A Call to Arms for Citizen Architects, vis a vis a Conversation with Brad Buchanan, FAIA
By Beth R. Mosenthal, AIA, LEED AP BD+C
AIA Denver Board Outreach Coordinator

 

Roundtable attendeesOn Thursday, July 27th, I attended AIA Denver’s second member roundtable with the intriguing subject matter; “Are architects and the city of Denver doing enough to protect public health, safety, and welfare. A conversation with Brad Buchanan, FAIA.” Thoughtfully moderated by Ignacio Correa-Ortiz, AIA, AICP CUD, LEED AP, chair of AIA Denver’s Regional & Urban Design Knowledge Community, the evening program consisted of a candid forty-five-minute exchange between Correa-Ortiz and Buchanan, followed by questions from the audience.

 
As a 2017-2018 AIA Denver Board Member, I’ve been at the table as the board has worked together to create “roundtables,” i.e. meaningful opportunities to connect with members in lieu of additional board meetings, with an overarching goal of providing relevant, Denver-specific content that will hopefully mobilize, empower, and connect AIA membership across our growing city. The first roundtable was aimed at listening to current AIA members’ interests and priorities that might inform future programming. Member surveys and feedback from this roundtable illuminated that the topic of advocacy in architecture ranked highly amongst members’ professional interests.

 

The board has worked together to create meaningful opportunities for members, with an overarching goal of providing relevant, Denver-specific content that mobilizes, empowers, and connects AIA membership.”

 

As a direct response, the second roundtable aimed to facilitate an engaging program with an architect-turned-advocate, Brad Buchanan, FAIA. Buchanan is currently the Executive Director of the Department of Community Planning and Development for the City and County of Denver. Correa-Ortiz kicked-off the evening with an introduction of Buchanan as “an author, philanthropist, gentleman rancher and an urbanist who demonstrates great passion for making Denver a livable city. Buchanan is also the founder of Freedom by Design, a nonprofit organization connecting students with the disabled community.”
Correa-Ortiz framed his questions to Buchanan with the goal of providing the following outcomes to attendees: (1) to provide AIA members with an opportunity to participate in current Metro Denver issues, (2) explore areas of urban design and regulations where architects can, and should, participate, and (3) collect and synthesize knowledge into insights that empower AIA members to take positions to be the voice of the profession.

 

Roundtable attendeesThe conversation that ensued covered topics regarding Buchanan’s early career and evolution as a Citizen Architect, as well as how Denver’s architecture community might engage more impactfully with the City of Denver’s current architecture and planning-related initiatives. From zoning to design review to the recently passed “Safe Occupancy Program,” Buchanan spoke about various initiatives that are informed by his background as an architect, but have been put into play with knowledge gathering and expertise from a wide range of constituencies, organizations, and professionals.

 

Most importantly, Buchanan utilized this meeting as a chance to share that architects currently “do not have a seat at the table,” regarding many important advocacy-related Denver issues, and gave attendees a call to arms to show up to public meetings and to actively seek roles on committees and organizations that directly affect Denver’s built environment. An example Buchanan gave are the many open meetings related to Denveright, “a community-driven planning process that challenges you to shape how we want to evolve in four key areas: land use, mobility, parks, and recreational resources.” Under the umbrella of Denveright are many task forces aimed at gathering feedback and proposing solutions related to the four key areas listed above. One arm of Denveright that architects should have a stake and voice in is the formation of Blueprint Denver, an Integrated Land Use and Transportation Plan that “calls for a balanced, multi-modal transportation system, land use that accommodates future growth, and open space throughout the city.” Blueprint Denver meetings are open to the public, and Buchanan intimated that these meetings would benefit from having citizen architects’ perspectives at the table.

 

“How might Denver architects steer our city towards architecture that denotes quality rather than expediency, an exemplary public realm, and a multi-modal transport plan that will alleviate the city’s growing pains?”

 

In conclusion, I left the meeting feeling energized but also a bit untethered. How can Denver architects be strategic in distributing our time, interests, and availability to fill various seats on task forces, committees, and neighborhood planning meetings? How might Denver architects steer our city towards architecture that denotes quality rather than expediency, an exemplary public realm, and a multi-modal transport plan that will alleviate the city’s growing pains? What role could I play in this, and as the mother of a ten-month old, when could I realistically play a role in this?

 

As architects, whether we are working for a private or public client, the inherent nature of our work is to serve the public. While acknowledging that architects often have limited time and resources, I hope that Buchanan’s example might inspire some architects to follow-suit in pursuing opportunities, both volunteer and paid, to utilize design thinking to help Denver live up to its current and future urban potential.