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ARCHIVED  June 4, 1999

Good design stands test of time

What constitutes exceptional architectural design is no longer determined solely by the outward beauty of a building. The innards — the technological layout — of a structure are any bit as important as what covers exterior and interior walls.

And trends in today’s architectural design increasingly revolve around technology, specifically, the use of technology in the buildings and use of technology to produce plans for the buildings, said William Brenner, vice president and semi-retired owner of the Fort Collins architectural firm RB+B Inc.

“From RB+B’s viewpoint, we are not too wrapped up in style. A building done in good taste will always look appropriate and never be out of style,” Brenner said.

Brenner believes good design is evident in many locales throughout the region. The first to come to his mind is the Mawson Block building at 315 E. Mountain Avenue in Fort Collins. The two-story-plus-a-loft building is designed for mixed use and houses Home State Bank; commercial enterprises, including RB+B; and residential units.

The project was designed to extend the charm and distinction of Old Town Fort Collins, and the “masonry forms evoke the masses of the existing turn-of-the-century buildings, while the curved steel canopies and balconies and transparent quality of the upper lofts give away the contemporary nature of the spaces,” according to company literature.

In 1998, the project won Colorado Construction Best of ’98 award for masonry and a merit award from the American Institute of Architects in conjunction with Colorado Homes & Lifestyles Magazine. David Kress was project architect and George Brelig was principal in charge on the project.

Other projects that Brenner said typify good design, and also happen to be award winners, include the additions and remodeling at Poudre High School and Rocky Mountain High School. The projects allow the Poudre School District to expand student populations to 1,800 from 1,300 at both schools. At Poudre High School, Brenner said the challenge was to turn a 1960s building into an education facility that meets all the needs of the school district’s technological teaching program.

The Fort Collins downtown parking garage, designed by ZVFK, a Fort Collins partnership that disbanded and led to the formation of Vaught Frye Architects, Brenner thinks is particularly successful.

“I think that it’s a lovely building, particularly for a parking garage, which are usually plain-Jane,” he said. “This one has design and materials that are attractive, and the proportions are nice.”

Technology is also at the forefront of the design for the new Fort Collins High School. Robert Sutter, whose Fort Collins firm Architectural Horizons served as project architect for the school, said each classroom can support up to 24 laptop computers and has up and down satellite links.

In addition, air-conditioning can be shifted around to meet cooling preferences. For example, classrooms can be cooled during the day, while at night, the system can be switched to the gymnasium and theater for evening events. Additional chillers can be added to the building whenever the school district deems it necessary.

“The process we developed has become the standard for other schools designed here,” Sutter said. The Chicago-based office of Perkins & Will, which designed the school, has used the technology developed for Fort Collins in schools at other sites throughout the nation.

Sutter said many of the newer office buildings are being designed with the smart concept in mind. “Buildings are considered smart in the sense they are wired for the Internet,” he said. “They have computerized energy systems, they are set up with raceways and blank conduits so systems can be modified and new systems pulled as technology rolls on to accommodate those new systems. So much is being designed around the information age.”

Sutter said much of building design in the next decade will actually be remodels of existing structures.

Businesses may even determine that they don’t need a new building when most of their sales or business can take place on the Internet, he said.

Green technology, which uses products that are kind to the environment, is also being embraced. And now that green materials are coming more in line with the cost of traditional building materials, Sutter said, more architects will design with that in mind. This is one reason why fewer shake-shingle roofs are on blueprints these days, Sutter said. “Now they’re being ordinanced away and into very green materials.”

Sutter said that less than 50 percent of new architecture is done well.

“That, to me, is sad in terms of aesthetics,” he said. “There is so much stress on time and economics. Aesthetics don’t have to be expensive, though it’s certainly easier with a few more dollars. Economically and timewise, everyone needs something done yesterday. The good architects are those who can find something to do with those dollars that is pleasing.”

He points to downtown Fort Collins as an example of good design. “One of the best community places is Old Town. To me, it was way ahead of its time,” he said. “ZVFK designed it, and I would tout that as outstanding architecture, bringing together the old and the new and providing a place for community activities, bringing people downtown.”

Sutter points to the Harmony Square Marketplace as another nice setting.

“The buildings are broken up into small buildings, the architecture is pleasing, the landscape, the big-box impact [of King Soopers and Home Depot] is mitigated,” he said, adding that “other projects along Harmony, with setbacks and nice landscaping, are also pleasing to the eye.

