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Boulder Business Feature: Arch11

Recognized as one of Colorado’s most progressive sustainable design firms, Arch11 provides architecture and interior design for both living and working environments.  The firm was founded in 1993 by James Trewitt and E.J. Meade, and since that time, has received tremendous recognition for their innovative and energy-efficient designs.  You may also have seen Meade among the lecture panelists for the Month of Modern event, “Colorado Modern, Past, Present and Future”, which was held on October 2, 2014.

It was a pleasure to speak with E.J. Meade about design philosophy, Boulder’s specific design challenges, and the firm’s plans for the future, and we are thrilled to able to share it with you here.  Here’s what he had to say:

What is the collective design philosophy among the architects at Arch11?

Architecture is responsive to place. It has the power to reveal the characteristics of site, the responsibility to be durable and the opportunity to be time-full.  As a product of culture, architecture transcends style; rather it should be formed by relationships between space and site.

How is that collective philosophy affected by the individual professional background of each architect?

Arch11 is unique among architecture firms in that our backgrounds bridge the conceptual and pragmatic.  Each of the principals has extensive practice in the actual making of buildings and each has held academic teaching positions.  EJ spent years as a carpenter working with New England craftsman, James hand built boats and Ken built high-end homes in Pitkin County.  We maintain relationships with universities across the country, are invited lecturers and design critics and make sure that there is always someone in the office teaching architecture in a university position.  It keeps our ideas fresh.

Is Arch11 more focused on residential projects or commercial?

We balance our practice to work on all scales of projects.  We recently completed a 54,000 sf corporate headquarters for Pearl Izumi, but hour true love is the intimacy and specificity of making single family homes tailored to place and client.

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Image Courtesy of Arch11

What are some of the design challenges that are specific to Boulder?

Boulder is a funny place to design.  The design culture is just developing, as is the art culture here.  Climatically, it is challenging, we need to detail surfaces that may see a one-hundred degree swing in twenty four hours and detailing for that requires expertise.  Geographically, everyone wants the big western view which without proper planning can subject the house to severe heat gain.  Then there are the myriad of design restrictions the city has imposed as reactions to some very bad buildings being done by some thoughtless development.  We treat those just like the topography or the budget, just one more limit in which to address.  And that is what fosters innovation, how one works with limits.

Tell us about your firm’s involvement with the Boulder Green Building Guild.

We built “green” long before it was a color used to describe what we believed were just sound design principals. We designed the first LEED gold residence in Boulder without consciously following the LEED requirements.

Green or sustainable design is not something that you add to architecture any more than you tag it with the title “structure” or “composition.”  It is endemic to the DNA of any good piece of architecture.

Colorado has been described as a “design mecca”.  What is it about Colorado that makes this statement true?

The design literacy in Boulder is nascent compared to LA, NY, Chicago, Lisbon or Beunos Aires.  However, Colorado is filled with intelligent, forward-thinking innovators in other fields. People will want the latest carbon fiber bike frame, respect the lines of the Audi A7, and update their ski technology seasonally and the design world is catching up.  It takes some risk to innovate but the communities here filled with people who constantly take risks on ski slopes, crags, mountain bike trails and in their own businesses. The same attitude toward cutting edge technology of software design and equipment design are slow to inculcate the architecture world.  As architects, we bear responsibility to push this agenda much harder then we historically have in Boulder.  It is still a fairly conservative place architecturally.  We have been fortunate in having clients with vision and willing to trust in ours.

Your firm has received an impressive number of awards over the years.  Is there one, in particular, that really stands out for you?

Awards. Funny, it is certainly rewarding to be recognized by the profession for contributions, but with each comes the challenge to up the bar.  I guess in that way they are rewarding.  While the national recognitions warm the ego, our being named Firm of the Year in 2009 by the North Chapter of the AIA is perhaps the most meaningful.  It not only recognizes design, but also contributions to the community, the development and mentoring of young professional in the office.  In my mind it is the recognition that over twenty years we’ve developed a humane workplace that can still hold the highest standard of design quality in the region.

Most recently, one of your architects, Claire Jordan, was selected as one of the recipients of the “5 under 40 Awards“.  What qualities made her stand out among other nominees?

Claire is an exceptionally thoughtful and tenacious designer.  The daughter of a fine woodworker, she brings an in depth understanding of materials and a sensitivity to assembly that is rare in the digital age.  From her tenure with Balthup, she has an understanding of precision kitchen design.  Currently she is completing a showroom in Kansas City for Roth the distributors Wolf Sub Zero which will be trend-setting.

Tell us about the projects that you’re working on now.

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Image Courtesy of Arch11

We’ve just completed design of several large modern pavilions for Denver City Parks based upon the changing seasons of the landscape. We have several exciting Colorado residences currently in design, technologically and spatially modern and net-zero energy use.  While we work on a range of budgets and some upwards of $800/sf, we are excited about a North Boulder house we are able to build at $200/sf. or about the same price as a tract home, only this is Architecture!   Another favorite is a pavilion for five significant pieces of art which will be pure sculpted space itself.  It is a challenge to make a house where the architecture can disappear and just allow the art and site to be present.

Your firm currently has offices in Boulder and Denver. Are there any plans for expansion in the near future?

We are able to work on projects throughout North America from here and are traveling from New York to Mexico to Maui for projects.  Interestingly, it seems difficult to get Western Slope work without a presence there, though we are working on projects in a couple of ski towns. Having the Steamboat office might be worthwhile.

But frankly, seeing the forward-looking work being done in Brazil, Chile and Argentina, I might just head south.

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