An Update on the Marshall Fire Recovery Efforts

“We’re Rebuilding”

AIA Colorado Board of Directors heard from Boulder County Planning and Zoning

Signs announcing “We’re Rebuilding” are posted in front of rows of empty lots, indicating that the bustling construction activity is a result of the 2021 Marshall Fire Disaster rather than typical subdivision construction. Some sites have handmade numbers proclaiming the address of the house that once stood there, while one lot had park benches and an outdoor fireplace arranged on a bare slab that must have once been the living room. The fine line between a house taken by the fire and a house that remains is a sobering sight to witness while driving down the block.

On Thursday, March 2nd, the AIA Colorado Board of Directors heard from Kim Sanchez, Boulder County Deputy Director of Planning and Zoning, about the ongoing rebuilding efforts in Boulder County following the Marshall Fire of December 2021. Rebuilding efforts in unincorporated Boulder County have been slower than in neighboring municipalities due to many of the custom-built, higher-end homes that were lost, as well as the older demographic of residents, many of whom are retirees facing tough decisions on whether or not to rebuild.

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Ms. Sanchez shared an online tool that her office is using to track rebuilding progress: the Boulder County Marshall Fire Rebuilding Dashboard. The dashboard shows real-time information about the status of rebuilding efforts, including the number of lots that have been issued cleanup permits and how many building permits are in progress or have been issued. As of yet, no certificates of occupancy have been issued.

Ms. Sanchez emphasized that success following this disaster should not be measured solely in quantitative data. Her office is committed to meeting people where they are and understanding that not everyone will want or be able to rebuild. She recognizes that the challenge of underinsured properties and aging residents will prevent many homeowners from rebuilding. Her office is focused on quickly and efficiently guiding homeowners through the permitting process without pressuring them to apply before they are ready.

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After the fire, Boulder Planning and Zoning streamlined the permitting process for residents who lost their homes. Using their experience from previous disasters, Ms. Sanchez’s office was able to quickly respond to the tragedy. The Boulder County Land Use Code already had an amendment in place addressing disaster response, and the county was able to rapidly adopt Section 19-500, which is specific to the recovery efforts of the Marshall Fire. The amendment reduces building permit fees for homeowners wishing to rebuild and allows for minor modifications to the original floor plan without a full site plan review.

The Planning office is also focused on “Resilient Rebuild,” which seeks to meet the needs of the community and includes many available rebates and incentives for building to higher energy standards. Although they did not roll back energy code requirements, which was initially requested by residents, they are working to educate homeowners on the many tax credits and incentives available for building to higher energy standards. Now, they are finding that many residents are voluntarily choosing to build to higher standards than the county’s adopted BuildSmart codes. Additionally, they are experimenting with a pilot program to allow for “Disaster Recovery ADUs,” which would allow residents to build structures up to 900 SF and live on their property while their house is reconstructed. Under normal conditions, Boulder County code does not allow for ADUs.

Although her office has assigned rebuilding coordinators to each case, Ms. Sanchez stressed that the role of architects and builders will be to help guide clients through the permitting process and take full advantage of all available incentives. In June of 2022, Boulder County hosted a virtual town hall with local building professionals to educate them on the incentives available and to hear from the design community about the roadblocks they have encountered while working with homeowners on their rebuilding projects.

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After the presentation, board members expressed their appreciation for the County’s efforts to collaborate with the community and eliminate obstacles to rebuilding, recognizing that not all jurisdictions have been as responsive. The discussion shifted towards how other counties in Colorado could follow the lead of Boulder County in building resilience before a disaster strikes. To conclude the session, the board members were given a self-paced tour of several rebuilding sites in the burn area.

We extend our gratitude to Ms. Sanchez for sharing her insights and to Scott Rodwin, AIA Colorado North Director, for arranging the enlightening presentation and tour.

— Anna Friedrich, Assoc. AIA, Designer II, 505Design

Marshall Fire Community Conversation

State officials attended the event on March 17th at the Superior Community Center

Advocacy Engagement Director Nikolaus Remus recently attended a community conversation with elected officials in Superior on the latest Marshall Fire recovery efforts. Governor Jared Polis, US Rep. Joe Neguse, Insurance Commissioner Michael Conway, and State Senator Lisa Cutter (Jefferson County) all participated in the discussion. Other state and local officials in areas affected by the fire were also in attendance for Q+A after. CBS Colorado asked questions submitted by attendees and moderated the event. Recordings are available here and here. Topics on the agenda included where recovery efforts are at 15 months later as well as, what went right and wrong.

Officials were open and honest about how the Marshall Fire presented multiple unique challenges. In addition to the scale of the event, rebuilding costs are still proving to be a challenge. The state has $20M to help with construction costs but everything else has to be in place first. Many homeowners are still navigating the challenges in securing payments from insurance companies but Governor Polis was excited to announce that building permits have been obtained for more than 50% of the homes destroyed. The state is looking at opportunities to obtain grants through the federal Firewise program to help make homes and communities more resilient. Homeowners and renters who have damaged homes are also struggling with repairs and smoke remediation as a result of unclear insurance standards and requirements to qualify.

