Dominic Weilminster Stantec headshot

A Conversation with Dominic Weilminster (M.ARCH ’09)

March 25, 2022

We sat down with Dominic Weilminster, distinguished alumnus and current member of the College of Architecture and Planning’s Advisory Board. As Denver Practice Leader and US West Design Director for Stantec, his work spans the globe and ranges from single buildings to city-size master planning for clients including Denver Zoo, Google, US Air Force Academy, and CU Denver.

Denver Zoo’s Animal Hospital
Denver Zoo’s Animal Hospital, Denver, CO
Tell us about your background.

Colorado has a great quality of life, and I’m lucky to be a native of this beautiful state. I grew up west of Denver near the Coors Brewery, in west Arvada. I finished graduate school at the bottom of the great recession. Being a student intern at RNL at that time was both stressful and a challenging experience. I did a few things in our office to spur innovation and created some informal design talks and cultural activations in the office that helped to shake up morale. 

You got your start in journalism. What led you to architecture?

I received an undergraduate degree in journalism from Colorado State University. As a former newspaper journalist, I reported on education, the city, and was a feature writer for the Durango Herald before I decided to make a career change and pursue architecture. In 2006, I went back to architecture school during a time when the city of Denver was evolving. It was rewarding to work in a place I knew from my childhood and to be part of its evolution.

I went to grad school, and I totally freaked myself out at first because it’s vastly different from journalism school. I didn’t have an art background. I had a creative writing background, but eventually, I found that the process of design in architecture was actually not too unlike the process of putting a piece of writing together. In journalism, you have to take a lot of disparate information and boil it down into something that makes sense and is hopefully experiential and beautiful and design is just the same. I went through the three-and-a-half-year graduate program and during that time, I did two study abroad programs in Finland and in Turkey. They are both cool destinations for different reasons. Finland is great for its excellence in design. Turkey is great for being a cultural mixing pot with an incredible depth of history. While I was in graduate school, I also started working as an intern for one of my studio professors. 

What drew you to CAP?

One reason that drew me to CAP was to build a network in the state, which would help me upon graduation. CAP’s structure focuses on applied design education. It is a supportive university that still feels like a fairly tight-knit community. I think when you choose a school, it needs to be pretty well ingrained with the local professional network where you want to work, and CAP certainly checked those boxes. I feel that I got great value out of my education and the study abroad programs were great and shape the way I see design today. 

Now, as somebody who’s been a supporter in different ways─I am the biggest champion for CAP. What I love about CU Denver is that they offer a great education that is also attainable, especially for those who are first-generation college students.

What is your favorite memory of CAP? 

I don’t know if it’s a favorite memory, but I have vivid memories of spending a summer in Comprehensive Studio. When I was in graduate school, I told myself that this is what I would be doing for the next three and a half years─solely dedicate myself to this education because I wanted to focus and learn. Whenever I think back on that time, I was at school all the time, six days a week, and late into the evenings. But thinking back on it, I was just crazy, like everyone else.

What is the most significant thing you learned while at CAP?

Input equals output. It all comes down to being courageous or naive enough to throw out ideas and be okay with those ideas being torn apart, adopted, or applauded. Part of being creative is being fearless and sticking your neck out.

Tell us about your current work with CAP. 

I’m excited to be part of the Advisory Board. The quality of CAP’s programming and the quality of students coming out of the program has accelerated by leaps and bounds. One of the best things about Denver is its access to quality education. Everyone is really impressed with CAP’s JEDI Initiatives and their goals to make sure that the school is diverse and their student population is built from all income levels.

How has CAP evolved?

I like seeing how much diverse representation there is in the student body as well as the growth and sophistication of programs like the Colorado Building Workshop and the recognition of the importance of multidisciplinary overlaps between architecture, landscape, and planning.  There seems to be a lot of progressive thinkers among the faculty at the moment that will advance the perspective on design education for CAP and CU Denver as a whole is making serious strides to elevate its role and relationship with the broader downtown Denver community, which will open many exciting doors in the future. 

Tell us about Stantec.

After my second year of graduate school, I got a second internship with RNL, a local firm that is now Stantec. I’ve been working there since 2008. The advantage to working at Stantec is that our practice is truly multi-disciplinary, with architects, landscape architects, planners, graphic artists, lighting and interior designers, and other specialists. We also have strong sustainability and building performance teams and a culture dedicated to climate-positive design. As a result, our work includes some of the most notable, high-performance building projects in the country. Stantec was recently ranked as the number one sustainable corporation in North America and the number five sustainable corporation in the world according to Corporate Knights.

Changxing Island Master Plan, Dalian, China
Changxing Island Master Plan, Dalian, China
What are you working on today?

Much of my personal work is focused on public institutions and higher education clients, including CU Denver and the College of Architecture and Planning. As a design leader, though, I’ve been able to engage with a huge variety of projects with private developers and companies like Google. I have also had the opportunity to work overseas on projects in the UAE, China, and New Zealand. 

Most recently, our office completed the new headquarters for Denver Water which is an iconic building. It is an exciting project because it’s net-zero energy and net-zero water building. We actually went as far as to change Colorado water law when working on the project.

In Colorado, commercial buildings can’t capture and reuse water. When working with Denver Water, they know a lot about caring for water (of course!) they wanted to set a precedent for water reuse in their facilities. So together we figured out a way to capture and manage all of the storm, grey, and black water, including toilet waste, which now gets treated on-site – a portion of which takes place in the building’s lobby in beautifully planted bio-digesters that become interior landscape features (and, don’t worry, they don’t smell).

Denver Water Campus, Denver, CO
Denver Water Campus, Denver, CO

Our team also recently completed McGregor Square, near the Colorado Rockies Ballpark, which just opened in Summer 2021. One of the really cool things about that project is that not only did we meet the desire to create a mixed-use development that has a hotel office and residential, we also carved out a 50,000 square foot public plaza in the middle of it to create Denver’s newest great public place. In the plaza, you can watch the Rockies game on a huge digital display which is free for everyone to enjoy. 

McGregor Square, Denver, CO © Teri Fotheringham
McGregor Square, Denver, CO © Teri Fotheringham

Finally, we’re thrilled to have designed the newest addition to the CU Denver campus, the City Heights Residence Hall and Learning Commons, creating the first 24/7 living community on-campus for CU and ushering in a new evolution of campus life.

CU Denver, City Heights Residence Hall, Denver, CO
CU Denver, City Heights Residence Hall, Denver, CO
What are some of the biggest challenges in the field today?

One of such challenges for design education goes back to the question of how to provide a more equitable and inclusive path into the profession through design education. It is fundamental, especially for institutions of higher education. It’s very easy to connect and support the best students and much of it is individual or talent-based. But if students are coming into school and they haven’t had as much academic support in the past, but they’re interested in the field, they can fall through the cracks. We need to fix that.

In architecture and multi-disciplinary design in general, we continue to see a trend toward consolidations. In some cases, that’s a good thing, but on the other hand, it can create a different landscape where there are fewer middle-sized firms in local communities. Being part of a large-scale practice, I work hard to connect with our clients and community in a meaningful way so we can authentically localize our impact while also being global in scale.

This interview has been condensed and edited by Agency PR.