers began in 2014. The building’s library, Senate and House committee rooms, and the old supreme court chambers have all been meticulously restored, contract-by-contract, area-by-area, meeting-by-meeting. Always working around, among, and in delicate consideration of ongoing governance. 

Today, the biggest scope of work consuming Shepherd’s team, their time, and the building is a comprehensive Window and Stone Restoration project. Being delivered through Design-Build contract with GH Phipps and RATIO | Humphries Poli Architects, the project involves a full restoration of the building’s exterior stone and each of more than 300 windows.

“It’s vital to understand the importance of the Capitol as a mile marker in our history,” says Melanie Short, an architect, and preservationist with RATIO | Humphries Poli Architects. Short is managing design services on the Window and Stone Restoration project and shares that she loves the hands-on necessity of her work. “Restoring the windows, the stone, and the whole building as close to original condition as possible is what preserves a sense of place for future generations. We can’t do it from behind a computer, we’ve got to get out there and get our hands on the parts and pieces of the building.”

In the case of the Capitol’s exterior, the parts and pieces are many. Consisting of four phases over five years, all the work is being completed between mid-May and the first week of January, while the legislature is out of session. Restoring the exterior means accounting for everything seen and unseen within the stone. A mortar analysis conducted on the original materials ensured replacement mortar matched in color, hardness, and texture. Iron interior fasteners embedded in the stones a 125 years ago in many cases have long since deteriorated; the rusted material migrating through the stone around it. Precise selection of appropriate cleaning agents involved a lot of trial an error, continually striving to do no harm while finding solutions that effectively address a consistent set of circumstances across all four faces of the building. Reoccurring issues in ancillary items include lead abatement in the joints between the granite blocks and asbestos abatement under pigeon deterrents installed on the building through the years of unconsidered use.

Care and craftsmanship combine to preserve one of the state’s most cherished assets. 

The Capitol’s window restoration program exemplifies the spirit of historic preservation in hoping to make-like-new what has already been in use for more than a century. Restoring the 300+ windows means removing each window along a face and shipping sets of roughly 40 at a time to a restoration shop in Kansas City. There the original wood is sanded, patched, repaired, and repainted to a dark blue color that was forensically matched to a hue of existing paint used previously. Some six to seven weeks later, the refurbished windows return and are and reinstalled in their original openings.

“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity, for sure,” says Blaine Dodgion, Manager of Special Projects for GH Phipps Construction. Dodgion has been actively involved at the Capitol for a significant portion of his 14 years of experience. As a guy who has lived the restoration in detail through estimates, CPM schedules, BIM models, subcontractor meetings, and the daily grind, he’s still somewhat in awe of the ionic structure. From the initial survey of existing conditions to the many hearts and minds that fight the battle for funding, to the coordination and execution of the work, everyone who touches it feels special energy from the building.

For all who work on it, the opportunity is special.

“GH Phipps is a proud Colorado builder of more than 67 years, so we have a personal investment in the state’s success. This is the people’s house and we are the people. More than any other, this building deserves the extra level of commitment and attention it inspires.”

About the Author:
Sean O’Keefe writes architecture and construction stories and content based on 20 years of experience and a keen interest in the people who make projects happen.

He can be reached at    303.668.0717

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thought leadership from the front lines of smart building technology, implementation, and long-term performance

Smart technologies of every sort continue to seep deeper into our lives, putting information, services, comfort, and convenience at our fingertips where ever we are. In today’s smart buildings seemingly, anything and everything can be automated. From individualized thermal comfort to supplemental lighting that responds to ambient daylight and increasingly untethered global connectivity the limits of technology are all being integrated to the point of becoming conventional. In a Round Table conversation, Colorado Construction & Design was delighted to discuss the amazing present and super bright future of Smart Buildings with a group of dedicated professionals committed to smartly engineering, efficiently building, and acutely commissioning technology-infused facilities in Colorado and across the country.

Our Panel

Renée Azerbegi, Ambient Energy

President and founder of Ambient Energy, Renée Azerbegi loves making a positive impact in the commercial building industry and on the environment through personal determination and her firm’s collective depth of experience. Ambient Energy offers a suite of services focused on building and system analysis to optimize new construction projects for operational efficiency and longevity; evaluate and improve the performance of existing buildings; or commission either as a third-party engineer. Utilizing fault-detection diagnostics and monitoring-based commissioning, Ambient Energy strives to ensure buildings operate as efficiently as possible through the whole of their lifecycle.

