Alumni Spotlight: Stephan Hall (M.Arch, MLA, and MUD ’12)

Alumni Spotlight: Stephan Hall (M.Arch, MLA, and MUD ’12)

October 21, 2022

“There are two aspects of architectural practice that are essential to the career of a young architect: exceptional architectural talent and inspiring leadership. Many architects have one or the other; rarely do you find those attributes in full measure in one individual – Stephan Hall is one of those rare architects.”

— Paul S. Haack, AIA President Emeritus Anderson Mason Dale Architects.

Stephan Hall is a Senior Associate at Anderson Mason Dale Architects (AMD). Stephan’s well-rounded training in architecture, landscape architecture, and urban design—M.Arch, MLA, and MUD received from the College of Architecture and Planning (CAP) in 2012—has propelled him to assume a lead architect role within the practice; overseeing teams on a variety of project types throughout the Rocky Mountain Region. Since joining the firm in 2012, Stephan has meaningfully contributed to some of AMD’s most high-profile public projects, including the neighborhood gateway buildings for the University of Colorado Denver downtown campus, Student Commons, and Rob and Lola Salazar Student Wellness Center.

Recently, Stephan was honored by AIA Colorado with the prestigious Young Architect of the Year Award for 2022, an award given to a member of the profession who has been practicing for ten years or less. The Young Architect honor is bestowed not just for noteworthy design work and professionalism, but for an architect’s dedication to the industry and the wider world. According to Stephan, “Architecture is a deep commitment to collaboration, both within our profession and to the communities we serve. Every project is an opportunity to grow trust in the work of architects as civic leaders, trusted professionals, and collaborators.”

Outside of the studio, Stephan is an active member of the Downtown Denver Partnership Public Realm Council and NOMA Colorado, in addition to being an AIA Colorado Christopher Kelly Leadership Program alumnus. Stephan, his partner, and their two young children are living their best life in Denver, finding energy and inspiration in the city, while also spending time enjoying the mountains as well as traveling beyond Colorado.

Stephan Hall with other CAP alumni at the 2012 Commencement Ceremony.

Stephan connected with CAP for a Q&A, reflecting on his time at CU Denver and sharing some words of wisdom for current and future students.

What inspired you to study architecture, landscape architecture, and urban design?

Everyone has a path, an origin story. The journey of becoming an architect is no different, and every architect I know has a path that is unique, even if sharing similar chords of thought and points of inspiration. My path started the moment I became obsessed with cities – their beauty, their complexity, and their shortcomings.

As an aimless young freshman at the State University of New York in Albany, I signed up for a class called “The American City” – truly on a whim and in hopes of finding a diversion from my full plate of biology and chemistry classes as a pre-med-tracked student. I had a professor make an entry-level urban planning class so incredibly captivating, my attention was guided toward the notion that cities are a never-ending symphony always in the act of becoming. They are the manifestation of humanity’s best – ingenuity and resilience; while at the same time harboring humanity’s worst, and putting a fine point on societal folly, inequity, and indifference to fellow man.

Cities have been an incredible drain on earth’s depleting resources, while at the same time are arguably humanity’s most resilient and enduring creation. The future health and sustainability of our planet is intrinsically linked to the health, sustainability, and resiliency of our cities, buildings, infrastructure, and landscapes. Fast forward through a social geography degree and bouncing around to several areas of study and professional interest, the sentiments above stuck with me and ultimately led me to graduate school at CAP.

It was at CAP that my worldview was formed, my eyes were opened, and I came to believe through my own studies that perhaps we can understand our own culture, values, and the trajectory of human history through the lens of design. I began wondering if we can just engage deeply enough in the study of the invisible layers that make up our built environment at the macro- and micro-level – economics, socio-cultural values, politics, ecology, technology, engineering, data science, agriculture and so much more that we can and will improve upon them over time.

Standing on the ceremonial lawn on graduation day from CAP, I was filled with optimism but also, felt that I had so many more questions than answers. How can one person even begin to understand, much less, influence the trajectory of something so large and complex as a city? I have been so incredibly fortunate to have landed a job as a young Architect at Anderson Mason Dale Architects, an architecture firm that embraces and encourages such questions. Architecture, similar to our cities, is a profession in which ‘becoming’ indeed never ends. It is a profession in which questions must be explored and re-explored, garnering lessons from the past and charting a new course for the future.

The path to being a designer of the built environment is about looking back to look forward, armed with collectively achieved knowledge. Perhaps architecture, landscape architecture, and urban design are best suited for those with a curious mind, for those who can’t settle, and for those who thirst for lessons and knowledge and will always be searching for better.

What made your time at the CU Denver College of Architecture and Planning meaningful?

This is where my worldview was formed and then flipped several times over. I was challenged by each and every professor and fortunate to have been pushed to get lost in the milieu of questions and explorations and then to emerge on the other side, not yet as a fully confident architect or landscape architect, but rather as a perpetual student. There I learned to never stop asking difficult and complex questions and to never stop exploring design solutions with tenacity and resilience.

