Viewing posts categorised under: Writing

from views and vegetation to spatial hierarchy and statistical fractals, biophilia is the spine of good design

Architecture is an experience. Among the best of it, context, character, and community inform place, purpose, and point of view to shape a myriad of choices made along the way. In architecture for learning, the decisions made during design influence a learner’s capacity to absorb and retain information as much as the building provides a place from which a learner obtains an education. For researchers Bill Browning and Terri Peters, Ph.D., infusing the innate human instinct to connect with the natural world into the spaces where we live, work, learn, and play is more than a matter of aesthetics; it is a mission.

Daylighting, access to external views, soothing patterns of nature-based inspiration, and dappled overhead light all combine to calm learners and inspire productive learning on many levels.

“Biophilia is about accommodating the human desire and need to connect with nature in the spaces we occupy,” says Browning, who is the managing partner of Terrapin Bright Green, a sustainability design and research consultancy committed to creating a healthier world. “On the simplest level, biophilic design begins with good views of nature through windows and enlivening the spaces we occupy with plants and natural materials. However, these are just 3 of 15 different patterns of biophilic design that can enhance the built environment. There is no shortage of evidence that these things improve cognitive functions, physical health, and psychological well-being.”

Terri Peters, Ph.D., is an architect and an assistant professor in the Department of Architecture and Science at Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada, who has devoted her career to studying human conditions that are hard to measure.

“The most effective biophilic design solutions are holistic and immersive,” says Peters. “Spatial proportions, the quality of light, textures, air flows, and smells all combine to enhance space in meaningful ways.”

Through nearly 30 years of research and consulting on biophilic design strategies, Browning shares that the established science around infusing space with nature falls into three application areas.

Nature in the Space is the literal idea of adding natural influences like views, vegetation, and daylight to invigorate space by design. The second application, Natural Analogs, is the indirect experiences of nature by including natural materials, fractal patterns, and biomorphic forms in architecture that provide accessibility to nature through non-living elements. Finally, Nature of the Spaces entails spatial experiences that apply naturally occurring spatial patterns that induce a psychological sense of calm and security within a space. For example, unimpeded views through an area enhance prospect awareness, while a wall at your back and a shelter overhead provide a comforting sense of refuge within a space. 

“The effects of biophilic design decisions are quantifiable. Studies in educational environments reveal that students learn better, retain more, and enjoy the overall experience of education in spaces with biophilic influences,” says Browning. “Several studies prove that daylight variability improves visual acuity and keep us in tune with our circadian clock. Being able to see nature, even through a window, has an impact on our prefrontal cortex that helps restore our attention and allows learners to increase cognitive focus and information retention.”

According to Attention Restoration Theory, the human brain’s capacity to focus on a specific stimulus is limited – too much time on task results in directed attention fatigue. Breaking away from intense concentration in a restorative natural environment for as little as 40 seconds can reset a person’s mental state from negative to positive, enabling them to resume concentration at total capacity in a relatively short period.

“In educational settings when children are allowed access to nature during the day, teachers report students return to the classroom in a calmer state of mind and are better able to get into the next task quickly,” says Browning.

Peters shares that at Ryerson University, while participating in a classroom audit of campus facilities, the team found a lot of challenges related to classroom design, use, and spatial hierarchy.

“Issues as simple as walls cluttered with posters, mismatched chairs, and tables, and poor levels of light are examples of everyday basics that are easily improved,” says Peters. “Next semester, we will establish a test classroom that incorporates biophilic design principles and then evaluate the student and faculty experience against unchanged classrooms in the same building. In addition, we will add plants, replace lighting with a full spectrum system and clean the windows for better light and views. We will also increase spatial variability by adding hierarchy to spaces and replace wall clutter with thoughtfully selected abstract graphics of natural patterns that we believe will have measurable positive impacts.”

One of the most interesting ways biophilic design strategies enhance the experience of space is by incorporating statistical fractals. These detailed, repeating patterns are the fundamental foundation of many organic systems, existing in abundance throughout the natural world. Spiral fractals allow nature to condense itself for strength and durability against the elements; examples include pinecones, pineapples, and hurricanes. A Voronoi fractal illuminates nature’s tendency to favor efficiency and relies on linking cell structure through the shortest path between points. Examples include the skin of a giraffe, honeycombs, the cells in a leaf, and foaming bubbles.

Browning was part of a team that conducted a year-long study using simple biophilic interventions in a sixth-grade mathematics classroom in Baltimore. The changes included removing most of the visual clutter of posters from the walls, putting down carpet tiles with a wavy grass biomorphic pattern, a wallpaper frieze with an abstracted palm-leaf pattern, and automated fabric window blinds with a statistical fractal pattern based on tree branch shadows. Test scores improved dramatically, and through biometric testing, the study determined that the space helped the students with stress recovery. 

Small, inexpensive changes to existing spaces can have tremendous cognitive and social impacts that benefit learners and the learning process.

“Dappled light or the experience of daylight streaming through a canopy of trees in a forest has a calming effect on human minds,” shares Browning. “We recently worked on a new guest room prototype for a hospitality client where we added LED lighting and a perforated metal panel to the ceiling plane above the entrance to the room. When the guest turns on the light, it casts a pattern of dappled light on the walls and floors that mimic the experience of stepping into a forest, which produced a calming effect.”

Browning and Peters agree that the benefits are more than improved cognitive performance when asked about the big-picture necessity for biophilic spaces in learning environments.

“In educational design, there is an ever-increasing pressure on physical spaces to offer more than mere shelter. To be competitive, Spaces need to enhance collaboration, elevate our mood, and make people feel calm and welcome,” says Peters. Unsurprisingly, Browning reveals that the corporate world leads the way on biophilic implementation in many cases.

“Corporations now realize the old model of cubical-fill workspaces don’t favor chance interactions and the sense of spontaneous combustion that compels the eureka moments that can change the trajectory of success,” says Browning. “To maximize the value of the real estate, workspaces and classrooms alike require openness, inclusivity, and the opportunity for cross-pollination among interactions.”

Browning points out that for much of his 30 plus years of experience in the field, energy efficiency has been the focus of sustainable design strategies. In the push for planet-saving sustainability, many have overlooked the fact that the cost of operating a building is only about one percent of a business’s expenses. The real value in sustainability is gained through increased human performance, personal pride of place, and the sense of satiation that comes from having access to fresh air, views of nature, and engaging interactions with others.

“In some ways, the effectiveness and simplicity of these design strategies can be intuitively obvious,” finishes Peters. “Biophilic design aims to be an immersive, multi-sensory experience of nature in space. However, there’s more to it than plants and views or bells and whistles. It’s about using color, light, texture, and nature’s ability to improve human performance. These principles can be transmitted to everything from carpet patterns to the angle of a desk to a window. In every way possible, design makes a difference.”


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

Read more

Interstitial Spaces

quiet, confident, sublime, Architectural Workshop celebrates space from within

Twenty years after he founded Architectural Workshop, Mark Bowers is still fascinated by architecture’s many interesting in-betweens. Recognizing both an ambition and aptitude, his father took him to Chicago as a teen in pursuit of inspiration, telling his son –‘you’d make a good architect, take a look around and see what it’s all about.’ In college, Bowers earned his structural and illumination engineering degree from CU Boulder before obtaining a master’s in architecture from the Illinois Institute of Technology. An inside out perspective of design has influenced his vision ever since.

“For me, architecture starts with the basics, the bones of the building, how things stand up, and how structure, systems, materiality, and lighting combine to create spaces and connections,” says Bowers from his office on the southern fringe of Denver’s Santa Fe Art District. After maturating through a series of firms both in Chicago and Denver, Bowers launched Architectural Workshop in 2000 from a genuine desire to develop a deeper relationship with clients. “We strive to compel a personal alignment of architecture to client needs by imaging solutions that go beyond constraints and opportunities to reach the highest level of design we can achieve”.

In a juxtaposition of possibly, the firm’s portfolio is somehow both broadly diverse and acutely focused, stretching across architecture’s only genuine dividing line.

“Most architecture practices seem to concentrate on either single-family homes or commercial design, without much variation,” says Kati Jenista, who has become Bowers’ partner in design over the 16 years since she joined the practice. “At AW, we like to design on both sides of the divide because there are a lot of positives in custom homes that can benefit the commercial perspective. Likewise, there are many influences from commercial architecture that enhance the way we design homes to be smarter and more sustainable.”

Whereas residential architecture necessitates a refined articulation of the owners’ emotional perspective through style, materiality, and a healthy connection to the environment, commercial architecture is often influenced by technology, sustainability, and efficiency in ways that can be incorporated to make custom homes to live richer. This cross-trainer approach to design is embodied by the firm’s tag line – enriching lives through design – and manifests itself across a vibrant tableau of successful projects that quietly speak for themselves.

AW has had their hands on the Tivoli Student Center and Starz Theatre on the Auraria Higher Education Campus for several years, working on a series of interior revitalization efforts that illuminate an ability to find the sweet spots between spaces.

“We have been engaged in about nine different adaptive reuse projects at the Tivoli,” says Jenista of AW’s ongoing relationship with one of Denver’s oldest and most iconic public buildings. Built in 1870, the Tivoli has lived many lives and today stands as the epicenter of student activity on the multi-institutional campus in the heart of Denver. In 2014, AW was engaged to rethink four seemingly forgotten basement theatres as innovative and inspirational spaces uniting the formerly scattered programs of the University of Colorado Denver’s College of Arts and Media. AW was also able to transform another old theater space into the Comcast Media & Technology Center. Now a hub of collaboration, AW’s elegantly modern rethink transformed this double-height space as a research and media lab for the College of Arts and Media, the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences and Computer Science Engineering. The upper level of the Tivoli Staz Theater has recently been repositioned as UCD’s LynxConnect, a one-stop-shop for student advisory services in experiential learning, international studies, career services, and study abroad programs, among others.

