University of Colorado Denver Students Build an Eco-Friendly Home for Antarctica Researchers

Home to Colorado’s only master of architecture degree program, CU Denver is committed to making worldwide impacts in research—in Denver and nearly 10,000 miles away

June 7, 2022

Today, in partnership with the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries), Bespoke Project Solutions, and OZ Architecture, the University of Colorado Denver’s College of Architecture and Planning celebrated the completion of the first construction phase of the Cape Shirreff field camp, a two-year design-build program through its Colorado Building Workshop graduate certificate program. The goal of the Cape Shirreff design-build is to improve the living conditions of eight NOAA scientists conducting marine ecosystem research by providing them with safe, sustainable shelter in Antarctica. 

Rick Sommerfeld, Architect, Assistant Professor and Director of the Colorado Building Workshop, describes the partnership as invaluable to advancing ecosystem research and to providing students with hands-on learning that will impact the scientific community and the field of architecture. “Working with both NOAA and Bespoke allows us to deliver an amazing project with a great portfolio that focuses on sustainability, with zero environmental impact, and to get the job done with talented students working behind the scenes. It’s a true partnership.” 

Student Peter Myller

Built on CU Denver’s campus in 19 weeks by 22 graduate students (40% women) from the College of Architecture & Planning, attendees toured the eco-friendly structures of a living area and sleep quarters discussing its scope and innovative design which includes flat-packable prefabricated structures, weather resistant construction, and an off-grid power system. Every year NOAA researchers have made repairs to extend the life of the current structures at Cape Shirreff, but it has come to the point where a replacement was needed. “The new sustainable buildings will enable the continuation of NOAA Fisheries’ long-term research that provides the basis for ecosystem-based management of fisheries in the Southern Ocean. We are proud that this will be purposefully designed to have a minimal environmental impact,” said George Waters, Division Director for NOAA Fisheries’ Antarctic Ecosystem Research Division.  

The replacement of the facilities at Cape Shirreff is made possible through a public/private partnership between CU Denver, NOAA Fisheries, OZ Architecture, and the woman-owned company, Bespoke Project Solutions, which is leading the construction project management and logistics. “We are teaching students the project life cycle from start to finish, from the idea and design, to project scope and implementation. It’s great to see a collaboration and mutual respect among all students. Having spent my career in male-dominated industries, this project proves women can be in leadership roles,” said Jaime Yelvington, Principle, Bespoke Project Solutions. 

Student Paola Larios

Paola Larios, a CU Denver Colorado Building Workshop graduate student of Mexican heritage, talks about her commitment to architecture. She drew buildings since the sixth grade which encouraged her father to buy her an architecture book. “My father believed in me and said, ‘You can do this.’” At that point I pursued my dream of becoming an architect. Today, it’s admiring to see more women in the CAP program as we are working a lot harder to stay relevant as designers and professionals at that level.”

The completed structures are expected to be disassembled late June and shipped to Antarctica, where the reassembly will be led by a CU Denver team of faculty and alumni during January 2023. The second phase of the project will be built in January 2024 and consists of a lab and an observation blind. Prefabrication and construction in the field will follow the same on-campus prebuild and Antarctica reassembly process. 

The experiential learning opportunities created by the Colorado Building Workshop are made possible through the generous support of the Dr. C. W. Bixler Family Foundation, along with contributions and in-kind support from businesses and individuals throughout our community.

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About the University of Colorado Denver

The University of Colorado Denver is the state’s premier public urban research university and equity-serving institution. Globally connected and locally invested, CU Denver partners with future-focused learners and communities to design accessible, relevant, transformative educational experiences for every stage of life and career. Across eight schools and colleges in the heart of downtown Denver, our leading faculty inspires and works alongside students to solve complex challenges through boundary-breaking innovation and impactful research and creative work. As part of the state’s largest university system, CU Denver is a major contributor to the Colorado economy, with 2,000 employees and annual economic impact of $800 million. For more information, visit

About NOAA Fisheries’ Antarctic Ecosystem Research Division

Antarctic Ecosystem Research Division: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries), Antarctic Ecosystem Research Division (AERD), located at the Southwest Fisheries Science Center (SWFSC), has conducted integrated ecosystem assessments around the Antarctic Peninsula and South Shetland Islands since 1986. AERD manages and implements the U.S. Antarctic Marine Living Resources Program (U.S. AMLR Program). The principal objective of the U.S. AMLR Program is to collect data and perform analyses that form the basis of scientific advice relevant to management of all fisheries in the Southern Ocean, with a particular emphasis on the Antarctic krill fishery.

About Bespoke Project Solutions

Bespoke Project Solutions is a woman owned Construction and Program Management company focused on projects with lasting impact on the communities and environment for which they are designed. Their extensive experience in master planning, stakeholder engagement, schematic design development, and quality execution on major projects around the United States and across the globe appeals to clients looking for a holistic approach to the timeline, schedule, and execution of any project. Bespoke has decades of experience with both public and private projects and is registered with and licensed for Federal contracts.

About OZ Architecture

Across geographies, disciplines and project types, OZ Architecture designs environments that withstand time and precede trends. Places that push boundaries to enhance the human experience and shape the built environment for the better.