The other big topic of conversation is what Colorado can do to limit the destruction of future wildfires. Wildfire cell phone alert systems, clearing efforts, wildfire aerial surveillance, education, and legislative efforts including SB23-166 were discussed. Unfortunately, there are so many unique conditions in different fire-prone areas that it’s a matter of when, not if large wildfires occur. But the state has learned a lot about what efforts have worked and will be better prepared for the future.

The Case for Union Station Event Recap

On July 14th, the AIA Colorado Regional and Urban Design Knowledge Community hosted a panel event in reaction to the recent negative public discourse surrounding one of Denver’s most trafficked and iconic public spaces, Union Station. The event, called “The Effect of Public Policy Surrounding Design in Contested Public Space: The Case of Denver’s Union Station,” was engaging, insightful, and provided a valuable opportunity for design professionals to hear directly from stakeholders in Downtown Denver’s planning and transit communities.

Union Station is a sprawling entity, comprising the historic Great Hall, home to the Terminal Bar and Crawford Hotel, a train shed which serves as a hub for RTD light rail services, and an underground bus terminal, servicing both local and regional bus lines. The underground terminal in particular has been the subject of criticism in recent months, citing issues of safety and public drug use. RTD had to close the public restrooms in this section due to fears of Fentanyl contamination and has considered proposals to close the bus terminal to the public, only allowing ticket holders access.

The purpose of the panel discussion was to bring together public design and transit experts to help examine this issue through the lens of design. Can we as architects and designers propose a better solution for a more equitable transit-oriented public space?

Our panelists were four prominent Denver professionals with a passion for public transit. Ignacio Correa-Ortiz, chair of the R+UDKC and a senior architect and urban designer for RTD, opened the discussion with an overview of the history of Union Station and a summary of current design solutions proposed for the bus terminal. Debra A. Johnson, CEO of RTD-Denver, which owns Union Station, provided valuable insight into the day-to-day operations of public transit in Denver and RTD’s relationship with the communities it serves. Ken Schroeppel, Director of Urban Design at CU Denver College of Architecture and Planning, provided important context on the history of Urban Planning in Denver and the development of the modern Union Station. Andrew Iltis, Director of the Planning and Community Impact department at the Downtown Denver Partnership, expanded on the relationship between Denver tourism, the Business Improvement District, and Union Station.

The conversation began with a reflection on how the relationship between society and public space has been affected by the pandemic. Many news articles have cited the pandemic as the genesis of concerns over increasing levels of public drug use in the underground bus terminal, leading to fears that that the terminal is not safe for the average commuter. It is true that the during the pandemic, with stay-at-home orders in place, a void was created in our public spaces that was often filled by persons on the fringes of society. As Ignacio pointed out during the discussion, the spaces haven’t changed – the users of the space have. How do we diversify the users of public space while still providing an opportunity for prosperity to everyone?

Andrew was able to provide valuable data on how transit ridership dropped sharply in the wake of the pandemic and that the daily commuter traffic numbers have been picking up but not quite to pre-pandemic levels. However, tourism numbers in downtown are certainly back to pre-pandemic levels or higher as more and more people opt to engage in the various entertainments offered downtown. As Debra pointed out, “There is no such thing as a rush hour any longer.” Since so many people continue to work from home, we may not see the same peak hours that we have in the past, but that does not make the role of public transportation less critical. Transit isn’t dead, it just looks different.

As the discussion turned to solutions for the “problem,” panelists emphasized the balancing act RTD must navigate. Although their primary role is a provider of public transportation, Debra acknowledged that transportation is interwoven in the communities they serve, and they have a responsibility to engage the public when planning for the future. In Andrew’s experience, Denver is one of the most collaborative of cities between the public and private sector. One creative solution proposes the formation of a dedicated organization similar to the Times Square Alliance in NYC, which is a non-profit dedicated to maintaining Times Square as an engaging public space.

Of course, the question of who gets to use our public spaces will not be answered in a single panel discussion. It will require immense collaboration across organizations and disciplines. As designers, we must continue to engage in these discussions to provide our unique insight on how public space can be designed for equitable, enjoyable, and safe experiences for all members of society. Thank you again to all the panelists and AIA Colorado members who participated in our discussion!

Year in Review with the Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee

Chairs Janna Ferguson, AIA, and Kaci Taylor, AIA

In 2021, the Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (J.E.D.I.) Committee was led by co-chairs Janna Ferguson, AIA, Partner at Pyatt Studio (left), and Kaci Taylor, AIA, Founder of THE5WH (right). This year marked the second year where committee goals focused on improving firm culture by incorporating J.E.D.I. practices into action. In addition, the committee addressed the accessibility of architecture education and how to best serve marginalized communities throughout Colorado. The committee also presented and engaged this work by actively hosting webinars that assisted in cultivating a culture of belonging throughout the practice. We caught up with Taylor and Ferguson to learn more about their experiences as the co-chairs this past year and how they best served the Colorado community.

What initially drew you to this group?

Kaci Taylor (KT): I was curious to see the direction in which AIA was approaching J.E.D.I. issues.

Janna Ferguson (JF): I was originally interested in being an AIA volunteer in general as a way to meet other professionals in Colorado and advocate for needed change within the profession. I chose the J.E.D.I. Committee to continue my personal commitment to be an advocate for justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion.

How has this committee grown or changed since you initially got involved?