“Human interaction is fascinating and greatly influences our work,” says Bowers. “The ways people live, learn, work, and play don’t just happen in a home, classroom, or office, but indeed, often take place in the spaces in between.”

In searching for the heart and soul of a space, Bowers is committed to fostering a team-think environment to uncover a project’s hidden potential. AW’s creative ethos stems from a workshop approach to conceptual discovery whereby owners, engineers, contractors, and architects all work as a unified team to dissect each design’s constraints and opportunities. In the workshop format, everything from space planning and programming, to materiality, sustainability, cost, schedule, quality, and safety are holistically evaluated – literally put on the table. AW’s office environment is open plan with plenty of room to spread out adorned by areas for model making, material and product consideration, and quiet contemplation.

Applying the workshop approach is not restricted to higher education or small-scale adaptive reuse. At East Village, AW’s creative reimagination of established space was applied to approximately 140,000-SF of commercially leased office property. Built in 1982, this Greenwood Village office building was developed around a central atrium space that originally intended to bring the outside in, complete with a pond, trees, and vegetation. By the time AW was invited to reconsider the space with architect, Alan Colussy, the atrium was stagnant, dark, dated, and overgrown. The building owner intended to simply reposition the lackluster central volume as more leasable offices, eliminating the unappealing space while adding usable square footage.

“We felt the atrium still provided an opportunity, a chance to create a centralized, cohesive sense of functionality and community,” shares Jenista of the building’s transformation from early-80’s, ex-urban office relic to reinvigorated 21st Century workmosphere. The redevelopment incorporated new, larger skylights and worked within building codes to open the three floors of offices up to the atrium. A central stair of wood, a grab-n-go coffee bar, gaming area, and rings of casual seating areas all combine to reanimate the building. “In effect, we reimagined a low-benefit, interior wetlands that was a bit swampy, as high-functionality community gathering space that looks like a jewel box.”

Along with creativity, innovation, and uniqueness, sustainability is one of four firm fundamentals that influence the AW point of view on every project they touch. Beyond the basics, AW has developed several net-zero energy and net-positive energy single-family residential projects and is in the process of scaling those lessons learned up to an 18-unit program for Habitat for Humanity of Teller County.

“We are working on a collection of nine new duplex Townhomes that will be built in Woodland Park, which incorporates new thinking in net-zero-ready, attainable-housing,” says Jenista of the in-progress scope of work. Composed as vertically stacked townhomes, each of the nine duplexes will orient around an internal community common. A high-altitude, air-source heat pump will heat and cool the homes thru a radiant floor system. LED lights, energy-star appliances, an integrated smart house system, and insulated concrete forming blocks all combine to bring the practical application of sustainability in daily life down to the homeowner level. Residents will have the option of purchasing roof-mounted photovoltaic panels that, once installed, will make their home a net-zero property.

“Architectural Workshop doesn’t look at design as a competition between firms,” summarizes Bowers of the practice he has built. “Our projects all benefit greatly from a collaborative experience with owners, engineers, contractors, design partners, and typically the end-users themselves. We believe that as a community, we can raise the level of design to make the world a better place and have fun while we do it.”

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. You can reach him at

Read more

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

Read more

AIA-CEA’s Dialogues 2020 pursues a framework for rethinking educational architecture

By Sean O’Keefe

As 2020 laid the fabric of America threadbare, systemic disparities in access to healthcare and education among people of color communities across the country were tragically exposed in vivid undeniability. As mortality rates, economic and criminal justice indicators, and educational outcomes routinely reveal, disparities disproportionately affect huge, identifiable swaths of the population in a stream of blatantly measurable ways. To ignore this is unjust. In education, where resources and outcomes are quantifiable, research shows that some 50 million American students are learning in less than equal conditions. The impacts of educational deficiencies are far-reaching, inherently complex, and fundamentally difficult to fully understand. What we do know is that we can do better, that we must.

Architecture is an opportunity. To this point, generations of architectural acumen have concentrated on harnessing the power of design to improve quality of life and well-being in spaces of every purpose and hue.

In November 2020, the AIA’s Committee on Architecture for Education (AIA-CAE) and Learning By Design hosted a virtual symposium on the intersection of emerging research and design for education to rethink systems and reshape access to opportunity. Building on the findings of Dialogues 2019, the 2020 program invited a cross-section of collaborators in design, education, research, healthcare, law, and public policy for well-intended vivisection of education and the possibilities of design.

Thinking about educational design as a tool within our grasp that can beneficially impact lives in many ways, Dialogues 2020 proposes to strengthen connections between design, education, well-being, and equitable outcomes for all learners. The program’s goal was to begin curating an evidence- and theory-based framework of design strategies that beneficially impact educational environments to improve the human condition. This universal design guideline for educational facilities will be supported by the AIA CAE’s monthly hosted think tanks and workshops, and the newly launched Post-Occupancy Evaluation (POE) project. A POE is a structured review and critique of a design solution for a specific discipline after the facility has opened for use. The intent is to mine insights and innovations and expose incongruities between intent and success.

Dialogues 2020: The Big Idea

The big questions driving the day at Dialogues 2020 included the role of architecture in perpetuating social health and resource equality in schools; establishing partnerships; and how individual practitioners can participate. Intent on compelling an industry shift through introspection, Dialogues 2020 sought to:

  • understand the state of educational architecture today,
  • identify key drivers of change, and
  • establish opportunities for impact.

As a first step in exploring these questions, the AIA-CAE’s POE project aims to establish a holistic framework of design indicators that architects can apply to develop learning environments. The format of Dialogues 2020 was a think-tank exploration exposing participants to researched-based understanding from expert-level speakers, complemented by group breakout sessions.

During breakouts, participants were grouped into one of five focus areas mirroring the five dimensions of ‘School’- Culture, Legal, Policy, Social, and Physical. Within this, these domains encompass five rings of influence that circle the individual to shape personal behavior. In conjunction with the thought leadership understanding explored by each of the speakers, participants were asked to integrate their topical knowledge and personal understanding into the breakout conversations around one of these five domains.

  • Breakout teams concentrated on a series of action items:
  • What are the indicators of human resilience, health, and wellbeing?
  • What can be developed as a universal guide to future decision making?
  • What are the desired outcomes?
  • What would a resilience network to promote the desired outcomes look like?
  • How can this common vision be applied to inform educational design?

Briefly, here is what we learned.

Speaker No. 1: Dr. Terry Huang, Ph.D., MPH, MBA
Professor and Chair of the Department of Health Policy and Management
Director of the Center for Systems and Community Design
City University of New York Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy

What to Consider in Developing a Framework

Based on a long history of research and policy leadership in obesity and chronic disease prevention, Dr. Huang shared his thoughts on how to create a framework for educational design. He encouraged thinking beyond health and educational components to consider the full range of influences that shape community and individual behaviors.

“Understanding connections between learning environments, individual well-being, and learning outcomes, requires a real appreciation for the role and impact of each of the five domains,” said Dr. Huang. “Schools are complex systems and thinking about systemic solutions requires a holistic approach. Schools should not be designed just for efficient educational delivery or successful outcomes but must also consider health and well-being beyond the classroom.”

In establishing meaningful interventions at the intersection of education and public health, Dr. Huang believes the first task is to establish a common vision for reshaping thinking.

“When trying to implement systemic solutions, we must appreciate that we’re talking about real-life projects with real-life constraints,” shared Dr. Huang. “A researcher thinking only about a theoretical ideal, may not necessarily understand the practical considerations of implementing theoretical thinking in a designed environment. Conversely, an architect may understand the practical influences without necessarily tying design strategies to an established theoretical basis.”

Dr. Huang suggests the need for a common lexicon between designers, educators, and healthcare professionals to enhance collaboration.

“Research has found some very broad principles between effective design guidelines,” said Dr. Huang. “The first is to design to increase desired outcomes. The second is for design to be founded in evidence-based theory.”

Dr. Huang shared that it is not just about the hardware (the school building) but also the software (the instructional content) that activates a space. A new well-designed school cafeteria, for example, should be accompanied by a well-conceived training program so that cafeteria workers can optimize the intended benefits in their work processes.

When measuring the impacts of design on schools, Dr. Huang believes it is important to be very expansive in the mix of methods used to measure success. Understanding design’s effect on learning environments as an indicator of larger cultural changes must rely on both quantitative and qualitative measures. He believes we need more longitudinal research, not just the data available immediately after the building is built and opened. While most post-occupancy studies of schools are a one-time assessment, completed soon after the building is opened, the latent effects of a design solution may take years to emerge and study. Dr. Huang advises that researchers should be on the lookout for both intended and unintended consequences.

“There is also a need to curate more partnerships between the educational design community and the educational research community,” Dr. Huang continued. “We must capture practice-based evidence and establish metrics that can be universally applied to measure design changes. We also need a system of feedback loops where learned insights are presented back to stakeholders. This requires a platform of common communication that is trusted and understood.”

Speaker No. 2: Peter Barrett, MSc, Ph.D., DSc
Emeritus Professor, Salford UniversityIndependent Researcher

Rethinking Systems for Educational Infrastructure

As the Founding Director of Salford University’s Research Institute for the Built and Human Environment, Dr. Peter Barrett studies the effects of the built environment on the learning experience. As an independent school design researcher, he studies connections between the physical design of schools and the academic progress of students.

“One key challenge in rethinking educational systems is the level of analysis that could be done is almost infinite,” shared Dr. Barrett. “How can we streamline these insights into something actionable without losing substance?”

