Summer architecture campers
ACE campers enjoy the furniture they designed and built on the fourth-floor patio of the CU Denver Building.

Patio transformed into sanctuary

ACE summer camp builds on student interests in architecture

July 31, 2018

A rooftop patio on the CU Denver Building, a typically austere and toasty spot under the mid-summer sun, recently sprang to life as an inviting oasis. The transformation came courtesy of 25 high school students who traveled from across the western United States to participate in the second annual College of Architecture and Planning (CAP) architecture camp.

The fourth-floor patio’s revival from barren to plush — the students designed and crafted a variety of comfortable-yet-stylish furnishings — makes it a prime relaxation spot for CAP students, faculty and staff. Meanwhile, the young aspiring architects, now back home in Phoenix, Seattle, Los Angeles and other cities, carry fond memories of how they created something both useful and lasting in the heart of the Mile High City.

Close-up of camp furniture
Architecture camp students engraved some of the furnishings with the CU Denver logo.

“In just one week, they went from concept and design all the way to hands-on application and building,” said Leo Darnell, CAP assistant dean of academic services and extended studies.

All in a week’s work

A day was added to the camp this summer because last year’s participants wanted a bit more time to work on their project. Last year’s group built outdoor workstations that were placed for a 9-month period at Creek Front Park next to the CU Denver Building.

The camp is hosted by CU Denver in conjunction with the ACE Mentor Program for students interested in architecture, construction and engineering careers. During the academic year, the students participate in ACE mentoring in their hometowns. For the summer project, the affiliate ACE schools provide campers with full scholarships that cover travel, lodging (they stay in university residence halls) and other expenses during the week in Denver.

Built-in cohort

It all translates into students who are engaged — “Because of the ACE partnership,” Darnell said, “we have a built-in cohort of students who are predisposed to what we do here” — as well as interested in the academic offerings of CAP and CU Denver. “Last year we had four students who were in the ACE year-round mentoring program enroll in our undergraduate architecture program, so that’s about 10 percent of our incoming fall freshman class,” he added.

Campers pose with furniture
Camp students pose with a few of the furnishings they designed and built for CAP’s fourth-floor patio.

Local architecture firms and construction companies welcome the students, adding to their insights of the industry. This year’s group visited Rocky Mountain Precast Concrete Co., and guest presenters included a Denver Parks and Recreation director who talked about managing public space programs — everything from parks to rooftop gardens. A field trip to the Boettcher Mansion on Lookout Mountain allowed the students to do some architectural sketching.

Helping to spur the patio upgrade, CAP received a donation of heat-resistant plants and planters from a solar decathlon team — Denver hosted this year’s national competition — and interspersed the green-roof materials with the newly built patio furniture to revive the rooftop space. “That patio has been pretty barren, but our students and faculty would like to use it, so this is quite an improvement,” said Darnell, noting that the students applied a sealer to the wood furnishings that should last a few years.

Diverse group

The students also enjoyed use of digital fabrication tools, including a laser cutter and five-axis CNC router, housed in the CAP annex building. Darnell said he hopes to integrate the College of Engineering and Applied Science into the camp next year.


Assistant Dean Leo Darnell leads the architecture camp, but other CAP faculty help as well. Assisting with the week are Matt Gines, lecturer and director of the design fabrication labs; Phillip Gallegos, associate professor of architecture; Jodi Stock, operations coordinator; and Maria Delgado, CAP lecturer and faculty director at CityCenter.

The participants, much like the CU Denver student body, have proven to be very diverse. This year’s group was made up of 13 girls and 14 boys and most participants were students of color. Darnell said the camp creates built-in ambassadors for CU Denver; last summer’s inaugural edition was so popular that several students’ siblings signed up this year.

“These students go back to their high schools all over the West and talk about the amazing experience they had,” he said. “So we actually get a much deeper reach into potential recruiting for CU Denver.”