By Amy Dvorak, Assoc. AIA, member of the AIA Colorado Member Voice and Equity, Diversity, and Inclusiveness Committees
Describe your journey from deciding you wanted to be an architect to now.
My claim to fame is that Robert Roeschlaub, the first licensed architect in Colorado and the first president of AIA Colorado, is my great-great-great uncle. He had many accomplishments but of them his vast work in school design across Denver. I suppose this type of architectural design runs somewhere in the blood!
While I am a multiple-generation Colorado native, I spent my formative years in Nebraska. I chose to pursue architecture after pressure by my advisor to pick a major. My rationale was that I was good at math and at art, so why not architecture? Even though I thought it was crazy that I was getting graded on how sharp of a corner I could cut with an X-Acto knife, I fell in love.
While earning my Master of Architecture in 2001, I began working at TreanorHL (formerly H+L Architects), where I still work today, having found my niche in K-12 school facility planning and design.
What are your favorite projects you’ve worked on and why?
One of my favorite projects was Glenwood Springs Elementary School, as it had all of the qualities you look for in a rewarding project: a historical building component, a progressive educational philosophy, a client who understood the value of good design in a learning environment, support from the community, and a beautiful setting. The students participated heavily during all phases of the project, leading to a final design, which everyone had a hand in.
What have been the biggest challenges in your career and how did you overcome them?
It is ingrained in us that architecture comes before all—even sleep. With that, my biggest challenge has been making room in life for things other than architecture. I forgot I needed the “other things” to keep my life and my creative tank full. I can’t say I have overcome this completely, but I have begun to purposefully pursue interests unrelated to design, and although it seems obvious, I have learned that these interests make one a stronger designer.
What advice do you have for an emerging professional?
Take the time to really observe people. Whether this in your office, your neighbors, on the street. Use what you glean to shape your design, to become the detail. I have learned this from watching countless, incredible school teachers who are in every single school we have been in. You can put them in the most oppressive 1950s classroom with no windows, and in a very short time, they can turn that space into a masterpiece in human comfort. We may have our ideas for light and dark, solid and void, but it is the people who truly shape the space—we don’t.
What are some trends in education that affect a school’s architecture? Explain how you’ve adapted your designs to accommodate these shifts.
We are in a very challenging time, with the heightened focus on school security. Educationally, we are seeing a marked shift away from a teacher-centric to student-centric environment with the desire for transparency and various structured and unstructured learning spaces that support the classroom and student-led learning. However, this more organic concept of openness and flexibility seems often at odds with what many perceive as providing a safe school. School districts all handle this differently, but the common sentiment is that no one wants a school that feels as though they are locked in.
In response, we continually challenge ourselves to find passive ways to design for enhanced security: shorter and or curved hallways to obscure lines of sight, welcoming yet secure entries that provide safety for the front administration staff, large windows and sightlines from both administration and classroom areas for awareness of who is approaching the school, providing windows in classrooms to allow seeing out but with horizontal blinds and/or bullet resistant lamination, multiple layers of security throughout a school to quarantine a potential incident to one area, exterior windows in classrooms sized to allow staff and students to escape through them, etc. We don’t have to answer with frightening bars that block doors or concrete block classrooms without windows—we know we can do better.
What do you enjoy about designing schools?
With school design, I have the chance to make a positive impact on the lives of many. These spaces have a responsibility beyond just how they are used—with careful consideration they can support, engage, and inspire not only today but for the next 50 years to come.
Also, many schools we design serve as the center of the communities in which they are located, so the impact is more than just with the students and teachers. These buildings are commonly the places of the celebratory highs of graduation, potluck dinners, and sometimes even weddings, becoming rich with the history of place. What a wonderful opportunity to ensure these communities have somewhere that they can gather and celebrate that continues to reflect who they are and where they’re from.
What are the largest challenges for architects in Colorado right now?
Rapidly rising construction costs. We are continually pressured to produce documents at faster and faster rates to race escalation, whereby we are left without much time to truly pioneer. The obvious outcome is increased risk on projects and spending much of our time doing risk management over innovative design.
What do you like to do outside of work and service?
One of my biggest passions is travel, and I owe this love to my Uncle John. He was a history teacher before entering school administration and had a fabulous way of telling stories of his own travel that opened my young brain and encouraged the curiosity. Now when we get together, we discuss where we have both been over our shared second love of gin and tonics, but I still can’t match his keen ability to describe an amazing dish or how he could make that new friend in Italy who also happened to have a boat…
For me, though, travel has always been less about the architecture and more about people and my secret love of people watching. I have always found the way people interact in certain environments, cultures, periods of time, and even around the dinner table infinitely more interesting than architectural details. For all of this I always find an excuse to hop on a plane.