CSNA Architects offer broad experience

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In the 20 years since principal architects Gregory Friesen, Roger Sauerhagen and Bill Box purchased CSNA Architects, the firm has worked on a number of high-profile projects, including building design and renovation for St. John’s University in Minnesota (model pictured).

In the 20 years since principal architects Gregory Friesen, Roger Sauerhagen and Bill Box purchased CSNA Architects, the firm has worked on a number of high-profile projects, including building design and renovation for St. John’s University in Minnesota (model pictured).

CSNA Architects

Address: 532 N. Tejon St.

Contact: 473-7225, csnaarchitects.com

Year founded: 1972

Team members: 10

Averse to the standard business model of a design firm, what makes CSNA Architects special is the company’s generality.

“We’re really not specialists, we’re generalists,” said CSNA principal Gregory Friesen. “We really just do an awful lot of different building types.”

CSNA, which has worked with local mainstays such as The Broadmoor, Colorado College and the Air Force Academy, also has worked heavily with local, county and state governments.

The diversity of projects allows the 10-person team not only to win diverse contracts, but to break into different markets that present new challenges.

“A lot of our projects are things that we haven’t done before,” Friesen said. “Before The Broadmoor, we had never done a hotel.”

That aspect can also create a propensity for fresh, innovative twists on architectural convention, Friesen said. One such project was for Bal Seal Engineering Inc., which sought to create a Colorado Springs-based corporate headquarters that would challenge current architectural standards — and that is what CSNA produced.

“I think what really makes us special is our ability to look at a project and say, “This is what has been done before; now let’s start from scratch.’ Friesen said. “The Bal Seal building is a perfect example of thinking a corporate facility anew — just completely rethinking everything.”

Same but different

Although the company has been around more than 40 years, only half of that time has been under CSNA’s current ownership.

“It has taken us a long time to explain to people that we’re not that company,” explained Friesen. “We haven’t been that for 20 years.”

Friesen and principals Roger Sauerhagen and Bill Box (all previous employees) purchased the company on the last day of 1993, starting with a fresh focus on New Year’s Day 1994.

“It was no longer split between trying to excel at both planning and architecture,” said Friesen, explaining that CSNA turned its attention exclusively to architecture.

Part of the firm’s new model was democratic, with no departments or stringent hierarchy. Instead, CSNA architects work together to move through the design, development of construction documents and administration of each project.

“We were once much more vertically oriented than we are now, but we’ve found that if people can stay more involved in a project from start to finish, it’s better,” Box said. “If I get involved with a project, I like to see it through. That is the satisfaction,” Box said.

And rather than having one principal who hands down work to the architects, the three principals take a real hands-on approach, which they say is rare in the business.

“We became architects because we wanted to be architects, not because we wanted to be businessmen,” Sauerhagen said.

Current projects

Although the architects tend to work somewhat in unison, Box, Friesen and Sauerhagen each have their own realms of expertise.

“We have three different areas that we work in, so we really complement each other in those areas,” Sauerhagen said. “When one slows down, another might pick up, so that it averages out.”

Box has focused heavily on work with the Colorado Department of Corrections. Sauerhagen has completed many structures for K-12 education systems. Friesen works primarily with hospitality and higher education.

The company, which has worked with St. John’s University in St. Cloud, Minn., for more than 20 years, is currently working on the campus’ Hill Museum and Manuscript Library and St. John’s Bible Gallery, as well as a renovation of St. John’s Abbey that was designed by Marcel Breuer in the ’50s.

“We routinely beat out other national firms when we go to other states,” Friesen said.

The firm’s most recent Broadmoor work includes the extensive renovation of Broadmoor West, as well as an Adirondack-style Fish School where guests may learn to catch their own dinner. The architects are also in the final stages of developing the hotel’s Cloud Camp, a log lodge and cabin complex atop a knoll on Cheyenne Mountain. CSNA also worked on The Broadmoor’s Summit Restaurant as well as its lakeside suites and pool.

Weathering the storm

The field of architecture, just as every other, has seen considerable changes in the 20 years since Box, Friesen and Sauerhagen bought the firm.

The advent of computers and the Internet, as well as downturns in the economy, have influenced both the way CSNA works and the work it receives — but they’re still here.

“I think we’ve done pretty well and we’ve survived it, which is better than some,” Sauerhagen said, explaining that a reduction in workforce has since been balanced by better, more efficient computer software. “Because of the software, we are much more efficient and we can do more work with fewer people. It also requires, however, that we have better people working for us.”

Box said another factor that helped the firm through that tough time was CSNA’s “particular clientele mix,” which included government contracts that in some years accounted for 70 percent of their business.

“It seems to me now that things are more budget-driven and more time-driven — everything has to be done cheaper, faster,” Sauerhagen said.