As a student, was there a studio project that was particularly memorable to you?

My five years, through three graduate programs, MLA (landscape architecture), MUD (urban design), and finally M.Arch at CAP contain so many lessons, paths of discovery, and countless failures, but in hindsight, there is one story, one five-month experience, that comes to mind as most resonant.

We so often think of our own personal history as the impact we may have had as an individual, but I’ve come to see this view as too narrow when compared to the immense impact the collective experience and experiences have on shaping you. I got to partake in one studio that traveled frequently to New Orleans’ lower 9th ward. This was relatively soon after Hurricane Katrina destroyed the entire neighborhood. Our studio cohort was charged with two objectives at vastly different scales.

The first was to engage in a master planning exercise that asked, “What sort of neighborhood landscape intervention could support and help drive recovery?” We queried and mapped land availability (that could be used or purchased equitably), and how the city and community might prioritize infrastructure repair and deployment of new infrastructure (as opposed to abandoning it as many past plans prior had proposed.) We looked for intersections of existing businesses and urban planning to uncover potential opportunities to bolster the local economy.

The second objective could not have been smaller-scale nor more intimate. Each student was paired with a returning (and willing) homeowner to design a garden/landscape for their newly built home by the Make it Right Foundation.

The Make It Right Foundation was a non-profit started by Brad Pitt with the mission of providing new homes for displaced residents from the lower 9th ward. The residents did not require deeds or legal documentation of home ownership, but instead, the foundation accepted any number of other forms of proof of residents, some as simple as a neighbor or acquaintance vouching for them.

Returning residents could choose from one of several home models, each designed by reputable architecture firms and a few with international notoriety. The simple and affordable designs were intentionally accompanied by even more simple landscapes and site interventions.  (Most were simply just blue grass with gravel driveways and concrete walks.)

Our student interventions had to be accessible and affordable, and although we never saw the garden designs complete when drawings were handed over to residents and the Make it Right Foundation, we hope, even if in just a small way, they helped to give returning homeowners some agency and dignity and gave them recognition of their needs first and foremost. To this day, the exercise is a reminder that it is possible for quality design to be an accessible service, not just a luxury for those with wealth.

My experience in the Lower 9th ward of New Orleans is still such an incredible example of the good that CAP has done and will continue to do in Colorado, around the country, and indeed, the world!

Was there a professor who was a mentor to you? If so, could you share with us how they impacted your experience at CAP or in your career?

I had so many good professors and I feel indebted to them all. Each professor and each studio felt like being introduced to brand new ways of seeing the world and being gifted a brand new set of tools and methodology for approaching a problem. I still see many of them often, and I still seek the guidance of several more. I am so fortunate that my connection to CAP and the mentors I had then continues today.

There are too many to name but each professor, who taught me in one of their studios, thank you from the bottom of my heart – I mean it with all sincerity that each of you opened my eyes to another way of seeing and that has meant everything to me and has served me beyond measure in this complex profession.

I would like to say thank you here to two individuals that had and continue to have tremendous impacts on my career and on me as a person. Professor Ann Komara, former Chair of the MLA department, and Ken Andrews are both mentors and friends to this day.

Lola and Rob Salazar Student Wellness Center exterior

Since graduating, what is a project from your professional experience that you are particularly proud of? What was the project and why is it important to you?

I’ve gotten to work on two projects for the University of Colorado Denver—the Student Commons and the Rob and Lola Salazar Student Wellness Center. Few projects have been more rewarding, have hit as close to home, and have had as significant of an impact on the upward trajectory of a campus and a university

What is your hope for the future of CAP? And from your professional experience, what do you think is going to be important for future graduates to know before they embark on their careers?

I hope that every student that passes through the CAP doors can find their passion and come out as inspired and optimistic as I did (and know that I graduated on the heels of the great recession!)

I would like to leave future graduates with a few bits of advice that have been passed along to me. I hope students find them as true and useful as I have:

  • Know that this profession and construction are hard and it takes a lot of time. It often feels as if many other industries, such as tech, release new innovations and/or significant projects on much shorter cycles than the time it takes an architectural project to fruition. With that said, there is little else as rewarding as walking through a final, built project with a client that took years in the making. All that to say, a fulfilling path in this profession requires equal parts drive and equal parts patience. Be driven but cultivate patience.  
  • This may sound cliché and hard to understand – it was for me when I was told this as a student – but rid yourself of the fear of failure and be brave, be bold, and then be humble and listen. Do not give up, be tenacious in all your pursuits, and be resilient especially when you feel the pangs of failure. Know you will learn from it and you will emerge better prepared for the next endeavor.
  • Keep in mind that everyone wants to work with others who inspire them with their skill, eloquence, technical knowledge, or eagerness to learn (often all of the above!) This is as true of employers and leaders as it is for employees.
  • Be overly generative in your efforts. Draw all the time, by hand or on the computer. It doesn’t matter. Hone your craft over and over. In our profession, drawing is perhaps the most productive form of deep and meaningful thinking.