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Exploring Tabula Plena, evolution and connectivity with the College of Architecture and Planning

September 30, 2019

When you enter Tryba Architects, you may notice the interconnecting knot pattern on the brass door plate or the quote from the poem “Elegant Dust” chiseled on the foyer wall or the city of architectural models displayed under clear cases. Which is to say, there are a lot of beautiful things to consider before you ever notice the bevy of academics and architects milling around a verdant courtyard.

photo of Tryba Architects interior
Inside the lobby of Tryba Architects

For what purpose? To celebrate the arrival of Marc Swackhamer, the new chair of the Department of Architecture in the College of Architecture and Planning (CAP), currently the only place in the state to offer accredited degrees in architecture, landscape architecture and urban planning. David Tryba, Lead Design Principal of the eponymously named Tryba Architects, served on the search committee. At Swackhamer’s welcome reception on Sept. 25, Tryba described the process of finding a new chair for CU Denver’s architecture department, saying, “We had so many qualified candidates, but from the very beginning there was one candidate that embodied the entirety of our aspirations.”

Chair Marc Swackhamer and Dean Nan Ellin
Architecture Chair Marc Swackhamer and CAP Dean Nan Ellin celebrate at a reception in his honor.

Architect Marc Swackhamer, previously head of the school of architecture at the University of Minnesota, is co-founder of HouMinn (pronounced human), an award-winning architecture firm, and co-author of Hypernatural: Architecture’s New Relationship with Nature. Primarily, he wants to serve as a connector. “I’m really passionate about connecting the school back into the practice community, and about connecting us to a broader national audience,” Swackhamer said.

ignite evolution logo

His job will be easier with the help of Dean Nan Ellin, who is also relatively new to the college (she started in 2017). Ellin spoke eloquently about the college’s raison d’etre—real people + real projects = real difference. Now represented visually by the logarithmic spiral combined with the brushstroke of the Zen Buddhist enso, the College of Architecture and Planning has adopted the motto “ignite evolution.” She believes that we begin projects not with a tabula rasa, or blank slate, but with its diametrical opposite, a tabula plena. “We don’t erase our students when they come in,” Ellin said. “Everybody’s unique gifts—that’s what we’re about, that’s the core and from there you grow.” The idea is that learning is a lifelong pursuit that expands continuously.

Rachel Brown, Director of Professional Development & Internships, and Leo Darnell, Assistant Dean of Academic Services

Philosophically, Swackhamer agrees. He hopes “to cultivate a connected and warm community where everyone’s voices are welcome.” Part of his quest includes increasing diversity by seeking more diverse students, faculty, and projects. He also wants to collaborate with other disciplines across the university, which would diversify ideas. 

Architectural models at Tryba Architects include a cityscape of downtown Denver.

“To tackle the big messy global problems that were facing, we can’t do that in a silo,” Swackhamer said.