Dr. Barrett recommends establishing guiding principles for creating such a framework. He recommends that the framework be:

  • Child-centered
  • Holistic
  • Context-sensitive
  • Dynamically emergent


Dr. Barrett also pointed out the vital necessity for any effective educational framework to explicitly state the objective of improving educational facilities for the sake of improving learning. While this is a logical inference, as a researcher Dr, Barrett illuminated science’s need for specificity in task rather than supposition.

“A complete profile of the learning environment is made up of four key elements,” continued Dr. Barrett. “The learners themselves should make up the central focus of education. The learner is surrounded in equal measure by the Learning Space (where they learn); the Educators (who teaches them), and the Pedagogy (how they are taught).”

In understanding the positives and negatives of learning environments, Dr. Barrett believes the learners themselves are the key to any effective effort to improve the physical manifestation of spaces for learning. In his experience, sometimes architecture goes further than it needs to, leaving little to the imagination of the learners or their willingness to take ownership by personalizing spaces to themselves.


Beyond a meaningful consideration of the children’s point a view, well-designed schools to be holistic in their approach as well. While designers and researchers are often able to quantify sensory experiences like heat, light, sounds, smells, and appearance of a space, how much thought has been given to the opportunity for personalization of the space or the appropriate levels of stimulation within it? In his research, Dr. Barrett finds that sensory components (light, temperature, and air quality) generally account for approximately 50 percent of a learning environment’s opportunity for improvement and the levels of environmental personalization and stimulus combine to account for the other 50 percent. While sensory conditions are easily measured and levels of personalization and stimulation are difficult to quantify, in terms of improving the experience of learning, they turn out to be roughly equal.

Dr. Barrett shared his thoughts on Emergent Properties, a systems theory reinforcing the notion that everything matters.

“If you are looking at high-level outcomes for concepts like health, well-being, resilience, and of course learning, you need to consider everything that impacts them,” said Dr. Barrett. “Otherwise, it’s difficult to understand what is causing changes in systems. There is no silver bullet. There are a lot of variables that influence systems and I believe it is better to be roughly right than precisely wrong.”

In terms of safety, the physical condition of the school and the social conditions surrounding it can impact both comfort and concentration. Any learning environment that lacks the basics – electricity, potable water, sanitary drains, waste and garbage disposal, telephone, and good condition (especially damp/wet buildings) – are often associated with a high concentration of undesirable outcomes like limited opportunities to learn, negative teacher retention, and student/teacher absences related to sicknesses.

“What all of this means in the context of educational systems is that there is a disproportionate impact on the disadvantaged,” Dr. Barrett said. Poorly funded schools, with substandard learning conditions, will adversely impact the chances of successful outcomes for both the learners and educators within.


Influences like urban versus rural communities, climate impacts, and socio-economic factors all come into play in making design choices that feel natural and culturally acceptable. While the principles of good design are often seen as universal, the application of design tenants must consider the context to which it is applied.

Dr. Barrett indicated the critical need for a wide range of user insight and influence in any successful design process. In a study of five schools intended to represent the very latest educational design, post-occupancy evaluations found that only one of the schools actually aligned with the original design objectives. Researchers ascertained that in developing four of the schools, far too much influence on the design had been exerted by the school’s headmaster, with insufficient attention given to students, teachers, and other school participants. Consequently, four of the schools had been tailored to the expectations of the headmaster rather than intended educational outcomes and failed to meet objectives.

A well-balanced set of design influences should strive to combine the school’s leadership, the teachers’ pedagogy, the pupils and their behavior, as well as the capacity to be realized in cost and construction.

Dr. Barrett summarized. He points out that schools are built with the intent of serving many successive generations of learners, perhaps 25 to 50 years into the future. Meanwhile, changes in educational, demographics and even cultural trends happen rather quickly, and schools must be adaptable to possibly frequent change.

Dynamically Emergent:

To address a topic as complex as architecture for education, this framework needs to emerge from a dynamic, collaborative process informed by evidenced-based thinking. Even the visual complexity of a classroom impacts how successfully it facilitates learning. Too many distractions on the classroom walls and the room will feel chaotic; too few, austere. Like visual distractions, the color of a room makes a difference as well. All white walls feel boring, and bright yellow rooms seem zany; neither is optimal for learning.

Taking the model of a learner-focused educational system as a guide to what is developed for this framework, the learner should be surrounded by the where (the school), the who (the teacher), and the what (the pedagogy). The framework must allow for a balance between these influences. It must be able to evolve, and ideally, it should be measurable. Rather than a process that strives for perfection before activation, the framework should be structured to help identify recognizable deficiencies in the educational environment that can be acted upon and improved one step at a time, whenever possible.

“Ultimately, the objective is to help people see the physical environment as a crucial element of education,” finished Dr. Barrett. “The better space is designed, the better it can be used actively and effectively to improve educational outcomes.”

Speaker No. 3: Daniel Wilson, Ed.D
Director: Project Zero
Educational Chair, Learning Environments for Tomorrow Institute
Harvard Graduate School of Education

Leaning into Learning

As the Director of Project Zero at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Dr. Daniel Wilson’s research explores the inherent socio-psychological tensions in collaborative adult learning across a variety of contexts. His work focuses on the dilemmas of knowing, trusting, leading, and belonging and how individuals and groups use language, routines, roles, and artifacts to navigate these tensions.

Dr. Wilson’s research finds outcomes are highest when there is a connection between three factors surrounding education – beliefs, practices, and settings. Societal beliefs about what education is and means influence practices and behaviors, which further shape the settings in which the beliefs are exercised through practice.

“The beliefs we have about learning explain a lot,” shares Dr. Wilson. “Not only about the history of education, but also about the environments designed for education.”

Education is a multi-directional process. Where educational beliefs, practices, and settings are well-aligned, we will find inspirational environments. Where they are poorly aligned, attempts to intervene for positive change will meet resistance. Design for successful learning environments must accept that learning is complex, visible, social, and informal.

Learning is not a standardized experience, but rather a complex process that happens in many ways, which depend on the individual learner. The lack of uniformity in experience makes it very difficult to predict direct pathways to learning for everyone. Learning is visible and often externalized through artifacts like tests, term papers, or even artwork, which represent individual cognition of the subject. Learning is generally socially mediated, happening through relationships with peers, teachers, and the broader community surrounding the learner. It is also somewhat informal; many effective forms of learning are self-directed and happen when the individual establishes a sense of autonomy by setting goals and assessing personal progress.

“One of the challenges we face in improving outcomes lies in the tools we use to measure success,” says Dr. Wilson. “If we rely exclusively on outdated conceptualization of learning like standardized testing then we will continue to get a narrow view of success. We need to be very careful about the measurements we use and how we tie them to design.”

Speaker No. 4: Dr. Lindsay Graham, PhD
Founder, Leader: Psychology of Space Research Program
Center for the Built Environment, University of California Berkeley

The Future Measurement of Educational Spaces

Personality and social psychologist, Dr. Lindsay Graham, specializes in the ways people form relationships with, craft, manipulate, and select spaces to fit into their lives. Combining thinking from psychology, architecture, interior design, engineering, and human-computer mediated interactions, Dr. Graham shared her experience measuring educational spaces to test design, validate success, and improve outcomes.

The Center for the Built Environment (CBE) at UC Berkeley has been using a web-based occupant-survey to assess educational spaces since 1999. The database reflects the conditions of more than 1,200 school buildings and provides an understanding of how buildings perform among standardized measures to allow for comparison.

“We are investigating what’s working and what isn’t in terms of many features of the indoor environment,” says Dr. Graham. “Air quality, lighting, acoustics, temperature, furnishings, maintenance, and so forth. We can also break down environmental satisfaction; ease of interaction, organization and cleanliness, circulation patterns.”

With more than 20 years of data from assessed educational environments, the CBE’s occupant survey has become a model for post-occupancy evaluations. When Dr. Graham’s team decided to take a closer look at their tool as an internal check, the investigation revealed a combination of gaps and opportunities. 

“Through the years, architects and educators have talked about creating environments that are more helpful to people,” continues Dr. Graham. “However, we found that our research isn’t trying to measure that. Our data seems to lack an emphasis on human elements.”

Where the data collected to this point focuses on environmental satisfaction, it lacks an understanding of health and wellness and social connections. While temperature, light, and air quality are readily tabulated, assessing a building’s contribution to educational creativity, emotional learning, or social interaction is harder.

“We need to start measuring what it looks like to thrive,” says Dr. Graham. “What are we doing right? What are occupant preferences, emotions, and needs of space? Why do we select a space and how do our needs for control and personalization influence environmental engagement?”

Dr. Graham also touched on the ideas of inclusivity and equality as being problematic. The majority of the 1,200 buildings in the CBE’s survey are top-tier Class A buildings, backed by organizations that have the resources to assess their space. Poor schools are rarely even involved.

“We need to push policy to support equity and inclusion. Certification systems need to become more accessible,” says Dr. Graham of ways to better measure educational architecture. “We need better tools, refocused measurements, and stronger interdisciplinary connections among stakeholders. Many measurements outside of education could be effectively applied to great benefit beyond reinventing new ways to measure old information.”

Speaker No. Dr. Annette Anderson, PhD
Deputy Director, Center for Safe and Healthy Schools
Assistant Professor, Johns Hopkins School of Education

Post Pandemic: Rethinking School Design to Maximize Success for All

Dr. Annette Anderson’s experience in educational equity and adequacy straddles the line between academic research and practical application through a variety of roles in both school-based positions and academia. She served as the chief executive officer and founding principal of Widener Partnership Charter School, which was the first university-assisted charter school in Pennsylvania as well as leading advisory services for School Administration and Supervision programs at the Johns Hopkins School of Education.

“Equity should be an important part of how schools are designed,” shared Dr. Anderson. “Post-pandemic, we might start to shift the perception of schools as being exclusively academic to a more holistic life space,” Dr. Anderson said. During the pandemic, especially in inner-city communities, schools have become a centralized rally point for the distribution of food, information on nutrition, housing, and public health services to people of all ages and segments of the population.

