You are currently browsing the monthly archive for January 2011.


In mid-2009 we started working on the Sangre de Cristo PK-12 School, in support of klipp architecture.  One of the most exciting things about that project was the opportunity to pursue true geothermal heating, because the proposed site is located over a geological hot spot.  The San Luis Valley is well known for existing geothermally fed operations, such as a local community swimming pool and the Colorado Gators Reptile Park. We were aware at the time that Adams State College in nearby Alamosa was also pursuing the possibility of using geothermal heating for a significant portion of its existing campus buildings.

This was exciting because most so-called “geothermal” systems are actually geo-exchange.  That is, they use the constant temperature of the earth as a heat sink, gathering and concentrating heat from the earth in winter and injecting waste heat back into the earth in summer.  In geothermal, naturally hot water is withdrawn from the earth and used to heat the building, in place of boilers, furnaces, or electric heating.  Although geo-exchange systems are very efficient, geothermal has the potential for nearly free heating and even lower utility bills.

Working closely with our mechanical engineers at M. E. Group, we researched other buildings using geothermal heating in the U.S. as well as the local geological conditions.  Unlike the pool at the Glenwood Hot Springs, where 4,000,000 gallons of hot water bubble to the surface every day, the hot spot under our site was 3,000 feet deep.  That’s a pretty deep, and costly, well.

Our next step was to confer with the Colorado Department of Natural Resources.  Recently adopted regulations require any water withdrawn from the aquifer to be replaced in the same “working portion” of the same aquifer.  In other words, water withdrawn from 3,000 feet deep must be re-injected into that aquifer at 3,000 feet deep.  So, instead of one well we would need two, at double the cost.  And the energy required to re-inject water so deep into the earth, where pressures are enormous, is substantial.  

Further complicating the problem was water chemistry.  Water withdrawn from the aquifer to be used for heating the school could not be substantially altered chemically before it is re-injected.  Depending on mineral content and other chemical aspects of the withdrawn water, it might have been necessary to treat it before running it through the heating system.  

After a few months of analysis, and several conversations with Colorado Department of Natural Resources, we concluded that geothermal heating would be prohibitively expensive and technically challenging for the Sangre de Cristo PK-12 School.  We learned that the old style “pump and dump” geothermal operations (in which withdrawn water is not re-injected) in Colorado and elsewhere, no longer comply with current regulations.  In fact, it appears that a geothermal system would only be appropriate for a very large project where the initial high cost can be justified by long term energy savings.  Fortunately, we were able to design the school with a horizontal loop field geo-exchange system that will be reliable, easy to maintain, and deliver exceptional energy performance.

A portion of one of four murals at the IST designed by Noble Erickson in collaboration with Hutton Architecture Studio.

Hutton Architecture Studio is emerging as a leader in the incorporation of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) programs into schools.  Evidence shows that schools that incorporate STEM into their curriculum are a powerful tool for producing graduates with a deep knowledge and passion for science and math that translates into higher college graduation rates.

In order for our American students to keep up with the rest of the world in science and technology we need to reinvent how we teach these subjects.  In an existing school, these learning spaces and the activities within them should be visible to all students, rather than concealed.  Science room design should also take advantage of recent studies and provide adequate space for modern experimental techniques while maintaining safety.

We have been fortunate to design a few STEM school projects.  Our latest one, the Institute of Science and Technology for the Cherry Creek School District, is of special interest to me due to the incorporation of four large murals visually depicting the history of science.

I have long believed that one of the failures in K-12 science education is the depersonalization of science as a field of study.  In literature, fine art, or history it is inconceivable to me that students would learn those disciplines without also learning about the great artists and historical figures who made them possible.  Yet, because we like to think that science is completely objective, we tend to present science as an abstract discipline apart from the individuals who participated in its development.  In the process of removing actual people from the courses of study, we have made science boring.

The idea for the murals at the IST actually started with the District’s description of it as the future “MIT of the Rockies”.  Having spent a fair amount of time on the MIT campus, I vividly recalled the older buildings there with the names of science greats chiseled onto them.  I thought we should do the same inside our building, with the invitation that someday the names of a few IST graduates might find their way into this distinguished assembly.

When I first proposed the concept to Cherry Creek’s Director at IST, Richard Charles, I had no idea how far we would collectively go with it.  Now that we are poised to implement it, I am amazed at the collaborative process that transformed the static collection of a few names into a visually rich and intellectually stimulating series of four murals.  Each of the murals is 113′-8″ long and four feet tall, has a dominant theme, whether Biology, Chemistry, Physics, or Technology, and is related to the labs surrounding it.

We sincerely hope the murals will change how students and faculty alike view science: not as a deterministic and unemotional field, but rather as one of the greatest achievements of human thought, endeavor, and dedication.  Please visit our website for a glimpse!


A few months ago, Hutton Architecture Studio celebrated its 20th Anniversary.  Actually, we started celebrating on Earth Day last spring, but our Open House in October was the official one.  It led me to reminisce about how we started the office back in 1990.

The office was created from scratch over Labor Day weekend.  I had secured our first commission with the University of Denver to design the Ricks Center for Gifted Children just a few days before and made the difficult decision to leave my mentor, William Muchow, after ten years.  We found a small space to sublease in the Denver Tech Center. 

My wife Christy, who was also our first bookkeeper, helped me move in and set up the office.  Even our children, ages six and four, helped by carrying boxes.  We used our home computer, a DELL 386, as the first office computer.  It wasn’t capable of doing CAD work, so it was primarily for accounting and correspondence.  Like most architects, we were still drafting manually, which continued for the next two years.  And, of course, that was still a few years before any of us had heard of the Internet.  We bought a few desks, chairs, file cabinets, and a conference room table, and we were up and running.     

Within a month, we secured our second commission for the Kent Denver School El Pomar Theater renovation, and began hiring staff.  Nine months after that Labor Day opening, we signed a lease for our first real office space in Greenwood Village.  It was approximately 1,200 square feet, with one private office for me, and a file/storage room.  We stayed there for a few more years and grew to a staff of half a dozen or so. 

Now here we are in early 2011.  We’ve had six different office locations, more than 100 past employees, with 18 current employees (the largest we’ve ever been!), worked on more than 160 educational projects and scores of other project types, and earned dozens of design awards.  We have established ourselves as leaders in sustainable design for the Rocky Mountain region and are beginning to have national influence.  Our work has just begun!