­­­Colorado Climate Policy with Senator Chris Hansen

To most, a room full of architects carrying on about climate policy on a cold Monday in January hardly feels like a great evening. It’s hard enough to get a few architects together after work for happy hour, let alone to talk state politics. But the crowd turned out to hear Senator Chris Hansen (District 31) lay out recent policy wins in the fight against the climate crisis and espouse on his vision for how to progress those wins into the future. 

Those that are familiar with AIA Colorado’s involvement with the state legislature will be familiar with Senator Hansen. He has met with the Government Affairs Committee and numerous AIA members on a variety of occasions, notably on issues pertaining to embodied carbon in building materials and other bills related to the built environment and changing climate. Senator Hansen has worked hand in hand with AIA Colorado on legislation and consistently seeks input and support from members. In short, the relationship that the architecture community has with Senator Hansen is one that we typically strive for because he gives us a welcoming and informed voice in the state capital. 

As Senator Hansen moved through his presentation, he covered some recent policy wins in Colorado, most notably SB21-072 (modernizing the state electric grid) and SB23-016 (statewide greenhouse gas reduction). These were significant steps forward in combatting the climate crisis and were led by Senator Hansen with support from AIA Colorado, among others. As he continued, Senator Hansen covered a broad range of topics, from how Colorado and other western states can work together to create a resilient electric grid based on renewable energy, to strategies that ensure just transitions for communities built around coal plants that are being phased out. He also touched on the need to revise building codes to remove parking minimum mandates in dense areas in which it makes sense and how that can be supported through a more robust and reliable transit network. The room notably perked up at this, as nearly all architects can relate to the struggle to get just a few more parking spots accommodated on a tight deadline. 

As the evening came to a close, those in the room were reminded that Senator Hansen is also among the seventeen candidates currently vying to become the next mayor of Denver. And while his past accomplishments, education (from Kansas State to MIT to Oxford), and current work in the state legislature have more than adequately prepared him for the job, it remains an uphill battle with so many candidates involved. Regardless of what happens with the mayoral race and where your personal vote gets cast, it’s hard to not root for someone like Senator Hansen with his firm grasp on complex subjects, ease within a room, and unchecked optimism for the future. However this election turns out, the architecture community will continue to have a robust political ally, whether that ally works from the east or west side of Civic Center Park.  

— Drew Allen, AIA, is project architect at AECOM. He serves on the AIA Colorado Editorial Committee, Government Affairs Committee, and is a Denver Local Advisor.

AIA Colorado board members tour the Headwaters Center in Winter Park, CO

By Anna Friedrich, Assoc. AIA

When you are invited to drive up to Grand Lake on a late summer Friday, it’s hard to say no. In mid-August, I was fortunate enough to tag along on the AIA Colorado board retreat and water conservancy tour organized by Scott Munn, director of AIA Colorado West. Scott grew up spending his summers at a family cabin on the historic Grand Lake, and now calls the nearby community of Granby home, where he splits his time between his award-winning residential architectural practice and the many outdoor activities and attractions available for residents and visitors to Grand County.

Retreat attendees were President Wells Squier, President-Elect Sarah Broughton, Associate Director Kari Lawson, Denver Director Julianne Scherer, North Director Scott Rodwin and AIA Colorado CEO Mike Waldinger. The purpose of the tour was to learn more about the critical importance of water management and conservancy in Colorado. Although 80% of the Colorado population resides on the eastern side of the continental divide, 80% of our state’s water is collected on the western side. The result of this imbalance is decades of impressive engineering projects that have worked to divert water to Front Range cities.