“We might also consider rethinking the role of educational facilities within the educational experience,” continued Dr. Anderson. “We have learned very quickly that schools are not the only place learning can happen. Virtual learning is now a part of the overall experience, which opens up opportunities to expand learning well-beyond the classroom to people and places around the world.”

Another long-held educational construct potentially unbound by the pandemic is the school system’s reliance on an 8:00 am to 3:00 pm school day.

“Adjusting to learning remotely, operating more autonomously, and having more individual freedom, we have an opportunity to rethink what time means in education,” continued Dr. Anderson. “Likewise, as students are living through this experience, they may become more aware of personal learning strengths. Are they kinesthetic learners, auditory learners, logical/mathematical or otherwise?”

Dr. Anderson believes the unavoidable shifts in social experience caused by the pandemic compel a larger shift in educational thinking. One that moves the focus of education away from a primarily academic perspective to a more holistic life-course perspective. The necessity for remote learning has now opened new content delivery platforms that can increase options and opportunities in learning, not previously considered. With remote learning platforms, like the constraints of place, the constraints of time also begin to dissolve.

“New thinking in educational design should consider the impact of flexible spaces and the capacity to build texture and warmth into future educational spaces,” Dr. Anderson said. “We need to balance the need for personal safety, personal learning space, and group collaboration, while also prioritizing access to future opportunities as a mechanism to grow equity for all learners.”


Education is an opportunity, of which architecture is a primary asset. Both asset and opportunity must be more uniformly distributed if we hope to achieve a more equitable society. In thinking about the intersection of emerging research and design for education, we need to reshape access to opportunity and educational, emotional, and social well-being for learners of all ages, social strata, and life prospects. Beyond gathering insight from a collection of elite educational environments, any holistic framework of design for learning environments must leverage interdisciplinary thinking to compel new measures of success in health, well-being, emotional and educational intelligence that positively advance the human condition for the greater good.

Author Bio:

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

Read more

By Sean O’Keefe

Where exactly is the edge of possibility, and how does anyone ever breakthrough? Famed flying ace and former United States Air Force officer, Chuck Yeager, is one name closely associated with pushing the envelope. Yeager was the first person to have exceeded the speed of sound, pushing an aircraft beyond the sound barrier at some 765 miles an hour in level flight as a test pilot in 1947. The ‘envelope’ is a mathematical term that describes the locus of the ultimate intersection of consecutive curves. In aviation, the frank explanation for pushing the envelope is making an aircraft go faster than the speed for which it was designed. Pushing the envelope in architecture would then logically be to rethink what is possible and ask more of design than ever before.

Inside or out, the beautiful Cadet Chapel has never really been seen as intended. A talented team of dedicated professionals intends to redress that wrong with the right stuff.

Walter Netsch was just such a thinker. A leading figure in modern American architecture, throughout his tenure at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and beyond, Netsch developed a signature aesthetic known as Field Theory based on rotating squares to derive complex, strong, repeatable shapes. His most well-known work is the United States Air Force Academy, in Colorado Spring; most famously the iconic Cadet Chapel. Here, in every sense of the term, pushing the envelope was clearly Netsch’s intention.

“Walter was trying to push the limits of technology in architecture and trying also very much trying to push the envelope on people’s expectations for what a religious facility might be,” says Duane Boyle, the Air Force Academy’s Campus Architect. Boyle has been at the helm since the early 1980s in dutiful service to the campus he’s been chosen to protect. Having studied at Air Force Academy High School in the 1970s, Boyle shares that being exposed to the campus’ architecture during his maturation is primarily what influenced him to become an architect. After earning a bachelor’s and master’s from CU Boulder, Boyle took a position at SOM and got to know Netsch personally. A few years later, he signed on with the Academy and has never considered doing anything else.

“Walter went to Europe and studied many different cathedrals, ultimately finding significant influence in four key structures,” says Boyle. “From Chartres, he was inspired by the flying buttresses; at Notre Dame, the 150-foot height; the beautiful quality of light from Sainte-Chapelle; and the idea of having more than one chapel in the building comes from Assisi.”

Combining all these ideas with his own unique design style, Netsch conceived the Cadet Chapel as a series of spires comprised of three-dimensional tetrahedron trusses. The aluminum and glass spires are composed of four tetrahedrons apiece and straddle a building program that originally required three distinct chapels for Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish faiths.

The Chapel’s unusual tetrahedron trusses are derived from Netsch’s signature aesthetic, Field Theory.

“The original plan called for 21 spires, but that was going to be way over budget and the design was scaled back to 17 spires,” continues Boyle. After he’d hired on at the Academy, Boyle’s bond with Netsch grew even stronger, the two remaining in close contact throughout the remainder of Netsch’s life. Professional necessity often permeated their conversations as Boyle was charged with caring for the assets Netsch designed, especially the one that had pushed the envelope. Netsch’s design for the Cadet Chapel was challenging to build in the early 1960s and challenging to maintain ever since.

“There are 32 miles of joints on the building,” says Boyle of the Chapel’s many overlapping materials and components. “Netsch designed the Chapel with an internal flashing behind the aluminum skin that was meant to carry water off the building. Ultimately, all of the metal panels were value-engineered out, and they ended up using 32 miles of caulk to seal the joints.”

As a result, the Chapel has been leaking since virtually the day it opened in 1962. The near-constant seepage has destroyed pews, damaged organs, and, in recent years, caused chunks of damp acoustic plaster to fall from the ceiling, a safety hazard that can’t go unabated. Thin sheet metal band-aids have been applied over the years to some benefit. Wired glass installed over the stained-glass panels helped as well but diminished luminosity. However, despite their efforts, the building has been in a constant state of re-caulking since it opened. Unchanged, the deterioration will continue. 

Sean Reish, client account manager for AECOM’s design contract with the Air Force Academy, is charged with leading the development of solutions to the building’s condition. In taking the assignment, AECOM assembled a multi-faceted team of engineering and preservation experts to look holistically at the waterproofing and historic preservation conditions and devise an achievable solution. Key contributors included Hartman-Cox Architects and Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates.

“Conceptually, this is a replacement-in-kind,” says Reish of the scope of work, which includes replacing the exterior façade’s skin and sloped glazing and restoring the stained-glass panels to their intended brilliance. Interior efforts include replacing the acoustic plaster and lighting elements and renovating damaged pews and organs.

“The design team had to look closely at what was originally intended that had been covered up to make it watertight,” continues Reish. “A lot of translucency had been lost. Our objective was to peel back these negatives and bring the building back to life the way it was intended to be seen.”

Replacing the exterior skin with in-kind materials is no small order. JE Dunn will erect a temporary enclosure to build in controlled conditions, without obstruction.

The solution to the water infiltration: using the open volumes of space within the tetrahedron spires to insert a new state-of-the-art rain screen system.

“The spires have a lot of open space inside of them, much more than you’d think,” says Reish of the idea to put the Chapel’s primary waterproofing membrane on the inside of the tetrahedrons. “By introducing a new rain screen inside the spires, the exterior cladding will finally look as it was meant to.”

The challenges of delivering the project are also immense. Donny Tennyson is the Senior Project Manager at General Contractor, JE Dunn Construction, the firm responsible for executing the elaborate rehabilitation. Founded in 1924, JE Dunn has a long history of collaboration with the U.S. Armed Forces. Tennyson shares that during World War II, founder John Ernest Dunn insisted on returning profits from Federal work while his own sons served overseas. Community service and giving back has always been part of the company’s ethos. Asked how success will be measured on such a challenging assignment, Tennyson returns to collaboration.

“During the construction kick-off we came together with the client and design resources to draft a project mission statement,” says Tennyson. “Our goal is to return this iconic building to the intended historic aesthetics and integrity without any leaks.”

One of the key issues yet to be fully resolved revolves around the challenge of precisely matching the building’s unusual aluminum skin with identical materials. AECOM, JE Dunn, and almost the whole team have been painstakingly researching the existing aluminum’s metallurgy tolerances and anodizing results to replicate the Chapel aluminum’s particular champagne glimmer. To execute the project, JE Dunn’s site logistics strategy is to build a temporary enclosure around the entire chapel, sealing it off from wind, rain, and snow. This will allow the construction team to control the elements and maintain an uninterrupted workflow. Much of the rehabilitation effort, particularly resealing the joints between aluminum panels will benefit from working in near factory conditions.

“Everyone working on this project understands the importance of this national treasure and the delicate work that must be done to restore it,” finishes Boyle proudly. “As stewards of this building, we must do the very best work we can. When this project is complete, the Chapel will look exactly like it was intended with no more band-aids.”

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

Read more

For many, the story of a career in construction is about seeing an opportunity, taking hold and making it your own. Sadly, socially prescribed gender roles and constricted perceptions of construction as physically demanding, low-intellect work have combined with a lack of accessible entry points to largely keep women out of the industry. In this round table discussion, Colorado Construction and Design was joined by an esteemed panel of construction professionals who are eager to see change and make an impact. Covering the state of the industry; the unseen opportunities for the next generation of builders; and the difference a day can make in the lives of young women, read on. Then tell a little girl you know; she can do it.

Events like GE Johnson’s Build Like A Girl empower Girl Scouts to experience a hands-on approach to building and problem solving as a team.

Meet the Panel

Dana Scoggins, President

National Association of Women in Construction – Colorado Chapter

Dana Scoggins has been in construction her whole life. Born into the industry, her father was a general contractor and she was raised in the workforce. Today, she is the President of the Colorado Chapter of the National Association of Women in Construction, whose core purpose is to enhance and promote the success of women in the construction industry. She is also the Controller for Heggem-Lundquist, a painting and drywall contractor in Denver. She also co-owns a California-based Fire Sprinkler Company with her husband and has worked as an independent contractor for both Intuit & Sage, consulting on Sage 100 Contractor software. She is a certified trainer, coach, and speaker through the John Maxwell Group.