JF: To me, 2020 was a year for brainstorming ideas and projects we could pursue as a committee. It has taken shape into a committee with goals that are multi-faceted: (1) to improve J.E.D.I practices within the profession, starting with increasing awareness, understanding, and providing support for firms to take action; and (2) to introduce the architectural profession and education programs to underserved populations in K-12 schools and colleges.

What are some of the accomplishments this year you are most proud of?

KT: We hosted a great webinar series this summer that focused on J.E.D.I. issues.

JF: The three webinars led by the committee were very successful. It is also very exciting to see the Architecture Pathways map published on AIA Colorado’s website.

What do you think is the biggest contribution that this committee brings to the Colorado architecture community?

KT: We are trying to position ourselves as a resource for community growth within the profession, a place for others to come to if they have questions or need direction as to how to implement policies, procedures, and even design focusing around J.E.D.I. topics.

JF: In the wake of the murder of George Floyd in 2020, conversations about justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion in the United States seemed to take over; it is crucial that these conversations and the efforts that come from them continue to be at the forefront of our thinking. I think the J.E.D.I. committee can continue to both continue the conversation within the architecture community and work on projects that work toward lasting change.

As AIA Colorado strives to create a culture of belonging, what steps have you taken to reach beyond Denver?

KT: Through our virtual webinar series, we had the opportunity to reach every AIA member in Colorado.

JF: Pyatt Studio is located in Boulder; I’ve participated in, and will continue to participate in, the North section social events along with other committee members.

What are some immediate and long-term plans we can hope to see from the committee?

KT: More learning events and hopefully more integration with other committees and how they can bring J.E.D.I. practices and thoughts to their work, as well.

JF: Immediately, the committee can focus internally, increasing our awareness as individuals and as a group about J.E.D.I issues. In the long term, I truly hope the committee can help lead the Colorado community to a more just, equitable, and diverse place.

What one thing do you wish the membership and profession at large knew about this topic or what your committee is doing?

KT: That this work isn’t a check-the-box type of work and that you are never done learning and re-evaluating. The focus on J.E.D.I should not be to make yourself look good but to actually be and DO good with the knowledge gained in learning about J.E.D.I. issues.

JF: Overall, I wish that the efforts to increase J.E.D.I. were less focused on performance or participation and more focused on implementing actual change. For example, having a J.E.D.I. committee or serving on that committee in itself is not enough. It is performative. It is crucial to take the next step, creating and maintaining—through policy/programs—positive change.

Considering Fellowship: A Peek Behind the Process

Phil Gerou, FAIA

As we approach 2023 and evaluate professional goals for the coming year, we invite you to learn more about and consider AIA Fellowship.

But what is an AIA Fellow? How does one achieve Fellowship? And what is the role of the College of Fellows Nominating Committee? Beyond our webinar, “Demystifying Fellowship,” we wanted to know even more about the process, so we caught up with Phil Gerou, FAIA, who heads the College of Fellows Nominating Committee. Read on as he sheds light on the submission process, offers tips, and shoots us straight on its exclusivity.

Why does Fellowship matter?

It is the highest recognition, other than the gold medal award, given to architects recognizing their work, their service, and volunteerism. It is not an award for longevity in the profession, but for merit and effort.

What is the role of the Fellowship Nominating Committee?

The committee tracks eligible AIA Colorado members, length of membership, membership activity, and they encourage select members to apply. What else does the committee do? A lot. They even preview submissions and help coach applicants to have a better chance of being elevated. It is time consuming and arduous. The committee is there to review preliminary submittals, offer suggestions, advice, and assistance to be moved forward to the national level.

Is Fellowship awarded to young architects?

Actually, yes. The average age in Colorado, which is in line with the national average is 55 years old. The youngest person in Colorado to receive Fellowship was 41, and that was nearly 40 years ago. Colorado also has the distinction of the oldest person being awarded at 84 years old. That was Temple Buell. DC has awarded Fellowship to someone 36 and Baltimore to someone 38 years old. It takes time to build up your volunteer work, and you have to be a member for 10 years, although not consecutively.

Fellowship carries an air of elitism. How can that be changed?

It is a prestigious award and takes effort to submit and be approved nationally. Fellowship is greater than your body of work. It is about what you give back with, and that is rather humble.

With justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (J.E.D.I.) an imperative of this association, how is the Fellowship Committee working toward being more inclusive?

Locally and nationally, the AIA is working to be inclusive, and fellowship is reflecting that change.

For more than 30 years, the Fellows Nominating Committee has been representative of the AIA Colorado membership and has welcomed new members whenever they have expressed an interest in our objectives and a willingness to contribute time and insights.

Colorado is unique in having a Fellowship Committee that is dedicated to elevating its architects to this level. Colorado is one of few states to have a local chapter that supports Fellowship. In 1992, it was realized that it had been 6+ years since anyone from the state had been nominated. The Fellows Nominating Committee was formed and has been active ever since. The first year, 1993, they put forward six names, and all six made it. The committee is there to encourage Fellowship to lay out a path for fellowship and to assist with the process.

This committee keeps track of all AIA Colorado members to be there to work with and assist you when you are ready.

How does an AIA member get to Fellowship?