Bret Roberts, P.E., Control Solutions Inc.

Co-founder of Control Solutions Inc. Bret Roberts relishes the thrill of making things work, planning and seeing a complex building together from start to finish is both his business and his gratifying reward. Along with partner, Ed Welch, Roberts established Control Solutions, Inc. in 2007 by merging a wealth of experience in building automation service and installation. Gary Bales became a partner in the practice in 2013. Control Solutions Inc. contends for smart system installation projects from Colorado Springs to Fort Collins and works with clients to update and retrofit existing buildings with more advanced systems as buildings age. The firm represents Honeywell Building Automation products such as Tridium/Niagara, Honeywell WEB’s, Spyder Controllers including the new CIPer product family of controllers and I/O Modules.

Ryan Sobeck, Siemens

A Territory Sales Manager at Siemens, Ryan Sobeck began his career in electronics working on M1 Tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles in the Army before getting into building automation systems implementation, design, and products 24 years ago. Today as a representative of Siemen’s Building Technologies, Control Products and Solutions, Ryan’s territory spans from Colorado north through Wyoming, Utah, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, and up to Alaska. Siemen’s showcases technology that integrates HVAC, lighting, shades, and plug loads from a single, ethernet-connected, terminal controller. Within the Building Technologies division of this global giant, Siemens is using integrated smart building technologies to optimize space and improve people’s lives.

Our Conversation

While integrating systems and technology to enhance the user experience is fundamental to smart building design, bells and whistles alone aren’t enough to make a building smart. What does?

“It starts in design,” says Roberts. “If the design is well thought-out, the rest of the project will follow that path, but if you start with a poor design it’s almost certain the finished building will underperform.” Roberts and his firm Control Solutions Inc. are among those responsible for installing the systems that have been selected and as such often feel the brunt of any bad decision making related to systems chosen in design. The technology of controlled systems has changed significantly, and everyone involved needs to be thinking holistically about smart systems, smart design, and smart installation.

“Having an owner who is driven, experienced, and knows what they want in terms of building performance almost always sets the stage for success,” adds Azerbegi, whose firm, Ambient Energy, can find itself in both pre- and post- construction roles depending on the project. “Smart design isn’t just technology, it’s holistic strategies like envelope modeling and commissioning to determine if the building is well-sealed. If it’s not, the best systems in the world won’t make it a smart building for long.”

Azerbergi points out the need for better documentation on the intended sequence of operations from mechanical and electrical engineers in the design stage to eliminate the possible risks of misinterpretation during installation. Ambient Energy likes to incorporate a series of controls integration meetings both in design and during construction to ensure efficient systems are being implemented and everyone involved is speaking the same language. Roberts is excited to share that common language has arrived.

“ASHRAE’s newest guideline, issued in July 2018 establishes a set of standardized advance sequences of operation for common HVAC systems,” says Roberts with a copy of the new standards proudly at the ready. The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers or ASHRAE, has been devoted to the advancement of indoor-environment-control technology since it was formed in 1959. ASHRAE Guideline 36-2018 provides uniform sequences of operation for HVAC systems that are intended to maximize energy efficiency and performance, provide control stability, and allow for real-time fault detection and diagnostics. “I’ve been wanting something like this for a long time,” continues Roberts. “We need more of a common language around buildings systems and this guideline establishes a starting point that will still allow for individual and situational customization.”

The advantages of high-tech digital connectivity, functionality, and comfort have been realized in office environments and homes for some time. Where are we going next?

“Individualized controls and data harvesting are starting to be integrated into smart-phone platforms,” says Sobeck of Seimens, a technological pioneer of electrification, automation, and digitization systems and products. One such system called Comfy Comfy allows users to request heating or cooling changes, via a smartphone app, directly to the building automation system. This data can then be used to tell individuals which spaces in the office best suit their needs at any given time, ideal for free-address offices on the design desks today.