“I love the Construction Industry!  This industry has afforded me opportunities that I would not have had otherwise. You have an amazing sense of accomplishment when you are a part of building something from the ground up. Women have a place in this industry and the NAWIC is here to help them find it by offering professional, educational and business opportunities, and awarding undergraduate and construction trades scholarships.”

Leela Rajasekar, Director of Construction

Douglas County School District

Leela Rajasekar earned a master’s degree in civil engineering from the University of Colorado Denver and has spent the last 20 years helping to build Colorado’s infrastructure. Her career includes an extensive tenure with the Colorado Department of Transportation where she has had her hands deep in traffic safety and identification and prevention of hazards on state highways. Currently, the Director of Construction for Douglas County School District, Leela enjoys the student reactions to facility improvements and the sense of excitement small changes can bring.”

“Construction offers a chance to improve people’s lives. Studying a traffic situation and coming up with a solution that reduces the number of accidents at an intersection is a feeling of accomplishment that never fades.”

Keller Hayes

HOYA Foundation / Transportation & Construction Girl

Keller Hayes comes to construction through life experience. She grew up on a ranch, 50 miles from anywhere, and when a road needed to be repaired the family had to figure out how to get it done. At the HOYA Foundation, Keller manages a program focused on empowering people to succeed in construction. The HOYA Foundation mentors small businesses, provides training and resources on construction issues, and sponsors a series of innovative programs focused on increasing the number of women in the transportation and construction workforce.

The girls in our programs are exposed to an incredible range of opportunities they didn’t know existed. Transportation and Construction Girl opens their eyes to the possibilities and builds self-confidence in young women that can last a lifetime.”

Stella Hodgkins, Corporate Citizenship Manager

GE Johnson Construction Co.

Stella Hodgkins’ path to construction began after she had already started toward a career in science and medicine. She returned to college in her late 20’s to earn a degree in interior design and joined an architecture practice shortly after. She then transitioned from design to sustainability consulting and eventually joined GE Johnson as an in-house sustainability specialist. Today, she is enjoying a new role with the firm, Corporate Citizenship Manager, a many-faceted position intersecting people, process, and performance.

“I love seeing a building come to life. It’s one thing to see it on paper, but quite another to see it rising out of the ground. There is a lot of problem-solving and innovation happening every day to make it come to fruition. GE Johnson is committed to being a positive force for women in the industry. We want more women to feel the incredible sense of accomplishment that comes from being a builder.”

Where does the Advancing Roles of Women in Construction conversation start?

“Advancing the role of women in construction for me starts with the fact that only 9.1 percent of American women work in the construction industry,” says Keller Hayes, of the HOYA Foundation. “There are lots of ways to bring more women into the industry, and right now more than ever the opportunity is there.” 

Exposure this job sites empower young women to see a career in construction as both interesting and advantageous.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Hayes is more than right, there is an immense untapped job market for women that seems ripe with opportunity. The Bureau’s 2016 general construction statistics reveal that approximately 9.3 million men worked in construction professions compared to just 939,000 women nationally. It also reports that while women in the U.S. earn on average 81.1 percent of what men make, in the construction industry that gap is nearly closed, and women earn on average 95.7 percent of what men do.

“Many people, men, and women alike including educators and guidance counselors don’t understand the wide range of roles, responsibilities, and technologies that exist in construction,” says Dana Scoggins, who has held a wide breadth of responsibilities over her 30-year career. For most non-industry people, construction looks a lot like field labor – hard hats, jeans and work boots, swinging a hammer. Those in it know there are more desk jobs than day jobs and more math than muscle. In construction, difficult challenges are rarely solved without collaboration and multi-faceted analysis and they are never almost never solved by physical strength. In 2019, general contractors of every size and specialty are engaging the leading-edge in three-dimensional building information modeling, critical path management scheduling, IT, AR/VR, and drone technology as part of their everyday lives.

“Meeting W/MBE criteria has been the industry’s primary reaction to the need for greater diversity in many regards,” says Leela Rajasekar, Director of Construction for Douglas County Schools. “Women represent half of the population, so there is a huge opportunity for growth here, but we have to provide the industry with tools to help.”

What is being done to bring more women into construction?

“Companies and individuals being proactive is what makes changes in this industry,” says Stella Hodgkins, Corporate Citizenship Manager for GE Johnson. In partnership with the Girl Scouts of Colorado, GE Johnson hosts a program called Build Like A Girl. This first-hand, day-long construction experience introduces 100 scout Cadettes and Seniors to the complexities and opportunities of big-time commercial construction. Working alongside GE Johnson employees, Scouts build little free libraries; learn about the many roles in construction and tour an active construction site. The September 2019 group got a behind the scenes look at the new U.S. Olympic Museum in Colorado Springs, seeing up close the inner workings of the building process.

One of the biggest challenges the construction industry will soon face is the wealth of knowledge leaving the industry as senior leadership retires. Many analyzing industry workforce projections predict a significant labor shortage and likely skills gap if more young workers don’t follow a career through construction. The HOYA Foundation’s Transportation and Construction Girl program strives to prove the potential of the construction industry through hands-on introductions.

“Transportation and Construction Girl is focused on opening young women’s eyes to the possibilities of construction” shares Keller Hayes. Committed to making a dent in the 9.1 percent, Transportation and Construction Girls hosts an annual lunch event and summer career days for young women between 13 and 20 who are interested in learning about the industry and its opportunities. Many of those who lend their time and expertise to the program’s success are, of course, professional women from Colorado’s booming construction industry. Having role model examples on hand is critical to eliminating common misperceptions. “We had over 600 participants at the last Transportation & Construction Girl event. One girl remarked that she’d never seen so many professional women in the same room.”

In both programs, observers routinely note how much more involved and engaged young women are when all the participants are females compared to mixed company. Shedding the idea that construction is only for boys is the first step for these young women. Recognizing that construction is still very much a male-dominated profession is the first step for the industry.

What challenges are there for women in construction?

“There are still issues to overcome, especially for women in the field,” says Scoggins, whose role as President of the Colorado Chapter of National Association of Women in Construction keeps her keenly informed. Unfortunately, as many in the industry are aware, women are still subjected to remarks, harassment, isolation, job insecurity, and even Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is typically designed for men. There needs to be change in the workplace culture. This speaks to the importance of men in fostering the development of women in construction.

Hodgkins nods in agreement. Though somewhat new to her role as Corporate Citizenship Manager, she is invigorated by the responsibility and realities in equal measure.

“Leadership in any workplace initiative has to be modeled from the top down,” says Hodgkins. “Corporate diversity programs may be authentic, but the attitudes and actions of the firm’s leaders are what makes the difference in the way other employees behave. Incorporating behaviors that empower women is an important first step.”

Women need allies. Let’s go guys.

“Public entities, heads of companies, leaders of industry all need to step up and support advancing women’s roles in construction and many other fields,” says Rajasekar, whose perspective is informed by more than 30 years in the public sector at CDOT and now Douglas County. “We also need men to raise awareness, look for ways to increase inclusivity. Don’t ask women to be note-takers, instead show that you value their input in key decisions.” “Seeing women in leadership roles makes a big impact. We enjoy career days with the RTD, whose leadership is 38 percent women,” finishes Hayes of one of the Transportation and Construction Girl programs long-time supporter. Indeed, 9 of the RTD’s 15-member board are women. “When the General Manager of RTD comes down to talk to these young women and says if you’re ready to work, we want you in this industry, that has a big impact.”

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

Read more

above the fruited plain, a national inspiration deserves celebration

By Sean O’Keefe

Rising majestically over Colorado Springs, Pikes Peak is a cherished emblem of the city, a point of pride for residents, and a virtually must-see tourist stop for anyone visiting the region. The summit is reached by a 19-mile toll-road that was built in 1888 and it’s one of only a few vehicle-accessible places in the world where anyone of any age or disability can see the world from 14,000 feet. One hundred and thirty-one years after the highway first opened, in 2019 through the end of September America’s Mountain had received 527,696 visitors and counting. The City of Colorado Springs took over ownership of the two-lane highway in 1948 under an operating permit issued by the U.S. Forest Service and today manages the route and facilities. As the highway’s year-over-year use continues to grow, the City strives to provide an outstanding experience for everyone who makes the trip.

“Pikes Peak is a national treasure and has been since Zebulon Pike spotted it in 1806,” says Jack Glavan proudly. Glavan is the manager of Pikes Peak – America’s Mountain, a division of the City of Colorado Springs Department of Parks and Recreation. He has been involved in maintaining the highway and supporting facilities for nearly 25 years. In the early part of his career, as a construction project specialist, Glavan helped lead critical highway maintenance projects around erosion control, paving, and improving sediment channels and basins. In the ten years since becoming manager, largely the focus has been the new Pikes Peak Summit Complex.

Developed through a multi-faceted partnership between the City of Colorado Springs, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine and Colorado Springs Utilities, the new Summit Complex replaces a collection of existing facilities that have succumbed to the effects of time and the mountain’s harsh weather. The need to replace outdated, difficult to maintain facilities and the desire to significantly enhance the visitor experience first prompted consideration in the late 1990s, as Glavan recalls. The plan was revitalized in 2013 and after years of planning, the visitor center project finally broke ground in June 2018. The new complex is composed of the new Summit Visitor Center, which includes a CSU Communications Facility and a consolidated physical plant and the visually contiguous the Army High-Altitude Research Laboratory. Construction for the overall program is expected to take three years to complete.