You showcase your volunteerism. It is more about how you give back beyond your daily work life; it is what you give and do with your community, to students, by mentoring, or by speaking and writing. It is partly about speaking to groups and through writing. It is not just about your body of work.

There are very specific criteria outlined by the AIA. There are six Objects of Nomination. The most common objects are one and two.

What tips do you have for applicants?

 1.) If you are working for a large firm, utilize templates they have in place and get support from the firm with your application. 2.) Hire a writer to work with you. This comes with a price tag—upwards of $10k. 3.) Write it yourself. You know your own story. You have to plan on carving out the time it takes to tell that story. Not all architects are good at telling their own stories. That is why the committee is there and they have been keeping an eye on you and know what you do. They are there to help you get there.

Gerou warns that the process is a long one, and it requires you to tell your true story. Who, what, when, why, how? Prove it. Those interested in submitting should plan to spend about a year preparing a submission.

For 2023, preliminary submittals need to be in by March 27 and submittal requirements as well as more information can be found here.

If you are interested in helping others become Fellows and want to work with a dedicated group, reach out to Phil Gerou, FAIA to get involved.

Meet the 2020 Legislator of the Year

Sen. Chris Hansen

The AIA Colorado Design + Honor Awards recognize people making a difference in their communities and the architecture profession more broadly. Recipients typically include design firms and individual architects but have expanded to include a number of legislators whose efforts align with AIA Colorado’s imperatives. State Senator Chris Hansen received the 2020 Legislator of the Year award, and we recently sat down to ask Senator Hansen about his achievements.

How do you feel as though you are making a positive impact on the built environment here in Colorado?

Every day, we witness the harmful effects of the changing climate that have a direct impact on tourism, jobs, and the natural beauty of our state. We must work together to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, and I have and will continue to work in the Colorado Legislature to propose new and innovative solutions. One of those innovative solutions focuses on the built environment in Colorado. I am working to make a positive impact by reducing the greenhouse gas emissions in the construction stages of new buildings but also in the life cycle of these buildings. These policies range from reducing the embodied carbon in construction materials to the beneficial electrification of buildings as we work to reduce emissions from electricity generation.

How did you decide which specific construction materials to target in your embodied carbon bill, and how did those decisions change or evolve over the life of the bill?

I spoke with different stakeholders, like AIA, and manufacturers to put together a list of materials that would best achieve the embodied carbon goals while also being accessible to the construction industry.

Have your priorities for legislation changed since moving from the House to the Senate?

I entered into the Colorado General Assembly focused on helping Colorado to better address the climate crisis. During my time in the House, I worked to pass several bills to accomplish this goal; however, there are many sectors that still need specific plans to meet our economy-wide goals. As I transitioned into the Senate, my legislative priorities have remained focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and mitigating climate change effects, but serving on the Joint Budget Committee means that I also work on economic, tax and fiscal policy, social justice issues, education, and healthcare policies.

What more do you think Architects can be doing to address the climate crisis?

Architects play a critical role in the infrastructural development of our society. As architects look forward to new developments, they can integrate tactics to minimize buildings’ carbon and environmental footprint. This can include sustainable design to take advantage of passive environmental factors in the temperature regulation of buildings, selecting materials that lower the embodied carbon of a building, and electrifying the built environment. There are many innovative ways for architects to be involved in addressing the climate crisis, and I look forward to working with them to create a supportive set of policies in Colorado.

How has your relationship with AIA Colorado changed or shaped the way you view issues relating to the built environment?

My relationship with AIA Colorado has allowed me to have a network of experts and allies in the architectural field who are as passionate about increasing sustainability in Colorado as I am. AIA Colorado’s commitment to environmental stewardship has paved the way for reducing the impact of the built environment in Colorado.

What else would you like Colorado Architects to know about? Are there any big ideas or potential forthcoming bills we should begin educating ourselves about and rallying for?

I remain committed to addressing methane emissions, working to establish more comprehensive electric grid planning, and decarbonizing building materials. Getting Colorado to our net-zero goal remains on the forefront of my agenda to tackle the climate crisis with urgency. I am working on a comprehensive bill to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across several sectors, including a proposal to eliminate sales taxes on low or zero emission building materials.

A Conversation with a Boulder City Council Candidate

Lauren Folkerts, AIA

As part of the AIA Colorado Architectural Advocacy Network (AAN), committee members help to expand our advocacy efforts across the state and in local communities. AAN Committee Chair Erin Braunstein, AIA, recently sat down with Boulder City Council candidate Lauren Folkerts, AIA, to discuss her vision for Boulder, the path to architecture, and how you, too, can get involved.

Lauren Folkerts, AIA, is one of us. She’s an AIA Colorado member, an architect, and a passionate Coloradan. There’s one big difference, however. She’s running for Boulder City Council.

Folkerts’ campaign is motivated by the city’s affordable housing crisis. “What we say we want as a community is not aligning with the policies that Boulder has in place,” she said. “There are significant mismatches.”  

Now in her third year of chairing Boulder’s Design Advisory Board (with a term limited to 5 years), she has seen the unintended consequences of the existing regulatory language. Should Folkerts be elected to Boulder City Council on November 2, her knowledge of designations within zoning definitions, use codes, and how envelopes are dictated will be invaluable. 


