AIA’s Thesing overseeing focus on sustainable design

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Adam Thesing is president of the southern Colorado chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

Late last year the chapter launched a community based effort to consider how the Pikes Peak region can focus on sustainable design with future construction.

Thesing took some time this week to talk to the Business Journal about that effort and the architecture industry.

How long have you worked in the architecture field, and what drew you to it?

I have been in the field for seven years and a licensed architect for two years. I have loved building things since I was young, anything from a tree house in the woods to a piece of furniture in shop class. Since then I have enjoyed the process of how buildings come together and the construction details involved.

How hard have architecture firms been hit by the economic downturn? How have successful firms managed to survive?

The entire building sector has been hit very hard. There are a lot of projects already designed that do not have funding necessary to build them. The American Institute of Architects has launched a Stalled Projects Database, which connects architects and industry leaders with interested investors. The goal is to re-start projects nationwide that make solid economic sense but lack financing. There are now more than 30 projects listed. http://www.aia.org/stalledprojects

Successful firms have managed to survive, in part, due to existing relationships with clients. They have done a good job maintaining these relationships, as well as forging new ones in this tough time. They have used this slow down to reevaluate their practice and have found ways to do more with less. They can take a different approach to the same problem and come away with positive results.

Last year a Sustainable Design Assessment Team for the Pikes Peak Region was created. What is the SDAT and how is it progressing?

The SDAT program is a community assistance program that focuses on the principles of sustainability. SDATs bring multidisciplinary professionals (architects, urban designers, landscape architects, planners, hydrologists, economists, attorneys, and others) from across the country to volunteer their time to work with community decision-makers and stakeholders to help them develop a vision and framework for a sustainable future. AIA Colorado South was one of only six AIA chapters across the country to receive this grant in 2011. For more information, visit http://www.aia.org/about/initiatives/AIAS075425.

The Pikes Peak Region has many successful sustainability efforts already under way. One of the goals of our SDAT was to bring these groups together and develop a unified vision. It was important to build these relationships and it will be essential as we begin to implement these ideas.

The SDAT included an initial visit to the area in late March so that team leader Lee Quill, FAIA, could familiarize himself with the area and our local issues/opportunities. The full-team visit was at the end of September. The three-day process involved the national team of experts, local stakeholders, steering committee members and the community at large. This ended with a public presentation by the team, which provided insights into the recommendations, opportunities and obstacles to developing a better Pikes Peak Region.

While this presentation was just the beginning, it provided some great feedback and momentum to move forward. We are expecting a full written report that will go into depth on some of the case studies and opportunities provided within the next month or two.

For more information, visit www.ppsdat.org, the AIA Colorado South SDAT website.

What unique challenges and/or opportunities does the Colorado Springs market offer the architecture industry?

Opportunities include working with the many military bases, local school districts, colleges and universities, and religious groups in the area as well as nearby vacation spots on a wide selection of projects. The growth of the region is also positive.

The challenges relate back to your first question. The economy has slowed this industry to a crawl. Once we can get this moving again, all areas of the building industry will improve.

What’s on the horizon for the architecture industry in Colorado Springs during the next 10 years?

There is definitely an increased shift towards sustainable design principles. The technology that aides in design has improved to the point of using one, all-encompassing 3D model during design, construction, and for building analysis by the owner after occupancy. Monitoring buildings’ energy usage and automatically adjusting controls is increasing. How the user interacts with the building is evolving with increased use of occupancy sensors for lights, automated solar shades that raise and lower with the sun’s position, and other technological advances.

Also on the horizon and in the works:

April is Colorado Architecture Month. This AIA Colorado initiative offers free programs throughout the state that educate the public about architecture. Colorado Springs’ major event is Box City for Kids where children learn about the building industry and construct a city from boxes. This free public event is on April 21, from 11 a.m. — 2 p.m. www.coloradoarchitecturemonth.org.

Deerfield Hills Revitalization Project. Multiple initiatives, including a large group work day on May 12, will improve 14 homes in one block and inspire others to improve their properties in other areas of the city. (Contact Carrie McCausland, Colorado Springs’ Environmental Sustainability Coordinator, at cmccausland@springsgov.com or 719-385-2746.)

The AIA National 2013 Convention will be in Denver. This conference typically brings 20,000-30,000 visitors.