(left to right) Scott Rodwin, Mike Waldinger, and Sarah Broughton learn about Colorado’s waterways at The Headwaters Center

We began the day with a private tour of the Headwaters Center in Winter Park. Opened to the public in 2019, the Headwaters Center is a 21,000 sq ft multipurpose building with event space and an innovative museum that aims to educate visitors on the history, wildlife, and conservation efforts of the Colorado river network. Clad in stunning reclaimed barn wood on a stone plinth, the building’s rustic exterior anchors the building to the natural beauty of its site on the banks of the Fraser River. It is designed to be completely off the grid, running off solar energy (stored in over 300 car batteries!) and natural gas backup generators. The Headwaters Center can host public or private events in its outdoor amphitheater, private terrace overlooking the Rocky Mountains, or the 4,400 sq ft “Barn,” a spacious banquet hall that showcases the same reclaimed barn wood as the exterior of the building.

After a quick peek at the event spaces, we gathered in the lowest level of the Headwaters Center to begin our private tour of the “River Journey.” The interactive exhibit, designed by ECOS Communications in Boulder, introduces visitors to the history and ecology of Colorado waterways, with an emphasis on the local Fraser River, a tributary of the Colorado river. The exhibit emphasizes the importance of conservation and careful management of water in Colorado through captivating exhibits and video-based games that will engage any learner, young or old. My personal favorite was a trout survival video game, where visitors are tasked with helping a trout survive the dangerous trip upstream by navigating around various obstacles and dangers. (It was harder than it looked.) Throughout the tour, I was impressed with how the exhibit balanced moments of levity with moments of thoughtful reflection. The tour ended with a visit to the “Think Tank,” a meditative space in a full-scale water tank, centered around a pool of water that is continuously refilled by a slow drip of water from above. Scraps of droplet shaped paper cover the walls, filled with handwritten reflections and musings from visitors to the museum.

After the museum, our group drove to Grand Lake, the historic headwaters of the Colorado River and the largest and deepest natural lake in Colorado. As a result of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, Grand Lake is now a part of the West Slope Collection System, which provides the Front Range with most of its water.  Under natural conditions, water from Grand Lake would flow west to the nearby Shadow Mountain Reservoir and then south to Lake Granby Reservoir. When water is needed on the Front Range, the Farr Pumping Plant, an impressive brutalist structure on the shores of Lake Granby that extends nearly 140 feet underground, reverses the flow so that water is pumped east out of Grand Lake through the Alva B. Adams tunnel, which runs underneath Rocky Mountain National Park.

The town of Grand Lake is primarily a summer community which retains a sense of nostalgic charm. The public access waterfront and marina were bustling with tourists and annual summer residents on the day we visited. During lunch, Scott educated us on the fascinating history of the Grand Lake Yacht Club, which claims to be the highest elevation yacht club in the world. It is also the custodian of a prestigious Lipton Cup, awarded annually during regatta week, that was donated by the flamboyant sportsman Sir Thomas Lipton in 1912 after the club’s founders took him out for drinks in Denver and greatly exaggerated the scale of their little yacht club. (They had a membership of four when they incorporated in 1902 and raced in rowboats with homemade sails.) By 1912 membership had increased enough to warrant the need for a clubhouse. The modest bark-clad structure was completed in 1913 and still stands today.

After lunch, it was finally time to get out on the water. With Scott as our captain and guide, our water conservancy tour culminated in a pontoon ride on Grand Lake. As we circled the beautiful alpine lake, Scott pointed out significant structures among the many beautiful homes that line the shores. The homes range from carefully preserved fisherman’s cabins from the early 20th century to mansions built by some of the most prominent families in the US. New structures on the lake are subject to strict zoning regulations to protect the integrity of the waterfront.

Many thanks to Scott for organizing this event. AIA Colorado board members were able to spend an afternoon learning about a critical Colorado resource and experience a part of the state that many had never had a chance to visit. If you are ever lucky enough to make it up to Grand County on a beautiful Friday afternoon (or any day of the week), make sure to take a moment to appreciate how this historic headwaters provide life and industry to so many across the site.

Statewide Energy Code Update Bill Passed

AIA Colorado was proud to recently support HB22-1362: Building Greenhouse Gas Emissions, an energy code modernization bill that will result in more use statewide of the 2021 and 2024 International Energy Conservation Codes (IECC) as the new baseline for energy performance for every new building in Colorado. Representative Tracey Bernett of Longmont introduced the bill and was a strong partner as one of the many stakeholder groups offering input.

