Geared up in face masks and hard hats, Adrienne Gullia and other students and faculty in the ColoradoBuildingWorkshop program spent their 2020 fall semester constructing two badge-access bike pavilions on the Auraria Campus. Now open for use, the structures will altogether protect the bikes of roughly 100 students, faculty, and staff.
Housed in the Department of Architecture in the College of Architecture and Planning (CAP), the ColoradoBuildingWorkshop program initially intrigued Gullia because it allows hands-on learners like her to work in the field and engage in the design process from start to finish. She was also interested in gaining experience within the various disciplines of architecture, particularly materials, business, and construction.
Despite unprecedented challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, the honors course has surpassed her expectations. “This program has encouraged me to open my mind to the endless possibilities of pursuing a career in architecture and design,” said Gullia, who is working toward her master’s in architecture. “Shifting your mindset from completing a hypothetical project to a real project is transformative and something every student should do before entering the workforce.”
CAP’s distinguished design build certificate program promotes innovative design and hands-on experience using cutting-edge materials. ColoradoBuildingWorkshop typically partners with nonprofit organizations, which provide the funding and in turn get the hard work of the architecture students and faculty free of cost. But this year, after a months-long stall due to COVID-19, the project is coming to life on CU Denver’s very own campus to help combat bike theft.
“It’s one of the first times that we have students who are working on a project that will benefit other students on campus,” said Rick Sommerfeld, director of ColoradoBuildingWorkshop. “With its proximity to downtown, it will be a project they can visit and reflect on throughout their architectural careers.”
Turning Challenges into New Opportunities
Sommerfeld took over the ColoradoBuildingWorkshop in 2009. Since then, 286 students have completed 17 large-scale projects that have significantly impacted urban and rural communities across Colorado and beyond.
In 2018, for example, the program brought backcountry outhouses to one of the most frequented 14ers in Colorado, Longs Peak. And last year, students in the program built six new bunkhouses and an outdoor kitchen in New Mexico for trekkers on Cottonwood Gulch Expeditions. The outdoor experience serves campers age 10 – 18.
Marc Swackhamer, chair of the Department of Architecture, calls the program not only a shining strength for CAP but for the entire university. “It’s recognized for its exceptionally strong work around the world, and is one of the top design-build programs in any architecture program in the country,” Swackhamer said.
To participate in the honors program, students must be enrolled in the Master of Architecture and submit an application. Accepted students spend the fall semester planning and the spring semester designing and building. Some projects require travel—the cabins in New Mexico were an eight-hour drive away—and others are local. In 2016, students renovated the Next Stage Collaborative, an interactive gallery in the heart of downtown Denver.
Last year, the Auraria Sustainable Campus Program approached ColoradoBuildingWorkshop with a proposal to help deter bike theft on the Auraria Campus. The class of 25 students, led by Sommerfeld and faculty members Will Koning, Paul Stockhoff, and Andy Paddock, spent the fall semester planning two bike pavilions located between the Student Commons Building and North Classroom and near the Auraria Library. Both will be open to all students, faculty, and staff on campus.
When spring rolled around and COVID-19 shuttered on-campus operations, the class turned to technology. Since they couldn’t meet in person or start construction on campus, they used the additional time to perfect their designs virtually.
“While that presented its challenges, it also presented a new opportunity for us to all look at drawings on the computer at the same time versus standing around a table,” Sommerfeld said. “At ColoradoBuildingWorkshop, we are really trying to teach them to think beyond what is conventional. We are striving to be innovative and reconsider the potential of architecture.”
Through the program, Swackhamer said, students learn many valuable lessons that apply to their future careers, and to their everyday lives.
“They learn empathy and valuable listening skills by working with clients, they learn about building technology and structures through compiling sets of working drawings, they learn the necessity of working thoughtfully in teams and collaborating, they learn to work with their hands, to operate tools and machinery, and about the character and quality of architectural materials,” Swackhamer said. “They also learn all that goes into not just designing a building, but also bringing it to reality, along with all the hurdles and challenges they encounter along the way.”
Watching Ideas Come to Life
Students are in the process of constructing the bike pavilions with the help of various professional firms across the Denver metro area, including Structuralist (structural engineers),
AEC Engineers (electrical engineers), design workshop (landscape architects)
RAW Creative (fabricators, architects, and alumni of the program), Roth Sheppard Architects, Living Design Studio, and MH Companies. The firms are offering their services for free, which is a huge advantage to the students as they consider their career paths.
“It’s an amazing example of how a community is coming together to support these 25 students,” Sommerfeld said.
One of those students is Cecilia Richey, who is working toward her master’s in architecture and ultimately wants to design restaurants, which typically involves very customized installations. Through the program, she’s learned how to interact with fabricators to bring custom installations to life, and how to take on the design and fabrication of installations herself. Surprisingly, Richey said, construction has been her favorite part of the process, despite the scorching heat and mask requirement.
“In the second week of construction, we suddenly needed to weld 800 metal parts onto 60 steel angles. Another female student and I suited up, learned to weld, refined a system, and eventually finished ahead of schedule,” Richey recalled. “It’s incredibly empowering to see what you’re capable of when the challenge arises.”
The bike pavilions are slated to open at the start of spring semester. Designed to promote bike and personal safety, the transparent structures made of steel and limestone will house 50 bikes each, with the ability to hang a bike or park it. They will be equipped with security cameras and LED lighting, and students, faculty, and staff will only have access with a badge activated through the Auraria Sustainable Campus Program(the office is located in the Tivoli). Outside of the pavilions, bike fixing stations will be available to the public.
As the project nears completion, Sommerfeld is reminded of what he loves most about the ColoradoBuildingWorkshop program.
“My favorite part is guiding the students and seeing their ideas come to life,” he said. “It’s not often that you get to design and construct a building in graduate school. It’s an unbelievable opportunity for architects so early in their careers. The students sense it and are working incredibly hard to take full advantage of this moment.”