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Working with the students this semester has led me to reflect a bit on my work.  As a public architecture firm we hire Structural Engineers, as well as many other engineers and consultants to help make our buildings come to fruition.  We then rely on a General Contractor to take the documents (drawings and specifications) we create and turn them into buildings.  Teamwork is absolutely critical in this type of architecture and construction in general.

Just last week in Ms. Klemm’s class I witnessed what can happen when a team works well together and when one fails.  Our plan for the class was a small group exercise.  Teams were to determine a building type (tower, mansion and school were some of the options selected in this class) and then build the structure using nothing but paper and masking tape.  In the following class period students would attach a skin to the structures turning them into building models.

One group of four girls in the class was working really well as a team.  They decided quickly that they wanted to build a mansion.  The whole team bought in to the process.  Roles were defined and they continued to discuss openly as there mansion took shape.

Another team of four boys started out well.  They were the first to announce the type of building they wanted to make, a tower.  They broke into two teams.  Each worked on a single cube that they would later stack to make the first two stories of their tower.  However, as they worked on their individual cubes they did not continue to talk as a team.  When they came back together as a group to combine the two cubes, their differing visions caused the project to fail altogether.  When one of the boys decided he did not like the direction of the group he smashed the model.

At the end of the 30 minute working period the girls had a sturdy two story frame with a roof that was beginning to look like a model of a mansion.  The groups next to the girls saw the success they were having and worked hard to match the results of their neighbors.  On the other hand, by the time the class period ended, the group of boys had only a pile of paper tubes.  Their group and some of the members of the groups next to them were engaging in paper tube sword fights with the remnants of their tower.

The real world of construction may not be quite as exaggerated, but it is not wholly different either.  Teams that work well together can achieve projects that act as a positive influence on the communities around them, while teams that fail to communicate finish projects in disarray, or worse.  At a small scale it was a valuable reminder of how important teamwork and good communication are in today’s complex construction projects.

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As practicing architects, we find it all too common that the public does not fully appreciate the role that we play in the built environment.  Not only do we help to ensure the safety of the built environment, we also act as project leaders to ensure the aspirations of our clients and the community are realized in the built environment.  The work we do as Architects shapes not only streets, neighborhoods, and cities – but also the way we live.

As part of our firm’s community outreach, we have been working to educate the general public about Architects and the importance of good design.  One way we do this is by participating in the Denver Architectural Foundation’s Cleworth Architectural Legacy program.  As participants we go into elementary schools in the Denver Public School system to educate the students about architecture.

This year we have been working with Sheri Klemm’s 4th and 5th grade students at Valverde Elementary school.  The focus this year is on building structures.  We have a lot of fun with the students building straw and paper clip structures, newspaper tube geodesic domes, and paper buildings complete with structural frames and exterior skins.  Hopefully, in the process we have taught them a bit about design, teamwork, and the role of architects in the built environment.