The ability to gather an immense volume of data on a smart building is what allows it to be customized around the user experience. However, analyzing and appropriately reacting to that same abundance of information is central to ensuring a smart building operates effectively day-to-day. The ability to detect, identify, and individually correct faults within a smart building system is an advantage that is easily mitigated if the building’s operation team isn’t actively monitoring and fine-tuning the system. Operators have to wield the building’s technology to save effort, expense, and all three of the Round Table participants agree there is definitely a cost of doing nothing.

“Buildings will drift upwards in energy consumption by some 2- to 3- percent a year if they aren’t actively managed,” says Azerbergi, whose role in commissioning buildings has her firm on the front lines of evaluating long-term operational expectations as the building comes to life. Though commissioning is generally required by code, most owners would probably be surprised to know that typical commissioning processes actually only test a sampling of unitary equipment rather than 100%. Perhaps more importantly, commissioning of a new building does little to account for the building’s performance once commissioning is complete unless the building operator actively monitors and controls it. “Monitoring-based commissioning integrated with fault-detection diagnostics is what we recommend,” continues Azerbergi about the need stay on top of what is happening as users occupy and make spaces their own. “Continual monitoring has been shown to save 5 to 15 percent on annual energy costs, eliminating energy drift, improving performance, and increasing user comfort.”

The average building is estimated to drift upwards in energy consumption every year unless it is actively managed. Monitoring-based commissioning put the pulse of the building at the operator’s fingertips at all times.

What does the integration of all these technologies mean for designers and builders?

The answer, it seems, is the need for yet more and better integration among the industry’s diverse range of professionals to match the requirements of changing technologies.

“For the last forty years or so, controls were the responsibility of the mechanical and lighting was the responsibility of electrical engineers,” says Roberts of a dichotomy that feels needlessly siloed, occasionally detrimentally. In today’s smart buildings’ just as systems need to talk to each other and be monitored holistically and individually, the design, implementation, commissioning, and operations processes also need to be more seamlessly integrated.

“Investing an afternoon in making sure the sequence of operations meets the owner’s objectives and the designer’s intent is essential with the systems going into today’s smart properties,” says Sobeck. Azerbergi agrees, adding that a commitment to collaboration on the technology choices and expectations will greatly reduce issues found during the commissioning process. Pre-thinking challenges together focuses the whole team on developing the best possible building for the owner’s investment. 

As user expectations of workspaces have grown beyond simply hot or cold and on or off, product manufacturers have continued to push toward integrated solutions. Siemen’s DXR Controller is a single-source, remote-monitored control unit for the building’s temperature, lighting, window shades and electrical loads. On the building side, more complicated systems don’t necessarily mean more complicated construction, as long as advance coordination and an appetite for new knowledge are fundamental to the builder’s goals.

For Siemens, preparing buildings for tomorrow’s digital innovations has led to total-room automation systems like the DXR Controller capable of controlling shades, lights, loads, and comfort in response to changing conditions.

“Owners have been installing two, three, and sometimes four different control systems in a single building,” continues Sobeck, adding depth to the need for better integration in all aspects of the industry. “Single-system solutions mean one product, one installation subcontractor, and a more integrated, informed understanding of systems for optimal performance.”

Control Solutions Inc. competes for systems installation opportunities and also represents Honeywell building automation products including the CIPer product family of controllers and I/O modules. As a subcontractor helping designers understand smart systems, install, program, and start them up, Roberts sees a commitment to continuing education as essential for his firm and staff

“You can’t have too much education on all of this,” says Roberts of the continued trend toward more integrated systems requiring highly specialized and multi-faceted experts. “The systems are getting so complicated that finding enough skilled people capable of putting these systems together is my biggest challenge.”

Control Solutions Inc. is proud to represent Honeywell Building Automation products including Niagara 4 software and the new CIPer product family of controllers and I/O Modules.

Roberts nudges the green ASHRAE Guideline 36-2018 on the table forward as a next step that can be taken, immediately, industry-wide to facilitate better communication and collaboration. The complexity of systems and what is required of the professionals who design, sell, program, install, commission, or operate them will continue to increase as smart buildings and smart people get smarter out on the edge of technology and convenience.

About the Author
Sean O’Keefe is an architecture and construction writer who crafts stories and content based on 20 years of experience and a keen interest in the people who make projects happen. He can be reached at

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