The Colorado constitution largely prevents our legislature from implementing strict statewide building codes, but HB22-1362 makes some important changes to what kinds of energy code local building departments can enforce moving forward. What’s not changing is that no local jurisdiction will be forced to update its codes until ready to do so. But when they do, they will have to meet the following requirements depending on the year of their next update:

  • Before 2023, energy codes must be one of the three most recent versions of the IECC.
  • From 2023 to July 1, 2026, energy codes must be equal to or better than the 2021 IECC and include solar- and electric-ready language to be developed by a state energy code board.
  • After July 1, 2026, energy codes must be equal to or better than a future “model low energy and carbon code” developed by the state. This code will mostly likely be based on the 2024 IECC with its net-zero appendix. However, there are many restrictions in place that prevent the state from going further than the stricter of either the 2021 or 2024 IECC. Affordability and other factors may result in more flexible requirements.
  • Nothing stops a local jurisdiction from writing its own equivalent energy codes or adopting newer energy codes sooner. Even cities that are pushing the envelope on energy efficiency like Denver and Boulder have timelines putting net-zero code adoption in 2030/31.

AIA Colorado worked to ensure that an architect will be one of the 11 state energy code board members selected by the Colorado Energy Office. The Department of Local Affairs will select an additional 10 members. This will create a diverse board including both design and construction professionals and will include members with both commercial and residential experience.

Finally, the state will invest $25 million divided between grants to help install high-efficiency electric heating and appliance upgrades and to help train design/construction professionals, and building department officials/inspectors on how to implement the new energy codes.

AIA Colorado would like to thank members of both our Government Affairs Committee and Committee on the Environment for helping our staff and lobbyist effectively represent the profession at the Capitol as we worked to get HB22-1362 across the finish line. If you have any further questions, contact AIA Colorado Advocacy Engagement Director Nikolaus Remus.

Meet the Co-Chair: Committee on the Environment

Sustainability Advisor and Business Developer, Iconergy Co.

Maria Agazio

This year, the Committee on the Environment (COTE) has taken deep dives into best practices, the 2030 Commitment, and a sustainability survey designed for Colorado architects. With environmental stewardship as an AIA Colorado imperative—and to learn more about the COTE initiatives—we caught up with Maria Agazio, who co-chairs the committee with Beverly Pax. Read on as Agazio brings us up to speed on the latest concerning environmental stewardship in Colorado.

What drew you to this group?

I was drawn to COTE, because my career is centered on the idea of furthering sustainability in the built environment and the idea of being able to discuss these topics with a group of architects seemed like a great opportunity.

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

We have made progress toward communicating environmental topics more affectively with AIA Colorado members and the general public. The sustainability survey has been a major part of the group discussion and published this year. (We encourage you to take it!)

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

Resources around “demystifying the 2030 Commitment,” as well as survey results that will help us understand architects’ perspectives on various sustainability topics and themes.

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

We consistently look to other chapters to gather resources and provide resources for movement toward sustainable progress. This can also be seen by our awareness of national events and articles that are presented at each meeting.

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

I remain committed to addressing methane emissions, working to establish a more comprehensive electric grid. We hope to release survey results around sustainability awareness in Colorado firms, and we also hope to release a 2030 Commitment roadmap that helps firms sign and understand the 2030 Commitment.

What one thing do you wish that more architects knew about environmental stewardship?

Every building has the opportunity to add positively to its environment. It is the responsibility of the architect and design team to incorporate sustainable practices and elements into every design regardless of the overarching focus of the building.

Decarbonization—An Open Invitation

Virtual Connect: Designing Zero Net Energy and Resilient Buildings

Zero-Energy Schools

Civic Activism and the Greater Good

The Business Case for Sustainability

Decarbonizing the Built Environment Town Hall with West Metro Legislators

© AIA Colorado 2023