“When the new visitor center opens in late 2020, this will be an outstanding experience at 14,000 feet,” continues Glavan of the 38,000-SF precast concrete structure. “The program includes interpretive areas, dining, retail, much larger restrooms, but, of course, the main features will still be the views and the world-famous Pikes Peak doughnuts.”

Stretching as far as the eye can see, the view is indeed inspiring. In 1893, American writer Katharine Lee Bates started forming the words to America the Beautiful from atop Pikes Peak; later writing the first version of the poem back in her hotel room in Colorado Springs. The doughnuts are delicious too, but only atop the peak; taken to a lower elevation, their light dough changes in composition and taste.

“Very early on, we realized how special the site was,” says design team leader, Stuart Coppedge, of Architect-of-Record RTA Architects of Colorado Springs. RTA was joined by GWWO Architects of Baltimore, a firm with a strong portfolio of cultural, interpretive, and experientially centric projects in designing the Visitor Center. “This project wasn’t about designing an iconic building but designing an iconic experience.”

From above the fruited plain, the new Visitor Center is sited along the southeastern face of Pikes Peak, wedged into the mountainside to peer over all that surrounds. Long views to the southeast look back toward the route Zebulon Pike traversed on his expedition through the southwestern fringe of the Louisiana Purchase – from the distant peak of Mt. Rosa and up the Arkansas River. Today, visitors regularly arrive at the peak by car, bus, bike, or foot; and by rail again soon when the Pikes Peak Cog Railway reopens in 2021.

“In any space where you have a large number of visitors, the first objective is to disperse them,” says Coppedge of the design’s functional driver. “To do this you give them many choices right at the beginning; here crowds can either head into the Visitor Center or go straight to the actual summit or various views from the peak on a fully accessible route. No matter their fitness level, anyone can tour the entire top of the mountain on easily navigated, well-defined paths.” 

On a site that hosts almost three-quarters of a million visitors a year yet is fundamentally off-grid, practical sustainability is essential to long-term operational success. The Summit Complex was designed to meet The Living Building Challenge; a sustainable design framework focused on regenerative, self-sufficient, healthy spaces. Building orientation takes advantage of enhanced solar gain to trap heat and harvest daylight. Only the second property in Colorado approved to treat blackwater onsite, wastewater from the Summit Complex will be treated and recycled to flush toilets in a closed loop. Importantly, blackwater reuse significantly reduces the amount of water that must be hauled up the mountain and the amount of sewage that must be hauled down.

Both the Visitor Center and the High-Altitude Research Laboratory are largely constructed of precast concrete walls, floors, and roof. The insulated panels are among the thickest ever made. Building a primarily precast structure allowed offsite prefabrication in a controlled setting but also meant trucking the materials up the steep mountain highway. Panels were specifically designed to be no more than 30 feet long and 8 feet wide, no heavier than 30,000 pounds apiece. The upper level of the Visitor Center also incorporates a steel frame to allow for the largest views along the glass-curtain wall.

“We did quite a lot of research on glazing that can stand up to this environment,” says Coppedge. “Our design wind speed is a three-second gust of almost 200 miles an hour, basically hurricane tested. We also studied the angle of the glazing closely to minimize glint. We didn’t want to create a big shiny spot on the mountain.”

Protecting the investment wasn’t lost on designers either. The glazing will be subjected to a constant scouring of wind-blown sand and gravel, scratching across the surface. A shutter system was developed to cover the glass at night and when the wind forecasts indicate the need.

The team building it all is led by GE Johnson Construction Company, a Colorado Springs proud business of more than 50 years. After GE Johnson and the RTA/GWWO team were united by the City of Colorado Springs to deliver the visitor center project under a CM/GC contract, GE Johnson and RTA Architects pursued and secured a Design-Build contract with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to build the immediately adjacent, but functionally independent High Attitude Research Laboratory for the Army. Construction Manager Tim Redfern is in his 34th year with GE Johnson so he appreciates the once-in-a-lifetime nature of the Summit Complex and the honor of leading the construction effort.

“This is the kind of job, we’ll all be proud to tell our grandkids about,” says Redfern of the immense challenge of building at 14,000 feet. “It’s an extremely difficult environment to build in for a lot of reasons; physically taxing, slow work but incredibly rewarding day-by-day.”

At 14,000 feet, significantly lower atmospheric pressure means the air has 43% less effective oxygen than air at sea level, which is difficult for people, heavy equipment operations, even fuel consumption. To account for the impacts of altitude and the environment on the men, machinery, and time, GE Johnson initially de-rated productivity by 25 percent in their critical path scheduling. After a year and a half since starting the work in July of 2018, Redfern says devaluing manpower by 60 – 70 percent and all running equipment by 50 percent is more realistic.

As the work has progressed thus far, GE Johnson has blasted and excavated roughly 33,000 cubic yards of rock from the top of the mountain to deep set the building into the peak. Much of the blasted rock was crushed and stored onsite for reuse as backfill around the completed buildings. On November 12, 2019, GE Johnson and the team celebrated the project’s topping out, placing the highest beam of steel on the Summit House, as this decade’s long dream finally starts to see the finish line.

“Coming into this winter, we’ve been very successful in completing foundations, roofing, all the precast on both buildings, and getting the Summit House dried in with temp heat,” says Redfern of his team’s approach to the project’s summit. “When we started, crews were only able to go about six hours at a time. People are acclimated to it now and crews are working ten-hour days. Everyone has stepped up because these buildings, this mountain, and its history are worthy of the effort.”

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

Read more

from scope to scale to magnificent detail, the Gaylord Rockies Resort & Convention Center stretches the imagination

Over a 27-year career with national construction powerhouse Mortenson, Brett Sisco has seen a lot of change, learned a lesson or two, and put together an impressive collection of buildings across Colorado. As the project executive overseeing construction for the new Gaylord Rockies Resort & Convention Center, which is expected to open in December 2018, Sisco and his team have their hands full. The massive 1501-room hotel is joined by 485,000 square-feet of convention center space and an extensive indoor/outdoor water park on a sprawling 85-acre site, just south of Denver International Airport.

“This is definitely the largest job most people on this project have or ever will work on,” says Sisco with a great deal of pride. Sisco’s last major project was the DIA Westin. At 519-rooms, the sleek glass hotel linked to the airport above the light rail line was also large and complicated. Yet that’s just a third of the Gaylord Rockies’ room count, with none of the convention spaces or water park features. “There are very few projects bigger than this.”

Among the details, an actual reclaimed train caboose sits before a pedestrian trestle crossing a mountain stream through a fireproof forest of aspen and pine.

The scale of the project, of course, necessitates a lot of manpower. 1,600 craft personnel were on site at the project’s peak workforce. A lot of manpower necessitates a lot of manpower management and in order to lead the show, as project executive, Sisco has been working from the job site trailer for approximately 90% of his time since early 2016. Far from the creature comforts and corner office in downtown Denver, out at his trailer compound on the prairie, Sisco’s team includes some 60 supervisory positions drawn from Mortenson and joint-venture construction partner WELBO, of Orlando, FL.

“WELBRO has a more than 20-year relationship with the developer and was asked to come to Colorado to find a partner capable of building something this incredible,” continues Sisco. Project developer, RIDA Development Corporation, originating in Houston, TX, has forty years of experience and is one of the most active conference hotel developers in the U.S. At their behest, WELBRO interviewed a number of possible local partners before selecting Mortenson based on similar cultural compatibilities and corporate values. Joint construction management efforts are divided along a 70/30 local split, but Sisco insists that the management is structured such that you would never know who works for who.

Earth tones and textures define deliberate, modern furnishings, which are joined by city, mountain, and open-prairie views to embody Colorado.

Colorado has long been established as a major tourist draw by the beauty of the Rockies, arid climate, and 300 plus days of sunshine annually. Guest feedback at Gaylord’s four preceding properties in Florida, Texas, Tennessee, and Washington D.C, reveals a Colorado location is something the brand’s patrons have been clamoring for. Denver as a city has always been a convention contender at the mid-size level behind bigger draws like Orlando, Las Vegas, San Diego, and Atlanta. However, since DIA opened in February 1995, the fastest route to the downtown convention center is 25-miles of industrial ugliness that makes the airport feel remote and detached for attendees. The Gaylord Rockies is less than ten minutes from DIA’s curb and offers a unique convention center experience that goes well beyond the boundaries of a typical hotel.

“The design here is a collaboration of architecture, interiors, and landscape architecture in the truest sense,” says Richard Johnston, the design principal for HKS Architects, the firm chosen to lead design services from their Dallas office. Johnston has been in hospitality design for 28 years and is now on his third hotel project with RIDA. He shares that the Gaylord experience is about transfusing a proven convention hospitality design model with regional environmental aesthetics and suggests Colorado certainly offers more than a little inspiration. From the endless views of snowcapped mountains stretching the length of the state to the year-round awesome weather, and rugged material culture, Colorado doesn’t disappoint. The Gaylord Rockies’ façade is designed to imbue a high-alpine aurora, reminiscent of a slope-side mountain lodge with steep-pitched roofs, stout stone base, and stucco surface.

With much to see, plenty to do, and many ways to escape, the Gaylord Rockies extends a destination-invitation to the business traveler’s family and friends.

The centerpiece of every Gaylord Hotel is the Grand Atrium, a locality-themed galleria of dining, entertainment, gathering, and retail space surrounded by an outdoors inside environment on an other-worldly scale. In Colorado, a crystal clear cascade of water plunges over a rock walkway into a mountain stream leading to a lake surrounded by hand-made Aspens – real Colorado trees, harvested as juveniles, sprayed with fireproofing, and revegetated with artificial branches and leaves. Life-like grasses, prairie flowers, and succulents fill patches of growth between stone walkways. Warm earth tones, abundant in the wood, rock, and vegetation, blend with southwestern textile and graphic influences to create an energetic, and seemingly organic atmosphere. Views of the Denver skyline in front of the Front Range, are purposefully framed in the grand window. A small ski village, an actual train caboose, a steel-truss bridge, a grand fireplace, and a cave passageway are some of the unique moments that make the Gaylord Rockies a wonderland enticing business travelers to bring the whole family.

