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Would it surprise you to know that in 1969 almost 50% of children walked or biked to school?  Today, if you’ve ever survived the morning drop-off line at your neighborhood school, it probably wouldn’t surprise you that less than 15% do so now.  For those of us of raised  on the 1969 side of the statistical curve, the freedom a bicycle offered was incredible. We didn’t even think of it as great exercise, riding a bike was just something that we all took for granted as the way to get around.

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Today, changes in culture, neighborhoods, public policy, and lifestyles are often at odds with the simple idea of children being able to ride a bicycle (or for that matter – walk, skateboard, or skip) to school.  We were reminded of this fact again with an excellent article in Bicycling Magazine entitled, “Why Johnny Can’t Ride” that features one group of parents’ challenge in changing a policy that forbids children from riding a bicycle to their neighborhood school, even if escorted by a parent.  By working with the school and community leaders, these parents are having some limited success with their efforts, but they continue to face challenges that many parents will recognize – traffic, distance, logistics and child safety.

Design can be a part of the solution that enables safer transportation alternatives for children.   As architects we can’t tell a parent how their children should get to school, but with good design and community involvement we can create and enable options so that they feel like they have a choice.  School sites near existing parks and trails, provide an excellent opportunity to tie bike routes together for a safe trip to school.  Even if bike paths are not available considering how ALL traffic, vehicular and pedestrian, flow into and out of a school site can increase safety.  Too often, bike rack locations are an afterthought and not located in a secure and accessible areas rather than an integrated part of the transit solution for a school.  This integrated thinking is critical for  truly successful transit accessibility.

If you are looking for ways to support or bring alternative transportation methods to your school, there are many excellent resources on the internet (links below) for districts, communities, and parents.  They provide useful information for how to provide safe alternative transportation options for schools by considering infrastructure, education, and financial factors.  Programs such as Walk To School Day, and Bike to School Day also help show the possibilities and fun of leaving the car and bus behind.  To close, here are few facts to consider from the Safe Routes To School website:

  1. In 2009, 30 billion vehicle miles and 6.5 billion vehicle trips were make taking children to and from schools, representing 10-14 percent of traffic on the road during the morning commute.
  2. Returning to 1969 levels of walking and bicycling to school could save 3.2 billion vehicle miles, 1.5 million tons of CO2 and 89,000 tons of other pollutants—equal to keeping more than 250,000 cars off the road for a year.
  3. Walking one mile to and from school each day is two-thirds of the recommended sixty minutes of physical activity a day.
  4. Approximately 55% of children are bused, and we spend $21.5 billion nationally each year on school bus transportation, an average of $854 per child transported per year.  Eliminating one bus route can save about $45,000/year.

Finally, don’t forget these upcoming dates!

June 27, 2012 is Bike to Work Day: see

October 3, 2012 is National Walk to School Day: see

May 8, 2013 is National Bike to School Day: see

References and Resources:

Bicycling Magazine, “Why Johnny Can’t Ride:

Safe Routes to School National Partnership:

CDC Kids Walk-to School:

National Center for Safe Routes to School:


As practicing architects we use a specific vocabulary that allows us to have pointed conversations with other in construction fields.  Without that, communication among professionals would be would be more cumbersome, time consuming, and less precise.  In fact, one major role of any professional education is to learn the vocabulary.  On the other hand, all professionals have an obligation, when addressing non-professionals, to limit the use of that vocabulary, or it becomes jargon.

We thought it would be fun to post a series of blogs that defines some of the terms you may have heard architects using.  Some of these are current terms that are used almost daily in the practice of architecture while others are more obscure or historical and are less frequently used in contemporary practice.  This begins a series of blogs that we are calling Architectural Vocabulary 101.  This is by no means intended to be a complete dictionary of architectural terms, but hopefully it is fun and we all learn something new.  Please enjoy.

Balusters: small closely spaced vertical posts.

  • Balusters are the vertical members used to fill the space below handrails. They are often referred to as Spindles.
  • Balusters add physical and visual support to your handrails and are often necessary for safety.

Balustrade: a railing with supporting balusters.

  • A balustrade is a row of repeating balusters – small posts that support the upper rail of a railing. Staircases and porches often have balustrades.
  • A decorative railing together with its supporting balusters, often used at the front of a parapet or gallery.

Parapet:  a parapet is a low stone or brick wall at the top of a building.  A crenellated parapet has rhythmic breaks in the wall to create a pattern of battlements.

  • In contemporary architecture a parapet is a low wall, that may be made of materials other than stone or brick, at the edges or in the field of a low sloping roof that terminates the roofing membrane.
  • A low protective wall built where there is a sudden dangerous drop, e.g. along the edge of a balcony, roof, or bridge. Some parapets are battlemented, especially on castles, and many are built as ornamental features.
  • A bank of soil, rubble, or sandbags piled up along the edge of a military trench for protection from enemy fire.

Crenelated:  Having battlements.

  • Indented; notched: a crenelated wall.
  • Probably from French créneler, to furnish with battlements, from Old French crenel, crenelation, diminutive of cren, notch; see cranny
  • Of a moulding, etc; having square indentations

Battlement:  Indentations on parapet

  • A series of indentations forming a defensive or decorative parapet
  • Often, battlements. a parapet or cresting, originally defensive but later usually decorative, consisting of a regular alternation of merlons and crenels; crenelation.
  • On a castle or fort, a battlement or crenellation is a parapet with open spaces for shooting.

Merlon: The raised portions of a battlement are called merlons, and the openings are called embrasures.

  • Masonry buildings in the Gothic Revival style may have architectural decoration which resembles battlements.
  • A merlon forms the vertical solid parts of a battlement or crenallated parapet — in Medieval architecture of fortifications for millennia.
  • Merlons are sometimes narrowly pierced by vertical embrasure ‘slits’ to view and fire through. When a wider space is between two merlons it is called a crenel, and a series of many merlon—crenels creates crenallation.  Crenels designed in later eras, for use by cannons, were called embrasures.
  • Not to be confused with Merlin, a wizard – or with Merlin, a falcon.

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.

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.