28 NOV 18 | 2018 AIA Conference Highlights

Gold Nuggets from the
2018 AIA CO Conference

On October 11th the W8 team headed to Keystone to attend the annual AIA Practice + Design Conference. I had to miss out, as I was in Chicago on my own architectural tour, but now it is 6 weeks later and I am still hearing stories and hearing the “inside jokes” from a roaring game of Cards Against Humanity. I’ll be sure not to miss next year!

The team in their PJs enjoying a pizza party.

I asked everyone to write a little synopsis on one take away from the conference so I could share it with you. Here we go. . .


“The Hip Hop Architect”

He had me at Hip Hop and Legos!

The presentation that was most interesting and inspiring to me was Hip Hop Architecture by Michael Ford, Associate AIA.

Michael is an interesting guy, he is a graduate of the Masters Program at the University of Detroit Mercy, and instead of following a more traditional path in Architecture he sees his path in a much broader way. He is definitely an academic; education and advocacy are just as important to him as is creation.

Among other projects on his plate, Michael has created a camp which uses Hip Hop culture and music as a means to connect with “underrepresented youth” and expose them to architecture, urban planning, and design. He has developed a pretty cool program which overlays musical notes, represented in 3D objects, and leads the students into a greater understanding of mass, rhythm, and proportion. At the end of the Camp, the kids write and perform a song and music video. There is no question that what these kids are most interested in, aligns with the type of work WORKSHOP8 finds the most rewarding. Here are some of my favorite videos from the camps, enjoy!

The Toronto Hip-Hop Architecture Camp

The Toledo Hip-Hop Architecture Camp

The Chicago Hip-Hop Architecture Camp

WORKSHOP8 would like to bring the Hip Hop Architecture Camp to the Front Range, stay tuned.


Also “The Hip Hop Architect”

This was my first time attending the AIA conference in Keystone and it was a great experience.

I have to second Joseph’s bit because what I really took away from the conference was from the HIp-Hop Architecture presentation. Michael Ford‘s unique and fun approach to creating architecture was fascinating to me. The idea to take music and create a city layout from it is an interesting idea. Michael’s Hip-Hop Architecture Camp is also a clever way to inspire young people, especially in the black community, to become architects and create a whole new generation of architects from a different demographic. 

I had a great time being in Keystone enjoying the beautiful mountain views and bonding with the WORKSHOP8 team. Can’t wait for next year!


“No Place Like Home: Absorbing Locality”

My favorite part of the 2018 AIA Convention was a presentation called “No Place Like Home: Absorbing Locality” by Mexican Architect, Gerardo Salinas. I particularly liked this presentation because it showcased the chaotic and risky side of architecture that it is often avoided in most American architecture firms.

The most memorable part of the presentation was when Salinas talked about the construction of a temporary public structure using buckets. The intent was for people to play on the structure, thus the question of the structural capacity of a bucket needed to be addressed. For liability purposes, I suspect many architects would drop this idea completely. Salinas, on the other hand, conducted his own experimentation to determine the maximum load capacity of the buckets using his own make-shift methods as seen below.

The project was a success and underwent an unbelievably tight design-to-build schedule. This project goes to show that great risks can, in fact, reap great reward.


“Building Envelope Failure”

I’m sad to admit I found the 2018 AIA CO Conference inferior to past years in terms of speakers, format, and the expo. However, there were a few noteworthy sessions sprinkled throughout. One of those was a “lessons learned” presentation by Kevin Dunham, PE and Michael Schulz, AIA from Martin/Marin. Their slide show on “Building Envelope Failure” was a real heart stopper. They showed numerous unnerving images of deteriorated cladding, roofing, and framing, as well as mold growth caused by water infiltration in assembly deficiencies. YIKES.

People outside of the architecture and design industry often think that all we do is “make stuff look cool.”  True. But we are also responsible for creating a comprehensive set of Construction Drawings (an assembly manual, so to speak) for our awesome designs. Sometimes—even when detailed correctly—builders do not install materials as dictated by drawings and specifications. SURPRISE SURPRISE. 