With eight food and beverage outlets throughout the facility, there is sure to be more than something for everyone when the family does tag along. Like everything else, the water park is also colossal. The expansive indoor, outdoor aquatic playscape stretches across the southwest corner of the property and includes multiple pools, and water slides, a lazy river, family lagoon, private cabanas, and a Colorado ‘hot springs’ experience with ever-present city and mountain views as the backdrop for a perfect family getaway. 

“Construction of any scale is really about the people doing the work,” says Sisco confident in the quality his team is delivering. Mortenson/WELBRO joined HKS and RIDA as the Construction Manager/General Contractor before the end of schematic design, just a month after HKS was selected. This early entry into the project was immensely beneficial over nearly two years of preconstruction services. Integrating the hands-on expertise and technical knowledge of design-assist subcontractors in mechanical, electrical, and structural steel at 60 percent design completion helped increase constructability, efficiency, and value in important systems during design. It also enabled Mortenson/WELBRO to lock-in critical-path subcontractors, which decreased schedule risks during delivery. The team’s estimating group ultimately produced five full-scale construction estimates on route to the Guaranteed Maximum Price (GMP) contract in December 2015. “On a mega-project like this, everyone is super committed and proud because we all know this project is going to have a significant positive impact on the entire region economically.”

Putting 1,600 people into motion simultaneously on scopes spread over nearly 5 million +/- manhours of work is no small task. Account for the critical precision that must be insisted upon around dangerous construction situations and the concept of coordination simply can’t be sufficient to describe the process Sisco and his team are managing.

Denver is a fan-friendly sportsman’s paradise, and like everything else at the Gaylord, the massive TV in the sports bar stretches from end-to-end.

“From a size and scale perspective, we focused on dividing the project into smaller chunks,” shares Sisco in regard to effectively overseeing the vast multitude of subcontractors, vendors, equipment suppliers, deliveries, and inspections. Mortenson/WELBRO’s execution strategy involved breaking the project into four primary segments – Convention Center; Hotel Room Build-out; Public/Retail; and Pools, Parking, and Site – each with their own unique challenges, methodologies, and measurable productivities. Duplicate resources in trades like drywall, paint, and roofing were subcontracted independently to cover area-specific scopes of work and reduce labor risks in Colorado’s ultra-tight subcontractor market. Making work areas smaller has kept teams on track for the most part. The redundancy has been advantageous in the areas of roofing and drywall when additional resources were needed to keep up with the schedule.

 “Getting an enclosed, dried-in structure was the early objective,” says Sisco. The Mortenson/WELBRO team reached deep into the bag of tricks to keep an army of labor moving forward sequentially across the hotel’s 15 stories of cast-in-place concrete and structural steel and the convention center’s structural steel slab on metal deck frame. Prefabrication was essential to extending efficiency beyond the manpower and the focus was strategic. “We developed a panelized, metal-stud framing and sheathing system that is fifteen-feet wide and two-stories tall,” continues Sisco. “We fabricated complete panel sections on the ground, stored them onsite, and then flew them into place with tower cranes.”

The prefabricated panel system was the first step in allowing Mortenson/WELBRO to take the building’s enclosure off of the critical path. The second was building a temporary roof above the seventh floor of the hotel. This allowed interior mechanical, electrical, framing and finish trades to begin working in dry conditions below the seventh floor while the exterior above level seven continued to climb exposed on until the real roof could be placed.

“Opening up the lower levels to the trades faster greatly increased the workflow continuity as they moved from bottom to top,” finishes Sisco with quiet satisfaction. “Everyone here is putting their best foot forward, and it’s evident in everyone you pass. Their eyes are as big as saucers looking at what we’re building. Every day it is incredible, even to me.”

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

Read more

the horizon is relentless in markets fueled by high-end appetites

By Sean O’Keefe

Mai Olaussen loves her work. She is the Director of Development for Greystar, a global blue-chip leader in multifamily rental housing that focuses on developing and operating beautiful living environments tenants are happy to call home. After 10 years on the operations side of the business, Mai convinced Greystar’s leadership that she’d be a good fit for development. Five years later, she is leading multiple projects across the country just as the finishing touches are being put on the first project started when she took the helm.

“Parq on Speer is my golden child. The quality of the living experience will be exceptional,” says Olaussen confidently. Located on the east edge of Speer Boulevard just north of 8th Avenue, Parq on Speer will be a 16-story residential tower that seeks to set itself apart from an abundance of competition by targeting the upper end of the rental market. The luxury units will range from 546- to 3,478- square feet and are designed and finished to for-sale condominium standards. Quartz countertops, hardwood floors, rain showers, and soaking tubs are joined by KitchenAid/JennAir cooktops, and walk-in closets to making these apartments live lux. Units also feature Lutron smart home systems that provide integrated voice-activated control of temperature, audio/visual, security, and lighting.

To stand-out as luxury on the rental market, like the units, the amenities package must be next-level. The building will boast 24/7 lobby concierge services, a sky lounge and private dining area, an elevated dog park and grooming spa on level three, and a well-appointed fitness center. The anchor of the building and center of resident community gathering will be the resort-inspired sixth-floor outdoor pool lounge. A covered outdoor kitchen, a collection of cabanas and fire pit lounges and the pool deck combine to offer 14,275 square feet of entertainment space facing Rocky Mountain views to the west.

“The project team has been amazing, great teamwork and communication the whole way,” says Olaussen. “From the high-end design to the smooth execution through two years of construction so far, everything is coming together beautifully.”

Putting the project team together, Greystar selected Ziegler Cooper Architects of Houston and local General Contractor, Milender White, to execute the project through a Construction Manager/General Contractor (CM/GC) delivery model. Unifying the design and construction team during preconstruction services is a proven way to decrease construction complexities and increase speed to market without jeopardizing design intent or finished quality. While Greystar’s office proximity to Ziegler Cooper in Houston facilitated the design relationship, ironically it was Milder White’s proximity to the property through a competing product that started the relationship on the construction side.

“When Greystar bought this property, Milender White was building a similar multi-family high rise on the next block,” says Shane Fobes, Construction Executive and Senior Vice President of Milender White. “We were delighted to give them a tour and the relationship blossomed from there.”

Parq on Speer, like the project Fobes was working on, sits just a hundred yards or so from Cherry Creek, which cuts a swift path along downtown Denver’s southern edge. One of the earliest preconstruction conversations Milender White had on the project centered around the commonalities in purpose and proximity of the two properties and reaping the benefits of lessons learned on the previous job.

“This close to the creek there will be a lot of groundwater,” says Fobes. “Going below-grade with the parking would be typical in a building like this but dewatering this particular site made doing so cost prohibitive. Putting parking in a podium reshaped budgeting early and influenced design substantially.”

At roughly 800,00-SF, Parq on Speer will be nearly double the size of what many would consider a large, single-building multi-family development in Denver. With the parking going vertical through the center of the block-long development, Parq on Speer’s design emerged to position the sixth-floor roof-top amenity deck as the focal point of the 302-residence apartment community. Looking out on the Front Range from a perch above Speer Boulevard, the pool deck is circled by units in the ten stories of tower rising above on three sides.

“Greystar is developing the building around a lifestyle that hits the upper threshold of the market,” says Fobes. “One of the advantages of the CM/GC process is it gives us a deep understanding of the owner’s vision for the finished spaces and their expectations for quality. This sets us up to secure the right subs for the work.”

During a year of preconstruction services, working with Greystar and Zeigler Cooper, the team dissected challenges large and small, typical and uncommon. On the common side, Fobes points out that the cost and criticality of a building’s structure are impossible to ignore on any project. In the case of Parq on Speer, post-tensioned cast-in-place concrete floor plates allowed the design great flexibility and readily accommodated the building’s curvatures. The Milender White team scrutinized the design documentation and solicited the support of several local structural subcontractors in a design-assist process to help ensure the solution would meet local means and methods. At 60,000-SF, the concrete pour sequencing for each floor plate had to be balanced with available manpower. To facilitate the swarming workforce required to build at the anticipated speed, a pre-cast redi-stair system was incorporated into the design that allowed construction labor walkable-access to the level two deck while at-grade work progressed at full speed.

“The focus has been building condominium-quality homes at apartment-quality speed,” says Fobes. “A simple thing like adding two flights of pre-cast stairs eliminated hundreds of workers climbing up chutes and ladders every day to get to and from the main construction deck for six or seven months.”

Though the cast-in-place concrete structure is typical for high-rise multifamily construction, the cladding system chosen has been a bit more of an adventure. Using Aluminum Composite Panels, known as ACM, the high-performance exterior panels interlock to form a sleek metal shell of skin that must be precisely aligned.

“The building is immense, the reveals along the panels have less than a half inch of variability, which has to be consistent vertically for 193 feet,” shares Fobes of the complexity of the exterior. “At this square footage, we believe this is the largest residential project ever clad in ACM and the manufacturer required us to guarantee panel production sizes eight months out from delivery.”

As construction approaches the final stretch, the clatter of men, machinery, motion, and anticipation of something big seems feverish on the job site. Fobes and Olaussen are both eager for the finished product but continue to relish the process.

“We were in preconstruction for a year and we’ve got a thirty-month construction schedule,” says Fobes with a smile. “We build a lot of great relationships on a project like this, between ourselves, with our clients, the design team, and subcontractors. It takes a lot of committed people working together to build something like this and when it’s done, everyone will be very proud.”