“I couldn’t say there’s a style, but I’m not sure that’s bad,” he said. “Maybe that’s our statement. There’s real broad taste and independence in thinking. That’s one of the neat things about being in Colorado.”

John Freeman, who owns Architecture One PC in Loveland, said he considers the new First National Bank building near downtown Loveland to be one of the finest new buildings. “It has nice, rich materials, a lot of detail and thought in the design,” he said.

Though he didn’t have a hand in that one, he did design the American Bank now under construction on the west side of Loveland next to Kmart.

“It’s a nice, tasteful building — it looks åbanky,'” Freeman said. “It’s big and catches everybody’s attention.”

Freeman also did the Showtime Video buildings in both Loveland and Windsor. “The owner is nice to work with, and that always makes it more fun,” he said of those projects. “The owner said to me he’d like to do a 1940s market-type store, a ma-and-pop store. I think we were pretty successful.”

Architects, Freeman said, are bound to what can be built for the budget.

“You always try to put some style into it, depending on the owners,” he said. “But timeliness is a funny issue. Some of my clients say åWe want the timeless finishes, the timeless look.’ I say, åNo, you’re stuck in time, and you will have this decade’s architecture.’ You can’t make a building timeless on purpose, but you can by accident.”

Federal buildings, he said, are the mark of quality. “In the private sector, you don’t get there because money means everything. DIA is such an outstanding example of wild spending, and it really shows. It looks neat.”

Dana Lockwood of Fort Collins said most architectural firms don’t have the luxury to be a Frank Lloyd Wright.

“We have limitations of budget and program requirements of the client,” he said. “We are fortunate in that our clientele comes to us because of our design sets. And, we’re small, so we can be picky and choosy on the projects we do. The level of architecture locally is getting better, but there’s a lot of room for improvement.”

Lockwood is working with Wheeler Commercial Property Services in projects at Poudre Valley Plaza at South Shields Street and West Horsetooth Road in Fort Collins. The project’s design is defined as “Colorado Western Territorial,” in that it evokes a feeling for the turn of the century when Fort Collins and the Poudre Valley were becoming populated.

“We’re on the sixth building. Each building is intended to be unique but part of the same project; they are intended to all work together cohesively and aesthetically,” Lockwood said. “The developers have given us the opportunity to do fun things ä taking commercial retail and office space to an extra level in terms of architecture character that you don’t typically see. They went out on a limb a little bit.

“It takes the unique client to allow us to do the exceptional project,” he said.

In Greeley, Union Colony Civic Center is a “very well done building,´ said architect W.E. Bedinger.

“They did an awfully nice job with a limited budget,” he said. “They were able to integrate the thing with the recreation building.”

Bedinger also noted that the University of Northern Colorado’s old campus also has some attractive buildings.

“Some of the new buildings that have just been built on 10th Street, you can see on a couple of those the form was derived from what’s right across the street,” he said. “I think the architects did a nice job. The remodel of Gunter Hall [from a worn-out gymnasium to modern classrooms and offices] was also nicely done.”

Robert Shreve of Greeley, who designed the Union Colony Civic Center to fit adjacent to the Recreation Center, agreed that the building, built more than a decade ago, has stood the test of time.

“I’m one of the few architects that can go in a building and not worry about people telling me what’s wrong with it,” he said.

Shreve, who also designed the Greeley Recreation Center, said the city saved a million dollars because he knew someday the two buildings would become one. The two, for example, share three staircases and an elevator. If he were to make changes, he said, he would reduce the size of the third balcony. On the other hand, he said, the third tier has great acoustics.

As the building was going up, the intent was for the UCCC and recreation center to share a ticket booth. It became obvious, though, that it wasn’t going to work. As he went back to the drawing table, Shreve said, he found that he could solve two problems: While enlarging the will-call ticket booth to its present size, he was able to enlarge the women’s restroom, adding an additional eight stalls.

Working out problems, Shreve said, is part of the game. Not all architects, however, work that way.

“There are times when architects think they have all the answers, and they end up alienating everybody,” he said.

What constitutes exceptional architectural design is no longer determined solely by the outward beauty of a building. The innards — the technological layout — of a structure are any bit as important as what covers exterior and interior walls.

And trends in today’s architectural design increasingly revolve around technology, specifically, the use of technology in the buildings and use of technology to produce plans for the buildings, said William Brenner, vice president and semi-retired owner of the Fort Collins architectural firm RB+B Inc.

“From RB+B’s viewpoint, we are not too wrapped up in style. A building done in good taste will always…

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