If we could just make our drawings as easy as a flat pack instruction manual, then we’d all have something to smile about.


“Open to Interpretation”

My favorite presentation at AIA Colorado 2018 Conference was “Open to Interpretation” by Stella Betts David Leven of LevenBetts, an architecture firm based in New York City. Their presentation was full of inspirational and exciting imagery of their work—both built and unbuilt —and let’s face it, I’m a sucker for pretty pictures.

Besides the awesome photos and graphics, what really struck me about their work was their focus on creating public spaces that feel welcoming and accessible to all people. By eliminating the use of corridors and enclosed rooms, spaces can become open and full of natural light. Adding natural light to spaces has been proven to improve productivity and comfort. A great example of this method in action is Brooklyn Heights Interim Library.


“Rigid Insulation”

With all the construction going on in Colorado, you’ve probably noticed a wide variety of products that envelop the exterior prior to the finish materials going on. First, you have your exterior sheathing, then you have your building wrap, and traditionally the next step would be to clad the building with the finish material of choice. But now we are seeing one more layer: rigid insulation.

This is becoming commonplace and is even required by code in many areas because it helps create a continuous thermal envelope, which is good because it can greatly help to reduce the energy load on a building. Here’s a brief description of the most common types of insulation as well as where and why to use them:

Polyisocyanurate / Commonly called Polyiso

Used over exterior walls, roofs, subterranean foundation walls,
and below subterranean floor slabs.

  • R-value: R-6 to R-6.5 per inch
  • closed-cell foam (vapor impermeable)
  • can act as a weather-resistive barrier
  • global warming potential =  7  (Good)
  • $$$
  • does not melt, only chars
Extruded Polystyrene / XPS

Used over exterior walls, roofs, subterranean foundation walls, and below subterranean floor slabs.

  • R-Value: R-5 per inch
  • closed-cell foam (vapor impermeable)
  • can sometimes act as a weather-resistive barrier
  • global warming potential = 1430 (Bad)
  • $$
  • melts at 165 degrees Fahrenheit
  • manufactured in extruded sheets
Expanded Polystyrene / EPS

Used over exterior walls and roofs.  

  • R-Value: R-3.5 per inch
  • open-cell (vapor permeable)
  • global warming potential = 7  (Good)
  • $
  • melts at 165 degrees Fahrenheit
  • pressed in various sizes or shapes, ideal of non-rectilinear shapes and for tapered roof insulation since it is easier to cut
Mineral Wool

Used over exterior walls and roofs, and is particularly effective behind rain screens for its ability to dry out.

  • R-Value: R-4 per inch
  • made of 40% recycled content
  • vapor permeable
  • global warming potential = 0 (Very Good)
  • $$$$
  • good for fire protection


Positioning your Firm for the Right Audiences: Lessons from inside the studio of a National AIA Firm

Often the quintessential AIA favorites are the black-cape starchitects that provide projects with massive budgets and limited design restraints. I have to admit that I often enjoy and feel inspired by those as well. This year, however, the lecture that stood out most to me was that of Nicole Marshall, principal of Curated Communications

Nicole discussed the strategies implemented when she helped New Orleans Architecture firm, Eskew+Dumez+Ripple, become the Firm of the Year in 2014 after the wake of Hurricane Katrina. I am a planner by nature and really liked Nicole’s strategies of asking: “what are we aiming for?” and “how do we get there”? From these questions, she generated three lists: Branding, Market Focus, and Relationship Development. To me, it was clear, concise and her examples provided some great direction. W8 will be meeting with Nicole in December and I hope we will implement some of her strategies to claim our future.