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

Read more

a round table discussion on training today’s workforce for tomorrow’s challenges

By Sean O’Keefe

By necessity it seems that to be successful, today’s construction professional has to be a hands-on, multi-tasking, go-getter whose curiosity to improve performance is only surpassed by a commitment to doing things the right way. Educating a workforce across a diverse multitude of roles, both in the field and in the office, is an ever-changing challenge as new systems, new software, and new technologies continually come into play. In a round table conversation, Colorado Construction and Design sat down with a group of industry leaders to take the pulse of progress and shed some light on the future of Education Today’s Construction Professional.

Meet the Panel

Michael Gifford, President
Associated General Contractors of Colorado

As President of AGC Colorado, Michael Gifford is at the helm of Colorado’s leading professional association for the commercial construction industry. With 640 members composed of general contractors, specialty contractors, suppliers, and industry partners, Gifford has broad exposure to the pressures and opportunities that drive change in Colorado. Advocacy in public policy, economic- and workforce- development, and member participation and networking are all fundamental to the AGC’s mission.

“What gets me up in the morning is trying to move Colorado’s construction industry forward. Positive change takes time and commitment.”

Dave Davia, Executive Vice President, and CEO
Colorado Association of Mechanical and Plumbing Contractors

Proud to be a fifth-generation Colorado native, Dave Davia is the CEO of the Colorado Association of Mechanical and Plumbing Contractors (CAMPC). As the Colorado leadership of four distinct national trade organizations, CAMPC represents the interests of more than 200 members in the state legislature. Davia is particularly passionate about helping the industry prepare today’s workforce for tomorrow’s challenges. CAMPC hosts an average of 90 training days a year focused on career advancement and continues to build strategic partnerships with educators at every level.

“CAMPC doesn’t teach people how to do their job, we teach people how to advance in their careers.”

Carl Goodiel, Corporate VDC Manager
Hensel Phelps

Over more than 20 years in design and construction services, Carl Goodiel has been intimately involved in leading several firms through the transition from two-dimensional plans to the virtual construction realities being rendered in illuminating detail and depth today. As the Corporate Virtual Design and Construction Manager for Hensel Phelps, Goodiel sees a tremendous array of work being built across the country and around the globe. While technology is at the center of his services, people remain at the center of his work and corporate systems and process are only as effective as they are practical and applicable.

“A focus on technology has allowed me to operate in a lot of different realms within design and construction. A technology-trained workforce is essential to meeting tomorrow’s construction challenges.” 

Ian Roth, Director of Specialized Services


From his beginnings as a licensed architect to leadership roles in Building Information Management and workflow development for both designers and builders, Ian Roth has made a career at the intersection of technology and people. MG.aec is an Autodesk premier partner offering clients a 360-degree perspective on software integration across multiple platforms. As the Director of Specialized Services for MG.aec, Roth combines a robust understanding of design and construction management software with client workflow analysis to recommend integrated solutions that foster employee growth and productivity. With offices and training centers located in 12 states, MG.aec is connected to the design and construction industry across the U.S.

“MG.aec provides me with an opportunity to see what many different clients are doing with technology and training,” says Roth. “We observe the best practices of many to help our clients better leverage the technology they already have and fill in gaps where needed.”

What is the first thing that comes to mind on Educating Today’s Construction Professional?

“Educating today’s construction professional for me is about sharing practices across a large company, developing roles, and training both internally and externally,” says Carl Goodiel of Hensel Phelps. Employing a global workforce and efficiently organizing their efforts around structured roles requires a company-wide commitment to structured processes. Goodiel points to the four pillars of the Hensel Phelps Way – people, process, partnership, and technology – as essential to success. He believes that training the construction workforce of today is fundamentally about managing change. “We have to have consistency from job to job. We can’t constantly change technology or the way we do things. We have to make a commitment to processes and systems that work and look for ways to increase workflow efficiency within that system.”

Ian Roth, a construction technology specialist at MG.aec, agrees. He adds that documenting processes, seeing ways to improve and effectively incorporating lessons learned into training are the things that come to mind. Dave Davia, CEO of CAMPC works with 160 member firms from four national trade organizations (Mechanical Service Contractors of America, Plumbing Contractors Association of America, Mechanical Contractors Association of America, and National Certified Pipe Welding Bureau) and has broad experience with the hands that do the work.

“When we look at the impacts of the recession on construction in Colorado’s construction, we know a lot of middle-tier professionals left the industry and haven’t come back,” says Dave Davia, CEO of CAMPC. As knowledge, leadership, and hands-on know-how were forced to find new careers during the recession which began in late 2008, a slight, then unnoticed gap began to form in the workforce. Compounding matters, demographics across Colorado’s construction industry suggest that senior leadership will be retiring in the next ten years and the gap will continue to grow. To ready the industry, CAMPC has partnered with other trade associations to create the Specialty Contractors Institute (SCI). “This is modularized training, for contractors by contractors. We offer four different tracks designed to enhance the transfer of knowledge from the more experienced to the less experienced.”

What are the concerns in workforce development for you?

“I want to talk about productivity,” says Michael Gifford of AGC Colorado. “Somehow, in Colorado, we are doing a higher volume of construction with a flat number of employees.” With his finger on the pulse of the industry through AGC Colorado’s 640 member firms and their employees, Gifford applauds the improved performance of the workforce but struggles to sufficiently explain the stagnation in employment.

Indeed, in November 2018 the construction industry in Colorado employed 170,900 people according to the U.S. Department of Labor. This figure is relatively unchanged in the last five years though everyone in Colorado’s Construction industry acknowledges the long-standing labor shortage. Surveyed AGC Colorado members feel they are continually expected to do more work with the same workforce. Year after year, the lack of labor is reflected in project delays and higher costs.

“We’re doing more with less these days,” says Goodiel of his experience at Hensel Phelps. As an internal exercise, Goodiel took the time to compare two projects of similar size and scope. The first taken from the old school drafting days and the second engaging a modern BIM workflow. “The first job employed 17 design and production staff. The second was done by five and was delivered six months faster with more effective coordination in a more collaborative environment, fewer field changes, reduced risk, and improved quality.”

As a software solutions provider, training today’s workforce to use tomorrow’s technology is an important part of what MG.aec offers. Ian Roth’s role in the firm puts him in contact with the front lines of educating today’s professional and he shares that challenges are not limited to construction.

“In training and professional development, drastically reduced attention spans and the ability to stay on track and focused is causing a shift in training structures,” says Roth. Where 20 years ago, on the job training could entail three days of class time, today’s training must be broken down into compact segments. From modularized training courses to bites as small as 30-second videos to be reviewed immediately prior to tackling a task, shortening the learning curve and increasing retention remain central to educating today’s construction professional.

Where are we today on addressing these challenges?

“The Specialty Contractor Institute’s program is designed around smaller blocks of time and applicable learning,” says Davia. Along career-oriented training tracks – Project Management, Professional Service, Field Leaders, and Leadership – the SCI’s training program is segmented into three levels based on experience. The tools acquired in each module are designed to be immediately applicable to the participants’ daily responsibilities and reinforced through practice. “We archive each training session so there is a resource to review and also a training record that follows the person through their career.”

AGC Colorado continues to see an increased demand for professional leadership training from members and now offers several different single-day training and a two-day leadership academy. All 15 of the AGC Colorado’s committees have been reworked to include leadership-level professionals and committees are intended to act as training grounds for how to take ideas from initiative to fruition.

“At Hensel Phelps, training for each role has annual goals that must be met,” says Goodiel. “This includes specific classes, field training, and importantly, training the individual who replaces you to do the job just as well as you.”

Passing knowledge from one generation to the next isn’t a new idea but documenting workflows and establishing segmented training that corresponds sequentially to the work being done is an effective strategy for improving retention.

“I don’t think one size fits all in training, nor should it,” says Roth, whose firm routinely trains both design and construction professionals across the country on technology implementation and workflow management. Roth sees great value in creating just-in-time training modules tailored to the activities at hand and encourages clients to leverage today’s technology to the fullest. “Knowledge transfer through mentorship is huge. We have the capacity to capture that transfer in many ways and share it with new hires, people in other locations, and next generations.”

Prefabrication programs are also fertile ground for on-the-job training. The repetitive motion, assembly line process of fabricating specific building components in a controlled environment allows builders to implement watch, do, teach learning strategies. Free from the demands of a job site schedule where ancillary trades are impacted by a specialty contractor’s production, prefabrication workflows make an ideal situation for bite-size, one-on-one, hands-on training right down to the nuts and bolts when needed.

What is on the horizon?

“For the 175,000 construction professionals in Colorado what is on the horizon is more and better training,” says Gifford. “Like the current prevailing wage language in contracting, in two years the U.S. Department of Labor will have similar language around mandatory, in-person training requirements as a percentage of labor. This will be a big change for the entire industry.”

“Construction’s future is so bright,” says Davia. “Sadly, construction was once considered a fallback plan, if you couldn’t make it to college. Nothing could be further from the truth. This is a dynamic, intricate, workforce collaborating through leading-edge technology to build increasingly complex, globally connected architecture in Colorado and around the world.”

“The opportunities for educating and re-educating yourself on the job, are massive in construction,” says Goodiel. “From safety to development, VDC and BIM, LEAN construction workflows, the most successful people in our industry take advantage of a tremendous opportunity to learn new skills, apply it to their work, and then mentor others as part of their career approach.”

“Training programs need to be intentional, organized, and captured,” sys Roth. “It takes a little preplanning, but today construction professionals are leveraging technology and training to great effect in their careers and lives.”

“The industry is moving. We are integrating technology, prefabrication, and training into professional responsibilities and that makes construction more attractive as a career for the next generation or any generation,” says Gifford. “Everyone here is very proud of today’s construction professional and we are all excited to keep training them for tomorrow’s challenges.”

Read more