Saturday, September 22, 2012

Forgotten Architectural Jewel

1. Temple Hoyne Buell's Mullen Nurses Home, 1933.
Buried on a side street in Denver's flourishing Uptown neighborhood is an overlooked art deco masterpiece: the Mullen Nurses Home designed by Temple Hoyne Buell in 1933. (Now part of St. Joseph Hospital.)
2. Entrance to Mullen Nurses Home.
Though in reasonably good condition (and on the state register of historic places) the building is subsumed by the massive medical campus around it. No one seems to notice the gaudy loveliness of this gem amidst all the parking structures, doctors blocks, and patient accommodations that comprise a modern hospital.
3. Brick detailing.
Buell was an immensely creative architect who worked in a variety of styles. He is credited by some as inventing the modern shopping mall and is known nationally for his philanthropy. I remember seeing him at charity events in the 1980s as an octogenarian with jet black hair and a Snidely Whiplash mustache.  But he should be remembered most of all for the astonishing art deco buildings produced early in his career. Best among these is the Mullen Nurses Home. The effulgent brickwork on this building is an astonishing exercise in decorative detailing and craftsmanship. The depth and complexity of the red brick designs against a plain field of beige brick is reminiscent of seventeenth century Churrigueresque architecture. This is excess fighting against restraint. In the twentieth century, only Gaudi had the audacity to play with forms as lush as these. 
4. Churrigueresque revival at San Diego's Panama-California Exposition, 1915.
Perhaps Buell's work is misclassified as art deco. Art deco contained its decoration in streamlined shapes and disciplined curves. The decorative bricks in Buell's architecture ooze out of the structure and refuse to be confined by convenient definitions. That is what makes this one-of-a-kind structure really good architecture and not just a building
5. Gaudi's Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. 
1thru 4, MJK.
5, R. Munger.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Women in Architecture

When I entered architecture school at the University of Oklahoma there was one woman in my class. During our freshman year she was taken aside by a professor/advisor and told "there is no place for women in architecture." She was advised to drop out or change her major.  This seemed shocking to me, but it was Oklahoma. And it was a long time ago.
Fast forward to the twentyfirst century and times have changed. Women are underrepresented in the field of architecture, but they are certainly not a rarity. However, young women considering a career in architecture still need role models and inspiration. For those reasons, I am pleased to post the following news release of a lecture by a very talented architect, Stephanie Forsythe. 

Annual event to be held Wednesday, September 26th 2012 with a reception starting at 5:30 p.m.
DENVER – September 12, 2012 – Women in Design (WiD), a Denver-based non-profit dedicated to improving opportunities for women in professions serving the built environment, welcomes Stephanie Forsythe, owner and principal of molo studio as the featured speaker at its fall lecture. The lecture will be held the evening of September 26th at the Dikeou Collection Pop-up Space located at 1321 Bannock Street in the Golden Triangle neighborhood.

Softwall #1.
Forsythe is an internationally recognized and award-winning designer and Canadian architect who incorporates research of materials into the exploration of space making. As a design and manufacturing studio, molo’s goal is to create objects that “define intimate temporal spaces”. Based in Vancouver, molo's high-profile projects include The Northern Sky Circle, an outdoor room made from snow in Anchorage Alaska and the Aomori Nebuta House, a cultural building inspired by the craftsmanship and spirit of the Aomori Nebuta Festival in Japan. In addition to these architectural collaborations, molo designs and creates products that house people and enhance our spaces, such as softseating, made from 50% recycled fiber kraft paper and softwall, which provides a tactile experience to defined spaces. Though designed for long-term use, softseating is 100% recyclable and has magnetic ends, allowing it to be adjusted to fit to various spaces and needs, or connect to itself to form a cylindrical stool or low table or long winding benches. Made of tissue paper, softwall uses a honeycomb structure that expands to create a completely freestanding wall, hundreds of times larger than its compressed form. It provides translucent light or a more “cocooning” experience depending on the choice of white or black tissue paper. More information on molo’s projects and products can be found at

“WiD is thrilled to have Forsythe speak at our premier event. She’ll share her unique perspective of product design and space making by presenting work created for clients around the world. It’s a rare opportunity to see such a presentation in Denver,” said Cheryl Bicknell, co-chair of WiD. WiD will host a reception starting at 5:30 p.m. with the lecture to follow at 6:30 p.m.
Nebuta House.
Tickets are $20 for WiD members and $35 for non-members. Members must log on to to receive the discount.

