WID Blog

Sustaining Denver: Discovery Greenhouse!

: November 17, 2010 12:56 am : Blog, Share

In early October, a group of architects gathered with other designers, engineers, students, and friends, at Cap City Tavern to share a beer and help support a good cause.  Architecture for Humanity (AFH) was showcasing two greenhouse projects designed for Feed Denver. For $10, participants got two beers and a ticket to cast a vote for their favorite design. You got to hang out with friends, enjoy a few beers, and check out Architecture for Humanity’s latest endeavor, which happens to be the Denver chapter’s first effort in support of a local organization. What could be better than that?

The seed for the greenhouse project was first planted back in June, when the director of the local chapter of AFH, Sarah Karlan, put out a call for volunteers needed to design a prototype of a sustainable greenhouse for Feed Denver, a local non-profit. Their mission is to build community-based urban greenhouse farms and markets that empower people to feed and sustain themselves and their communities and, in the long run, strengthen and secure the foodshed of metro Denver.  As a fledgling organization, Feed Denver has made strong headway towards accomplishing this goal with a garden at Stapleton and another one at 42nd and Steele.

During the initial gathering of the interested volunteers, Lisa Rogers, the founder of Feed Denver, shocked the group with some startling statistics: only 0.1% of the food consumed in Colorado is actually produced in Colorado. In 2008, Coloradans spent $5.7 billion on food, and yet only $4.9 million of that came from local sources:  enter the need for a well-designed structure that would enable increased efficiency of locally grown food. Greenhouses not only get communities involved in their own nutritional well-being, they create the possibility to invest profit from produce sales back into the local economy, creating a “cottage industry.” If that doesn’t bolster Feed Denver’s mission, I’m not sure what does!

To provide local fresh produce year round, farmers rely on greenhouses to extend the growing season through the winter months. In the past, Feed Denver has utilized the inexpensive hoop house, whose disadvantages include the inability to capitalize on the abundance of sunshine present through Colorado’s winter months as well as the lack of insulation, which prevents plants from freezing overnight and during those blustery days when the mercury really drops.

Here’s where the real challenge for us designers came in: AFH asked that the prototype design be sustainable, self-sufficient, and completely “off the grid”. Oh, and also a relative cinch to construct, considering that the construction crew was going to be a volunteer crew. Undaunted by this monumental task, as many as ten different design groups took on the challenge and began brainstorming. As the weeks wore on and the process evolved, some groups combined efforts, others dropped out, and eventually it came down to a choice between two: the Discovery Greenhouse, with contributed efforts from Women in Design members, and a Portable Greenhouse by a group of designers from SLATERPAULL Architects.

When it came down to decision time in October, Women in Design’s Discovery Greenhouse took the vote in a very tight contest, winning by only 2 votes.

WiD AFH Greenhouse

Of course we were rewarded with the satisfaction that winning instills, but in my opinion, the real reward was collaborating with our diverse and passionate team. Kathy Ford, Nicole Delmage, and Brigitte Kerr formed the WiD team early on, and as they saw common themes, they combined groups with James Oeinck, Rob Ollett, Lisa Moses, and me. None of us had previously worked together, yet somehow navigated the demands of the project and the always-challenging team dynamic to ultimately arrive at the finish line not only with a design in which we all took pride, but with new-found friends as well.

The competition at Cap City was not at all about winning: both teams’ designs will eventually be built; the vote only determined which greenhouse would be funded first. The ultimate winners are the individuals in the neighborhoods and communities in which these greenhouses will exist. They will be the ones sustaining the production of produce, therefore helping to sustain themselves: all because a group of concerned, dedicated designers took AFH’s motto “Design Like You Give A Damn” seriously. That’s really what it’s all about.

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True Inspiration

admin : October 16, 2010 12:07 pm : Blog

By: Kristen Magnuson

True inspiration:  if you’re like me, you could stand a little more of it a little more often.  It’s anywhere, on any given day, and so easily accessible, really–but how often do we force ourselves to focus our attention away from our all-important everyday-tasks long enough to actually absorb it?

Infused with an electric energy only a true passion can instill, I actually skipped away from the Sharp Auditorium in the Denver Art Museum last Thursday, immediately dialed a friend, gave him no time to say “hello” before I began my frenetic, ebullient review on a film I had just seen that put me into this inspired state: “Studio Gang Architects: Aqua Tower”.  Co-sponsored by Women in Design, the film was shown along with “Philip Johnson, Diary of An Eccentric Architect” as part of the Denver Film Society’s Architecture + Design Film Series.

If you’ve been to Chicago within the past year, you’d have to be blind to not have noticed the latest compelling edition to the downtown skyline: Aqua Tower, designed by Chicago’s own 13-year-old Studio Gang, of which Illinois native Jeanne Gang is principal and founder.  The film documents the building’s design and construction process, noting its unique aspects, including its targeted LEED Silver Rating, its green roof (one of Chicago’s largest), and the unique social sky-community created by the nature of its form.  Aqua, the world’s tallest female-designed skyscraper, places Jeanne Gang’s name on a prestigious list of world famous architects who have shaped Chicago’s skyline over the centuries, including Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Mies van der Rohe.

Aqua is an anomaly of a skyscraper and is in stark–and refreshing–contrast to its rigid and numerous neighbors:  Mr. and Mrs. Steel and Glass Box.  Unprecedented in personality, the building is a marvelous vertical geographical adventure, in the most urban of settings.  Resembling a 3-dimensional topography map, the facades are dotted with multiple organically-shaped reflective sky-pools created by strategically-placed breaks in the cantilevered, undulating floorplates.  Each of the 82 floorplates differs only slightly from its nearest floorplate neighbor(s), creating a soft grace that most nearby buildings could not feign in their wildest dreams.  Many of the amoeba-like floorplates’ “pseudopods” exist in the precise location that they do in order to attain views of some of Chicago’s classic icons, such and Navy Pier and Millennium Park. 

Equally as impressive as this “tall building” was Ms. Gang herself, who happened to be seated two rows and almost directly behind me!  She and fellow Harvard classmate, Tomas Rossant of Ennead Architects, took the stage after the film showing and led a short discussion.  This dialog proved especially interesting due to the contrast between the two modern architects featured in the two films:  Jeanne Gang, whose first and only skyscraper to date is Aqua and Philip Johnson (also a Harvard grad), who is considered to have pioneered the design of the modern glass & steel skyscraper and has designed notable iconic skyscrapers all over the world.  The discussion ended with a few questions from audience members.

I know why this entire experience inspired me the way it did:  Ms. Gang is a woman–an extremely well-educated, talented, and humble woman.  She, however, did not touch me solely because of our shared gender–although I do appreciate the “feminine touch” that Aqua posesses–but because of the penetrating caliber of her work as well as the understated presence she exudes.  In a world where jobs can easily become mundane, true inspiration never ceases to serve as a much-necessary reminder of why you are doing what you are doing with this precious life.  So, do yourself a favor and don’t talk yourself out of that next event that sounds interesting to you–get up and go.  You never know what that inspiration could become.

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WiD Honored Via Blog

admin : September 1, 2010 1:39 am : Blog, Share

Imagine our surprise when we discovered that WiD has been blogged about as one of BARRETT STUDIO architects’ favorite things.  We know we love WiD, but the affection from others is heartwarming and humbling.  Thank you for honoring us, BARRETT STUDIO architects, we tip our hats in your direction and hope to see you again at some of our upcoming events!

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