How She Got Here

Graduating in 2010 from University of Oregon, Eugene, with a Bachelor of Architecture, Folkerts now works at HMH Architecture + Interiors specializing in sustainable design.  

We asked Folkerts, “Why architecture?” People around her as a child would suggest architecture as a career path given her strengths in math and art. While her childhood girlfriends would imagine marrying their crushes, she would design houses for the imaginary newlyweds. Folkerts grew up outside of Seattle, Washington, and at age 9, she visited the University of Oregon with her mom. During the tour, she questioned the guide “Do you have a good architecture program?” Years later, she asked herself what would make a meaningful impact and lead to doing good. University of Oregon’s strong sustainability program was a natural fit. And then came Boulder.

“Moving to Boulder and working in architecture, I expected something more from a sustainable city,” said Folkerts. “But the way the regulations are set up, while it’s good in some aspects for sustainable design, it restrict us from important options. A big part of why I decided to run for City Council was to change some of these rules. It’s time to make changes and incentivize the kind of sustainable design you would expect from a city with a reputation like Boulder.”

Creating Change

To help shepherd that change, Folkerts’ platform is based on solutions to help our community’s affordable housing crisis along with strategies to address the climate crisis.

She also believes that that Boulder needs to provide day-treatment services, and she would like for the city to implement more harm-reduction strategies regarding drug use. With current enforcement of the camping ban, she is concerned the city is causing additional harm. Many people fall in-between, and the housing fulfillment process is not fast enough for them. She cites statistics indicating that the number of days without housing increases one’s risk of not finding stable housing again. According to Folkerts, criminalizing people makes it harder to qualify for housing, which makes the problem more intractable.

There is a ballot initiative endorsed by many underrepresented groups titled, “Bedrooms are for People,” which addresses affordability of housing. The proposed ordinance modification would adjust the occupancy figures in housing. Folkerts supports that initiative and in expanding transportation options to connect where people live. Increasing density in some zoning districts, she says, is part of the affordable housing solution.

How We Can Help

We discussed how architects may make a difference in their communities and get involved. She noted that architects are trained in design thinking, trained to look for opportunities and to solve problems. Architects have information how sustainable improvements are essential to both the affordable housing and climate crisis. Those facts are incredibly useful for policymakers to hear. The education we can offer to shape government policy is under appreciated, especially when it so well aligned with voter’s wishes. The council has an existing work plan to make meaningful progress; the use code is due to be updated. Folkerts noted making significant changes in Boulder depends on the synergy with nine people on council.

There are huge opportunities to make sustainable gains for buildings and transportation—opportunities are the forces at play. At work, one project at a time, we do the right thing for our clients and make these sustainable choices. Architects have skills and understanding to address issues at large in a larger context and not be afraid of public advocacy involvement. Our time is limited. We need support from our firm leaders to be involved with these initiatives. We need to be involved and shape our communities and educate where we can. By sharing what we know regarding embodied energy versus operational energy, we can increase the level of understanding. Both the general public and policy holders do not have strong understandings about these issues.

Why should firms encourage community involvement? “Because it’s a good way to give employees experience in leadership and engage the community at large, while furthering goals among the architecture profession,” said Folkerts. “So you get two really big boosts from that. It’s about educational opportunities within the firm, but also leadership within the community. Whenever you have chances like that, it takes investment from the firm, but the benefits far outweigh the cost.”

What’s Next

Folkerts has earned endorsements from the Sierra Club, Boulder Weekly, and the Boulder Labor council. She has also received endorsement from current Boulder City Council Members Aaron Brocker, Junie Joseph, and Rachel Friend. When asked her where she imagines she will be in 15 years, Folkerts acknowledged she is focusing between now and November 3—after the election of course.

As we left our meeting, “Boulder Strong” signs were omnipresent. It’s a good reminder that the strength of any community is precious and worth advocating for—and to get out there and vote.

Meet the 2020 Outstanding New Legislator

Rep. Cathy Kipp

As part of the Design + Honor Awards, AIA Colorado has introduced legislative awards to honor and recognize legislators whose work aligns with our imperatives. Among the recipients are Representative Cathy Kipp, who was named 2020 Outstanding New Legislator. She recently sat down with AIA Colorado to discuss climate change and how architects can help further efforts. Read on to learn more from the conversation.

How are you making a positive difference in the built environment in Colorado?

I’m really proud of the work we have been able to accomplish by teaming up with great groups like AIA Colorado to make a difference here in Colorado. I’ve been fortunate during my three sessions in the Colorado legislature to pass legislation to help reduce carbon emissions, which not only helps to mitigate climate change, but also gives people better places in which they live, work, and enjoy.

During 2019, my first year in the legislature, we were able to pass legislation to ensure building codes in Colorado comply with one of the three most recent versions of IECC (International Energy Conservation Code). The IECC is updated every three years, so passing legislation that has continuous improvement built-in, is a big win for improving building codes and energy efficiency now and into the future. In 2019, we also passed a bill to improve appliance energy efficiency standards, which among other things, kept light bulb efficiency standards in place when they were rolled back for a time nationally.

For the past two years, we’ve been working on the building benchmarking and performance bill, which will improve the energy efficiency of large commercial buildings in Colorado. This bill builds on benchmarking programs already in place in Denver, Fort Collins, and Boulder, and will ensure energy performance of these buildings improves over time.

