Collaborative Design Group banding together for business

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All for one: (left to right) John Olson of Olson Planning and Urban Landscapes; Mark Tremmel, an architect; William Fisher, an archtiect; Larry Gilland of LGA Studios; Todd Liming of Planning Matters; and Jennifer Johnson of Dastur Lines And Designs meet bi-monthly at Poor Richards to discuss potential ways they can work as a team to meet client needs.

A group of Colorado Springs architects, land planners, interior designers and civil engineers sat at their usual table in a local coffee shop to discuss a pending project.

It is both strange and fantastic that they are working as a team, they said. Just a few years ago, they were more likely to compete against each other for building and design projects.

But, in what they call a “new economy,” seven professionals in architecture, design and land planning have banded together to form Collaborative Design Group.

Now, they are going after projects that were out of reach for their individual firms and are filling a gap within their own businesses, which in some cases was down 30 to 50 percent in recent years.

The seven members of CDG have impressive resumes that span decades of work on such high-profile projects such as the Pikes Peak Regional Development Center, Lowell Neighborhood, Covington Brownstones and the Manitou Avenue master plan.

The CDG partners have maintained their individual firms. But, with combined Rolodexes and contacts, CDG has teamed on a dozen projects along the Front Range, including redesigning a downtown city center, a cohousing project and a one million square-foot building project.

“We are kind of a one stop shop of collaborators,” said Larry Gilland, architect and owner of LGA Studios. “What we found is that we have the diversity of really doing quality, cutting edge projects.”

It all started with a phone call.

“I had some clients call me about doing a huge land development project,” Gilland said. “It was something that was beyond what my little office could do.”

He called some planners and designers, they met for coffee and before they knew it, the ideas were flying, said Mark Tremmel, architect and owner of Tremmel Design Group.

Each of them had all been running in the same architecture, design and planning circles as members of such groups as the U.S. Green Building Council, American Institute of Architects and Congress for the New Urbanism. They found they shared a passion for sustainable and green building plans as outlined by Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design green building certification system.

“It’s been interesting in this tough economic time — yes, we need to find work, but we need to find the right work for the time,” Tremmel said.

The collaboration came naturally as they talked about the bigger projects they could go after as a team, especially urban redevelopment. The first project they bid on was a 200-acre master-planned community with community gardens and centers.

At first, the group’s joint ventures were informal. But, three months ago they made their union formal and formed CDG.

“We started to get jobs and when that happened we had to get legal,” Tremmel said.

Call it survival or adaptation to a new economy — but, the group concept is working, said John Olson, owner of Olson Planning and Urban Landscapes. CDG has moved beyond a typical interdisciplinary firm which might include an architect, interior designer and maybe a landscape architect, he said.

“Ours is a little more unique — we are individual owners of our own companies,” Olson said. “We are the ones that actually do the work — that decreases overhead and makes us more competitive.”

CDG is negotiating a project in Denver along the light rail expansion route to Denver International Airport and the group is also working on a cohousing project in west Colorado Springs. Both are projects they could not have gone after individually, Olson said.

“We’ve had greater opportunity as a group,” Olson said. “For instance, the Denver project — we wouldn’t have been able to do that individually, but all together we can.”

Working together has unleashed a level of creativity that is taking them to new heights, said Todd Liming, land planner and owner of Planning Matters. And that is even more exciting than getting the work.

“There is a little bit of pushing one another,” he said.

But, their competing against one another days is a distant memory. They meet twice a month in a local coffee shop — which they affectionately call their conference room — to discuss their pending dockets.

“We’ve talked idealistically, would we want to be an interdisciplinary firm of the old economy — I don’t think it will happen,” Olson said. “This is our new normal.”