“When I was a kid, I wanted to be a bull fighter, which actually would have been strange later in life when I became a vegetarian. But when I took my first class to become a bull fighter and ended up on the ground, I realized there were probably better options,” remembered Ignacio Correa-Ortiz, AIA.
Born into a successful Colombian family, full of professionals like doctors, writers and psychologists, Correa-Ortiz broke tradition, first with his fantasies of bull fighting, and eventually by attending École Nationale Supérieure des Arts Visuels de La Cambre (a renowned architecture and visual arts school) in Brussels.
“I did not have the discipline to be a successful painter. I was a little bit distracted, so instead of spending time in the studio, I spent time doing graffiti in Brussels. It was a lot like the work of Banksy,” laughed Correa-Ortiz. “I guess I was ahead of my time.”
Soon, art and discipline came together for Correa-Ortiz when he graduated with an architecture degree from the University Santo Tomas in Colombia. Unlike most architecture schools in the U.S., an undergraduate architecture degree from Colombia has a strong emphasis on urban design. With that foundation, Correa-Ortiz received his master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin’s joint architecture and urban design program.
“So, after graduation, I had an extension on my visa and went to Aspen to become a ski bum with a real job designing homes for the wealthy,” said Correa-Ortiz.
And while he did not feel incredibly engaged in the type of architecture he was practicing, he found ways to give back to the local community by helping to found two nonprofits: the Latino Networking Council and the Healthy Mountain Communities Initiative. At the same time, he met his wife, and became a permanent resident of Colorado.
Correa-Ortiz and his wife moved to Denver, where he became an urban designer with Skidmore, Owings & Merrill in 1997.
“My passion led me to be focused mostly on urban design and transit architecture, around the world, for the last 18 years,” said Correa-Ortiz.
In 2011, Correa-Ortiz became the Senior Architect/Urban Designer for the Regional Transportation District (RTD). He also uses his expertise volunteering on the Denver Planning Board, AIA Colorado’s Regional and Urban Design Knowledge Community and the Denver Architectural Foundation.
For Correa-Ortiz, both his volunteer and full-time work are about giving back and restoring “balance to life.”
“My motto is that the sustainability of people depends on the success of the urban environment. How we make cities is really the way for us to leave some kind of endurance for the species. Making our lives a little better, and our impact on the planet a little bit softer.”
Correa-Ortiz’s next opportunity to give back to the architecture profession will be as a speaker at the 2018 AIA Colorado Practice + Design Conference: A State of Growth. Though there are a multitude of topics on which he could speak and share his expertise, he’s chosen to title his session: “Architecture Practice in Colorado: Are We Equitable, Diverse and Inclusive?”
“I think the answer is no, but we want to raise awareness of the issue,” said Correa-Ortiz of his panel presentation.
He hopes that the panel he is facilitating will provide insight and raise questions that help to shift the culture in the architecture profession.
“It’s a complicated issue and a big thing to talk about. For instance, women are still underpaid in the industry. Latinos and African Americans are underrepresented, and it does not reflect the population in Colorado. But we also have to talk about discrimination in other ways, like intimidation and other issues that have been raised with the #MeToo movement. I am not an expert, but I hope to facilitate a good conversation with the panel.”
Correa-Ortiz also hopes to highlight the challenges and benefits of equitable urban design.
“It is not only a moral obligation, but it is also a pragmatic urban need in terms of urban design and creating a successful society. We are still struggling to meet ideals of an equitable and fair society,” he said.
He may not be a bull fighter, but Correa-Ortiz has found a way to apply his skills to designing a better world. And don’t worry, he has found other ways to satisfy his fast-paced tendencies—as a professional soccer referee.
“There is no better place to watch a soccer match than right on the pitch. I think it’s an allegory for life: In order for you to enjoy it, you have to be in the middle of the action.”