How did you become interested in pushing the issue of using more current energy building codes?

One of the people I ran against when I was elected to the Colorado House reached out to me after the election and asked to work with me on legislation to address climate change. I came from the world of education and didn’t have much experience with environmental issues, so I gladly accepted her partnership and her expertise. We have been working on bills together ever since and have become good friends.

How do you see this issue changing in the future?

We need to continue to make progress in the areas of energy efficiency, clean energy, and reducing carbon emissions. The effects of climate change are becoming increasingly obvious here on planet Earth. Let’s hope that, as a species, we choose saving the planet at the cost of a little inconvenience.

What do you think is the most impactful aspect of the building energy benchmarking/performance bill from the 2021 session?

At least 15 percent of Colorado’s carbon emissions comes from the large commercial buildings the benchmarking/performance bill addresses. This bill means we will be helping building owners to save both energy and money while helping to achieve Colorado’s greenhouse gas reduction goals.

How has your relationship with AIA Colorado shaped the way you view some of these issues?

Part of doing my job well is making sure I listen to people who have expertise in all the areas touched by the legislation I run. It is important to me to be able to rely on the architects at AIA Colorado for their valuable perspectives and advice. Thank you, AIA Colorado, for your involvement in crafting this meaningful legislation!

What can architects do to further your efforts?

I hope you will all stay engaged and reach out to share your ideas and advice. You make the laws we pass better.

Is there anything you want to add that I should have asked that you’d like for architects to know?

Thank you for recognizing the challenges Colorado has and for being part of the solution. There is a lot I don’t know. I truly appreciate the architects reaching out to engage and make sure I learn what I need to know before we pass legislation. It’s much easier to solve potential problems than actual problems.

Webinar Recap: Designing for Equity

The division is still here. It divides and stifles. Inequity permeates our Colorado built environment. The haves and have nots in design and development are overwhelming to those who eyewitness barriers and hopelessness. For those who do not understand this, listen, consider, collaborate, and design. But how can architects help overcome this current inequity in design? All that and more was discussed during a recent AIA Colorado and NOMA Colorado joint webinar, “Designing for Equity: Our Responsibility to Create Inclusive Environments.”

Panelists included:

  • Nita Gonzales, M.ED., Principal, Nuevo Amanecer, LLC
  • Shalini Agrawal, Founder and Principal of Public Design for Equity and Director of Programs for Open Architecture Collaborative and Pathways to Equity
  • Dee Dee Devuyst, Acting Executive Director, Radian

The panel was co-moderated by Kaci Taylor, AIA, NOMA, and Patricia Joseph, Assoc. AIA, NOMA.

To understand architectural inequities today, one must go back decades and generations to understand a broader context. Consider these opposing ideas dealing with inequity… home ownership versus renting, generational wealth versus hourly minimum wage, and loan acceptance versus loan rejections. 

Redlining in Denver from the early to mid-1900s involved denying home loans to minorities based on living in the “red-lined” disadvantaged (or risky investment) areas of Denver. This practice perpetuated itself with minorities not having generational wealth accumulated by home ownership; therefore, renting was the most likely option for minority descendants. Lack of home ownership affects influence and standing in communities, which directly impacts zoning, development, and building usages. Said Gonzales, “The equity lens for Denver is disappointing and frustrating. For example, grocery and early childhood deserts exists in lower income neighborhoods.” Privileged communities are not faced with these challenges. 

“We are trained to be creative problem solvers. Lean in with this skill.”

  • Shalini Agrawal
  • Furthermore, a decades-long trend of gentrification negatively impacts minority communities. If we consider the dictionary’s definition, gentrification is described as a process in which a poor area (as of a city) experiences an influx of middle-class or wealthy people who renovate and rebuild homes and businesses and which often results in an increase in property values and the displacement of earlier, usually poorer residents. Gentrification may appear to benefit many, but the reality is a stark contrast that pushes out individuals and families who are not resourced well. And it’s back to renting in substandard neighborhoods. 

    What are some practical steps architects and design stakeholders can incorporate to mitigate a racially divided built environment? First, designers need to become more intentional in connecting with under-represented neighborhoods. “Walk the community. Risk the chance of meeting people in the community,” Gonzales said. “Balance form with function [in design] with the land and not to control the land.”

    Next, take an “Equity Pause.” “Air a question. Make space for listening,” said Agrawal. Be curious. Listen to people and their concerns. Taylor added that what we see is not by accident—it is by design. Use a different lens and an organic approach in architectural design. 

    Finally, do what architects do best—solve complex problems. Agrawal said, “We are trained to be creative problem solvers. Lean in with this skill.” With this in mind, understand from the community’s point of view the effects of your design. Devuyst added, “How are we causing more harm? Is this project going to unintentionally promote gentrification?” 

    Authenticity goes a long way. Don’t patronize. Hire help within the community. “Move from transactional to relational,” said Agrawal. “And move at the speed of trust.” 

    Architects make generational decisions that may last over 100 years. Let’s listen, consider, and design buildings that yield positive outcomes for everyone. Challenge yourself to walk a neighborhood and fully understand its culture and its people, as well as its cost-benefit. That’s a legacy built on listening and designing a built environment that solves complex problems with mutually beneficial outcomes, ultimately helping to unite people together. 