“Renderings Don’t Count: Realizing Architectural Vision through Structure and Enclosure Design”

One of the presentations that truly stood out to me was that given by Christopher O’Hara, principal of the structural engineering firm, Studio NYL. The common narrative of structural engineers as only desiring the simplest, blandest, most generic type of structural layout in opposition with the architect’s desire to create the most physics-defying building yet seen is a common one, introduced to most architects at the beginning of design school. However, this is certainly not the case for many structural engineers, and especially those of Studio NYL. O’Hara’s presentation introduced the idea that efficient engineering and beautiful architecture do not need to be in opposition to each other, and can even add to the aesthetic of a project. Sometimes the more adventurous forms of architecture, if thoughtfully considered in terms of how the weight of the building is transferred to the ground, can be even more efficient than the generic, post-and-beam box.

One such example was the notorious cantilever: known to many students in architecture as “the reason why their building would never be built.” Many designers continue through the profession believing dogmatically that a cantilever translates immediately into a bigger budget, dismissing its use then and there. O’Hara demonstrated though, using projects by leCorbusier as well as those of his own, that a small cantilever could, in fact, save a project money where a simple span with support at the very ends would cost more. This can be achieved due to the fact that a small cantilever can reduce the moment bending in the middle of the spans, eschewing the need for a beefier beam. The pushing of the buildings’ mass upward and out can also greatly reduce the foundation footprint of a building, which can often help to reduce cost as well (especially in a place like the Front Range, where the expansive clay soils drive up the size and depth of foundations considerably).

Architecture by Rojkind Arquitectos, structural engineering by Studio NYL

Another architecturally captivating solution to a structural problem was the story-height truss. Heavy spans can often spell the need for tall, expensive trusses that mean a taller story height and more sheathing, finish, and steel. However, the truss can also be inhabited as a floor level itself! This not only makes space enclosed much more useful (cutting out a need for unreachable expanses above) but also introduces diagonal elements that have a beautifully industrial quality.

Architecture by Rojkind Arquitectos, structural engineering by Studio NYL

As designers, it can be easy to look upon structural support as a problem to be tolerated to hold up the building, but we must keep in mind that sometimes the structural needs of a building can be the most defining quality of a design. If there is one piece of advice we will take from this presentation, it is that considering the structure of the building from the beginning of concept formation onwards will greatly pay off with a more cogent building.


Living Building Challenge at 14,000 Feet: The New Pikes Peak Summit Complex

The Living Building Challenge is a design performance standard that I both admire and aspire to as a designer. The description of this presentation—

“The story of the Pikes Peak Summit Visitor Center meeting the rigorous standards of the Living Building Challenge upon the extreme limitations of an isolated mountaintop location at 14,000 feet.”

had my interest instantly peaked (excuse the pun).

Stuart L. Coppedge of RTA Architects provided an inspiring presentation as it dealt with the designers’ responses to the enormous complexity of this project. Everything from the beginning stages and the public input process to the more detailed material challenges was extremely unique. The location, weather conditions, resource management, accessibility and transportation, and social stake of this project made its goal of meeting this challenge all the more impressive.

At one point in the presentation, I felt a little cheated because of the way that this project could not meet some of the Living Building Challenge requirements in a straightforward way. For example: because the building’s on-site conditions did not allow for it to meet the urban agriculture requirement of the challenge, the designer proposed planting an urban garden somewhere off-site. Although this is a fair exchange given the constraints of location and resources, it was a little disheartening to see this challenge met without the green roofs, living walls, and gardens that are typical for buildings meeting this challenge’s requirements, as those features often give the building an impactful visual link to the fundamental ideas of sustainable architecture.

Even though this project may not fit into the Living Building Challenge model perfectly, it pushed the envelope for the way we think about sustainability and its impact on the project’s identity.


“Growing Colorado: Population and Economic Transitions for Colorado”

One of the speakers that stood out for me was Colorado State Demographer, Elizabeth Garner. I never thought about looking at demographic modeling to help predict the future needs of architecture as it relates to the housing market and construction trends. As designers of the built environment, it makes total sense to use future growth patterns to guide future business decisions. 

Accepting demographic trends and listening to the desires of your client, simultaneously, is a key component to responsible architecture and construction.

Thanks for reading!

Feel free to reach out to any of our team members if you have more questions or comments about what they learned at the AIA conference.