18 OCT 15 | right place, right time (or) showing up is half the battle

My story of NOT winning a design competition.


Take a little trip back in time with me. 

spring 1988

During my second year design studio, back when I was just 20 years old, our instructor Kim Saporito, came to us and said, “Our next project is going to be a design competition for the Boulder-Dushanbe Sister Cities organization”.

The assignment was for each student to create a design for a small park, dedicated to the concept of peace, to be located on Boulder Creek, between the Boulder Public Library and the Boulder Municipal Building. And, there was a very enticing caveat to this particular class project–there was a chance it would actually be built! This was something unheard of for a group of second year design students. The idea of having something we designed actually be built seemed incredible!!


All of my photos from college were destroyed in the 2013 flood, but this is a snapshot from my 1986 year book. Please note that I was voted “most scholarly”. You might also note that at the time, our class was fearful of nuclear war.

The studio was divided into two groups, one taught by Kim and the other by Landscape Architect, Laurel Raines (now with Dig Studio). We all completed our projects in a very typical fashion, with late nights, critiques, and final presentations. Then the projects were given to the Sister Cities for their final judgement.


To make a long story short, I did not win the competition. I didn’t even get second place.

My memory is a little fuzzy, but I believe the student who won was named Ryan, and the second place student was Bill Echterling (now a Senior Associate with Page in Texas). The plan was for the first and second place winners to meet with representatives of Sister Cities and City of Boulder Staff to talk about the next steps for implementing the Boulder International Peace Garden.

right place, right time

To this day I have no idea why Kim asked me to tag along, but when it came time for Kim and the two winners to meet with the Sister Cities group and the City of Boulder Parks Department, she invited me to join them.

We went to the office of one of the City Landscape Architect, Jim Zarka (now with One Earth), and along with members of Sister Cities, we talked about the parameters of moving the project forward. We talked about elements of the two winning designs that worked and we talked a lot about elements that were not viable for one reason or another. One big issue the City was very clear about was that nothing could be placed in the waterway of Boulder Creek.

By the end of the meeting, the group had decided that we would throw out the two winning concepts and start from scratch, following the parameters required for working around the creek. I shyly asked if I could also come back the following week, and received a resounding, “Sure, the more the merrier!”

Being a busy student, I found a short amount of time to quickly sketch out my interpretation of all that we talked about, but I was still unsure why I was involved and whether I should even be there.

When we reconvened the following week, I brought my simple bum-wad (trace paper) sketch tucked safely away in a notebook. Ryan, who won the competition, comes bouncing in with a drafting tube and proceeds to pull out two mylar sheets (a material reserved for final presentations) with a fully rendered new option. “Holy crap,” I thought, “he really put a lot of effort over this last week. No wonder he won the competition, and thank goodness my little sketches are safely hidden away in my notebook!”

As everyone got over their awe at how much work Ryan put in over the previous week, we started to look through the new design. Jim, the City Landscape Architect, finally speaks up and says, “Uh, I thought I made it pretty clear, there was to be nothing placed within the creek”. We all looked at the drawings, and plain as day there was a major element right in the middle of the waterway of Boulder Creek.

Ryan stood up and walked out of the room.

After an awkward silence, Kim asked if anyone else had anything to share. Bill said that he had been too busy that week and hadn’t had time to get anything together.

showing up is half the battle

I reluctantly opened my notebook and removed my simple sketch. I spent a few minutes talking about my concepts and what I had heard the week before. Then we spent the next hour talking about the design. All of a sudden we were talking about moving the concept forward and what was needed to get approval, schedule, and goals. The next thing I knew, Bill and I were signing up for an independent study over the summer and we started working with Jim and Kim to create a final design which would be presented to all the powers that be.

We never saw Ryan again.



Much to my wife / business partner’s chagrin, I am a keeper, but in this case she was happy that I have these 27 year old sketches. When she scanned them for me she noted that I too had an element in the middle of the creek. However, that part was not built.



Final drawing produced by me and Bill.


Article from the CU Alumni Paper 1988.

it all takes time

Over the next two years, many things had to happen for this to all became a reality. The Sister Cities started raising money and lining up volunteers. Jim Zarka started getting all the various approvals required.


Laurel Raines’ old firm produced the technical construction drawings.

October 6th, 1990 

Finally, on October 6th 1990, two months before I graduated from the school of Environmental Design, the Boulder International Peace Garden was dedicated to the City of Boulder. It was a beautiful autumn day and was held in conjunction with the 11th Annual International Pedestrian Conference. It just so happens that the keynote speaker that year was Edmund Bacon (a noted Architect and Urban Planner and father of Kevin Bacon) and he provided an eloquent speech on the benefits of people walking and interacting with each other, and how the Peace Garden helped promote these ideals.

25 years later — October 6th, 2015 

The Peace Garden has changed over the years. Plantings have come and gone. It survived the September flood of 2013. It could use some tender loving care, but the bones and the concept are still there. The two sides of the flagstone structure represent any given opposing viewpoints. The two sides are similar but different; they talk to each other but may not agree with each other. However, they are better as a whole than as two incomplete halves. Check out our portfolio page or Facebook page for more images and info on the Peace Garden.

Boulder-Inernational-Peace-Garden-25years-DSC06911We celebrated the anniversary with little fanfare–can you believe the Boulder Camera didn’t even show up?
Boulder-International-Peace-Garden-25years-DSC06919John George and Mary Axe from Sister Cities look at George’s photo album from the dedication ceremony.
Boulder-International-Peace-Garden-25years-DSC06917My father and I reminisce with John George about the past, while Brandy wonders how she is going to convince the City to implement the improvements we’d like to see to the Peace Garden.
Boulder-International-Peace-Garden-25years-DSC06921Jim Knoff (also a Landscape Architect involved in the project), John George, Brandy and I pointing to the dedication plaque we hope to replace when (and if) the Peace Garden is revitalized.

revitalization efforts

For the last two and a half years, WORKSHOP8 has spent some time re-visioning the Peace Garden in the hopes that we could collaborate with the City to make in shiny and new in time for the twenty-five year anniversary. Unfortunately, because of the City of Boulder’s new Civic Area Masterplan efforts over this same time period, no work has been done to the Peace Garden and we are still not clear what may happen with it. For a short time, we were concerned that the Peace Garden would be removed during the construction of the Civic Area improvement, but we have been assured by the City that the Peace Garden will remain.

Keep a lookout for a new and improved Peace Garden in the future. We will be sure to tell you all about it!

post script

I have a pretty good memory, but not this good, so yes, I took some artistic license in the recounting of this story.





Joseph loves getting out on both is road bike and mountain bike as often as he can. His 94-unit mixed-income project for the Denver Housing Authority will be finished in December. His 60-unit senior apartment building for the Longmont Housing Development Corporation is under construction and he is starting the design for the second phase of that project.