    Meet the 2021 Outstanding New Legislator

    Rep. Tracey Bernett

    House Representative Tracey Bernett (District 12) is the esteemed recipient of the AIA Colorado 2021 Outstanding New Legislator Award. Representative Bernett was an instrumental force behind the landmark HB21-1303: Global Warming Potential For Public Project Materials embodied carbon bill, known as the “Buy Clean Colorado Act,” signed into law on July 6. The bill requires the Office of the State Architect and the Department of Transportation to establish policies to limit acceptable Global Warming Potential for asphalt, cement, concrete, steel, glass, and wood on state-funded building and transportation projects.

    She sat down with AIA Colorado to discuss her motivations, the influence architects have had on her perspective, and her plans to improve Colorado for future generations.

    What inspired you to seek office and how will the office allow you to make a positive difference in the built environment in Colorado?

    I want to make the world a better place! My dad was an engineer, and he instilled in me the values of honesty, integrity, and the pursuit of excellence. My mother was a lifelong activist for environmental causes and inspired my brothers and me to make the world a better place. My core passions are the environment, education, and equity. I am also a world-class runner, No. 1 in my age group for indoor mile, with asthma. I’ve completed 36 marathons. I have to check air quality when other runners just look at the weather. I know that we are in a climate crisis that is also a health crisis.

    I worked as a Research and Policy Analyst for environmental legislation with Mike Foote and Faith Winter. My first report was 86 pages on the Health Effects of Climate Change in Colorado. I attended a seminar on new energy and became interested in buildings as the hardest nut to crack. Buildings are the most difficult to transition to the new economy, and I wanted to start on the hardest problem first.

    How has your experience as a civil engineer influenced your values and priorities in the state legislature?

    I am not afraid to ask technical questions. My sweet spot is technology and business, specifically how technology impacts the business world. I went to Cornell for Engineering and Harvard for an MBA. I worked on the design of nuclear engineering plants, in the aerospace defense industry on international development projects, and was an entrepreneur as a computer industry analyst consultant before being elected to the legislature. I connect technical topics to real impacts that people care about.

    Let me tell you a story. It was 10 p.m., Saturday night on the house floor, we were talking about concrete. There I was, talking about concrete in the middle of the night, thinking to myself, “Who the heck cares about concrete?” Let me tell you why you should care. Concrete generates 14 percent of the total greenhouse gas in world. Cement, if it was a country, would be the third largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world. If we address concrete, we can decarbonize, greenhouse gas is reduced, and pollution is reduced because we can use recycled content. Colorado has some of the greenest steel and concrete suppliers in country, so it’s good for our economy, too.

    What motivated you to add CDOT projects into the “Buy Clean” embodied carbon bill? Do you see potential for the bill to expand in the future?

    The Buy Clean Colorado Act is only the second Buy Clean bill passed in the U.S. and is unique in its scope. Colorado’s bill not only covers both buildings and transportation, but also is the most comprehensive in terms of materials. It was proposed in 2020 but didn’t pass. I took it in 2021 and included the State Architect and CDOT. I heard from the AIA, suppliers, and manufacturers that so much asphalt, steel, and concrete are used in transportation projects. Transportation projects are challenging. There was a lot of education in transportation stakeholder discussions. They need more latitude to understand life-cycle costs even per mile between asphalt and concrete. I partnered with the Carbon Leadership Forum to demonstrate the Embodied Carbon in Construction Calculator (EC3) tool, worked with the Asphalt Association to share that Arizona has systems that use half of the emissions of Colorado, and that it would apply here. There will be tweaks; we need to give people time to learn.

    What are your other priorities for legislative action regarding the climate crisis in Colorado?

    My priorities are to continue to work on decarbonization and buildings. I worked with Senator Chris Hansen on HB21-1238: Public Utilities Commission Modernize Gas Utility Demand-side Management Standards, known as “The Clean Heat Plan,” a gas-demand, side management rebate from utility companies for using more efficient gas furnace and appliances. This will encourage the use of more energy-efficient items, like moving to heat pumps, and adds a social cost to carbon dioxide and methane generation. This is a first-in-nation plan and could reduce greenhouse gas by 22 percent by 2030. I want to build performance and impact at on a large scale as well as at the individual building scale.

    How can AIA members help in those efforts?

    Send Ideas! I’m a big picture thinker that is interested in sustainable infrastructure, the grid, resilience, decarbonizaton, and how to transition from fossil fuels. There is more work to be done in the future and I am excited to help.

    Has your daughter’s degree in architecture or your relationship with AIA Colorado reshaped your perspective on certain topics?

    At Cornell, I looked into double-majoring in Architecture but it would have taken forever—I am a frustrated Architect! I am living vicariously through my daughter, who graduated with an M.Arch from Cornell. She is interested in sustainability beyond LEED; she has worked with Bill Browning (founding member of USGBC LEED) at the Terrapin Bright Green Center. She has done research for a program to make early design decisions that optimize energy and embodied carbon. Her thesis is on a negative carbon development in Indonesia. She is a strong influence.

    Is there anything else you’d like AIA members to know?