Event sponsorship opportunities are available, with additional details on WiD’s website or from the contacts listed below.

Founded in 2005, WiD is a network nearly 200-members strong and growing. For more information about Women in Design, please visit or contact Executive Co-Chairs Cheryl Bicknell or Jennifer Gray at or 
Nebuta House.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Architecture Redux

Original front entry, now undergoing reconstruction.
Life seldom offers a second chance. Unless you hang around long enough in the world of architecture. Lately, I have had the pleasure of reworking several of my earliest projects. Some are for new owners who have different needs. Others are for original clients whose families have grown and now have a different program for their architectural environment. And some properties are simply in need of a twenty-first century facelift. It is a honor to be involved in all of these. There is probably not an architect alive who wouldn't welcome the chance to rethink aspects of any project the moment it is completed. That is why Frank Lloyd Wright always answered, "The next one," when asked which project was his favorite. One of my "second chances" is an extensive remodel and additions for a project I designed twenty years ago in the mountains outside of Denver. The new owners want to expand the floor plan with larger terraces, a new atrium, and a guest house. This was also an opportune moment for new windows, new exterior cladding, and interior updating. The kitchen and baths, in particular, were ready for a fresh look. These changes led to rethinking the fireplaces, flooring, and ceiling treatments. As a result the structure is now stripped to its bones and on its way to a completely different look. It became an opportunity to introduce new materials (Wisconsin limestone), new products (patio doors that pocket into the walls), and a new attitude to the interior design. Since most of the structure had to be stripped bare to implement the new design, the owner also decided to replace the mechanical and electrical systems. We are adding air conditioning and in-floor radiant heat. Light fixtures are being replaced with products that didn't exist when the house was built. In the end, this will not be a remodeled house, but a new one. The original owners were ideal clients, encouraging creativity and innovation. The new owners have been equally enthusiastic about producing a quality project. Their goal is to have a living environment that feels like a destination vacation spot. I am as excited about this new incarnation as I was about the original design.

The house looked like this when built:
Original rear decks.
Long view of original west elevation.
Here is what it looks like today with work in progress:
Stucco is removed; decks and original greenhouse are gone.
Plywood protects openings that led to original greenhouse.
Orignal multi-level decks are removed.
Here are our drawings for the redesigned project:
Perspective showing original house in background, new atrium (replacing greenhouse) on left,
new guest house on right., new deck in foreground.
New exterior elevations. Completed house will be Wisconsin limestone and stucco.
Main level floor plan with new additions shaded.
The original house won a MAME award for House of the Year and was published in The Rocky Mountain News
The Rocky Mountain News. 
We are aided in this effort by interior architect Claus Ranemacher, New York City. The structural engineer is Foothills Engineering, Boulder, Colorado. The builder is Mark Manley, Golden, Colorado. 

Updates of the finished project will appear on this blog in 2013.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Renaissance Architecture of the Air

Renaissance architects manipulated architecture for sensory pleasure and intellectual delight.
Filippo Brunelleschi, architect.
One of the intents of Renaissance architecture was to control the perception of space through the arrangement of mass.The key word here is perception. To Michelangelo, Brunelleschi, and Palladio, architecture was not about picture-perfect images. It was about the perception of space in real life.
Brunelleschi's dome, Florence, Italy.
A recent article by Gregory Karp in the Chicago Tribune indicates this philosophy of space - dating to at least the renaissance in architecture - is now understood by those who design the interiors of airplanes. 
Boeing Sky Interior.
New airplanes are being outfitted with interiors that address the perception of space in environments normally perceived as cramped and claustrophobic. Even in coach, the new Boeing 737 planes, for example, "are likely to have the Boeing Sky Interior," reports Karp, "which evokes a greater sense of space." Boeing's regional director in Chicago, Kent Craver, cites this as "a step change in our interior philosophy" because passengers have an emotional reaction to the airplane simply based on the way it looks. BINGO! That is what Renaissance architects knew about space five centuries ago.