    Climate change is a health crisis, we need to slow it down, increase resilience, and fight for our children and grandchildren. Architects get it, but there is a lot of education to be done.

    For more information on Representative Tracey Bernett’s perspectives, see her op-ed on why we should care about embodied carbon and the social impacts of carbon dioxide and methane. For more information on Representative Tracey Bernett’s experience and support of the “Buy Clean Act,” see her op-ed on HB21-1303. Representative Bernett will also be a panelist at New York Climate Week on September 21 and speaking at the Carbon Leadership Forum Policy Webinar on Oct 8.

    Meet the Awards Committee Chair

    Awards Committee Chair

    Marisol Foreman

    As we embark on the 2021 Design + Honor Awards virtual celebration (September 14), we wanted to know more about what goes into the annual program, what it’s like to serve on the committee, and what we can expect in future years from the program. To learn more, we caught up with Chair Marisol Foreman, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP BD+C.

    Foreman is a Project Architect at Rowland+Broughton and shares with us here everything about the AIA Colorado Design + Honor Awards. Read on for more and to meet Marisol.

    How did you come to chair the Awards Committee?

    This is my third year on the committee. My first year, I introduced the idea of introducing sustainability aspects onto the awards, and my second year, we rolled it out based on ideas from chapters nationwide. The committee selected the Design Excellence Common App, which is being implemented in local chapters around the country. Renee Azerbegi [President of Ambient Energy] and I worked with the creators to adapt it to Colorado. My perseverance led me to be invited to serve as the Vice Chair my second year, which led to my becoming the Chair.

    What drew you to this group initially?

    I moved to Denver from Seattle, and back when I was in graduate school at the University of Washington, the Chair of my thesis, Christopher Meek, was an influence in deploying the Seattle chapter’s efforts to collect energy efficiency information for each project. When I moved to Colorado, I wanted to get involved with the local AIA Chapter, and I thought the Awards Committee would be a great chance to bring what I had experienced to Denver.

    How has this committee grown or changed since you initially got involved?

    Each year, we’ve reviewed comments from firms and individuals who have applied for design awards, and tried to incorporate that feedback into the categories and submission requirements. We introduced a sustainability component to the awards submittals and are looking both to collect data on all projects and set standards for awards consideration. We’re trying to streamline it more each year while staying current with trends across the country.

    What are some of the accomplishments this year you are most proud of?

    This year, we focused on how to make the awards as clear as possible. Previously, the awards were given by region, which is a holdover from before AIA Colorado merged with local chapters. The qualifying sequence wasn’t very clear—you had to qualify for regional before receiving a statewide award, which made it appear that a few firms were receiving multiple awards. This year we removed the middle step and are awarding three levels of awards for statewide recognition.

    What do you think is the biggest contribution that this committee brings to the Colorado architecture community?

    The AIA Design + Honor Awards are our chance to celebrate what we do. We put so much effort into creating beautiful, equitable, sustainable designs, and this is a great chance to highlight all the great work that Colorado does.

    One of AIA Colorado’s imperatives is justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (J.E.D.I.). How have you woven this into your committee?

    J.E.D.I. has been a significant focus for us. This year, we involved members of the J.E.D.I. committee in our meetings and asked for feedback on our submittal instructions. We also asked for ideas on project and individual awards to celebrate architects and projects who have had a positive impact in our community. With our work with the J.E.D.I. Committee, we also began collecting demographic information on the firms submitting awards to see if there’s an area we can improve on our outreach, as well as making the barriers for submitting awards less of a hurdle.

    Another imperative of AIA Colorado is environmental stewardship. How has your committee changed course to focus on these priorities?

    We’ve included one of the top sustainability consultants into our committee, Renee Azerbegi, President of Ambient Energy. Having a non-architect on our committee gave us some technical insight into the sustainability questions we were asking, how to make the questions more specific to Colorado, and a resource for applicants as they were filling out the submittal information. We required each project to choose three of the 10 Framework for Design Excellence measures.

    As AIA Colorado strives to create a culture of belonging, what steps have you taken to reach beyond Denver?

    Over the last two years, as everyone has become more agile and able to meet virtually, we’ve been able to include more committee members across Colorado. And the restructuring of the regional awards allowed projects to be recognized across Colorado, not just in the region where the firm was based. Last year, because of the pandemic, we adapted our typical in-person awards to a socially distanced event and produced an awards film that was available online after the event. This allowed us to reach members from across Colorado and its success bolstered us to create an online video of the awards again this year.

    What are some immediate and long-term plans we can hope to see from the committee?

    Both the committee and staff had to pivot suddenly with the ongoing pandemic to shift to a virtual program this year, when we had hoped and planned to return to in-person events. This has worked out to our advantage this year and last, by allowing AIA members across Colorado to participate and view the awards regardless of location. We’re working on 5-year plans for awards for both sustainability and inclusivity, and we will continue working with the committee to discover what those look like.

    What one thing do you wish the membership and profession at large knew about this topic or what your committee is doing?

    Short-term, register for the event! We are excited to celebrate our award winners and invite you to join us as we announce them virtually on September 14. Long term, every year we start the year by reviewing the feedback that all the members have provided. We appreciate the feedback and encourage people to reach out and let us know about their experience with the awards and the submittal process, hurdles, and successes.

    © AIA Colorado 2023