Edit by Kerrie Lee Brown
Photography courtesy of Jeff Nelson
E.J. Meade, Design Principal at Arch11, is more interested in the art of architecture than the profession of architecture; and we can see why. His firm’s won numerous awards and yet his demure nature comes across in every project from the most lavish to the most sublime. All of which are inspiring. Being fully inspired to him means weaving architecture with a sense of place—paired with uncompromising craft and inventive detail and that is what sets Arch11’s work apart.
I understand you do really high-end projects in Denver. Can you share some of the details about what made them so special?
“We have a variety of projects in Denver metro, from homes in the Polo Club and foothills to the corporate headquarters for Pearl Izumi and more recently the Roth Headquarters on South Broadway. We’ve also made a niche restoring and adding to mid-century modern homes in the metro area. We are in the process of restoring one of Bill Muchow’s (early houses in South Denver, adding to a Victor Hornbein, home in Denver’s Montclair neighborhood and are completely restoring Boulder modernist, Charles Haertling’s, iconic Green Rock Drive house, (historic photo attached) an iconic Boulder home. The restoration projects provide a chance to have a posthumous dialogue with architects who shaped Denver fifty years ago. Additionally, we are building several amazing residences around the state. We just completed the ‘D’ house after several years of construction. It pushes the bounds of material craft and construction.”
What do you enjoy the most about your job?
“The diversity of problems to solve, the specificity of sites and informed client conversations keep me energized. Ultimately, what imparts the greatest satisfaction is revisiting the project after a year and hearing how the workplace or home or restaurant imparts joy into the users lives. I also enjoy the conversations I have with all the members of the team: from the excavator and welder to the city official, Arch11 team members to the CEO concerned about timing or the reaction of his board, we are all working toward a collaborative end. I try to end each workday with creative design work, sketching or working in model forms. It is all too easy to be consumed by the managerial aspects of work, but important to remind myself that the reason for getting into this in the first place was the desire to be creative.”
What is your creative process when starting a job for a client?
“We strive to understand our client’s needs and design goals. No matter the project, we start with a deep investigation of the site. Practicing in Colorado graces us with some spectacular sites to work with. We look at topography, climate, views, the unseen history of places and develop opportunities to weave the interior spaces with the outdoors. Each building is approached as a lens through which to experience its place. My partners and I all spent time both building and teaching at the university level. It has left us academically curious, but pragmatic. We try to infuse our work with a durable set of ideas or guidelines that are inspired by project context. The early stages of a project are great collaborative spaces with the client and design team. We make it at one challenging and fun.
My time as a craftsperson instilled a dedication to detail—from the manner in which a building meets the ground to the mating of materials, to the engagement of a hand to a door handle, I endeavor to make each delightful or meaningful. I tell clients that what we do is like buying a custom tailor piece of clothing: It has to fit perfectly, you need to feel comfortable in it, it should be durable, and you may have paid a little more than you set out to, but it was well worth it because you wear it all the time.”
What advice would you give to an aspiring architect?
“That is a good question, it reminds me of some of the advice I received from architects a generation or two ahead of me. Cab Childress, the architect who shaped DU’s campus, was optimistically cautious. He told me, ‘Architecture is a tough living, but a great life.’ He was spot on. Anthony Pellechia, the Tabor Center designer, was much more forward and said in his Philadelphia accent, “You gotta draw every f^%$ing nut and bolt.” Both were right. Given the time and ongoing education architecture demands, it is a difficult business model. Perhaps that is just the way I choose to practice—giving care and attention to each project deserves doesn’t always leave profit. But the life of making is rewarding and the opportunity to collaborate with visionary clients and talented builders to make a sustainable contribution our community is its own reward.
And you do have to draw ‘every nut and bolt.’ Architecture demands that every detail be thought through in order that they support the whole project. Attentive follow through with that is the measure of our success. The other advice I would add to those aspiring to be an architect is to garner patience, the education is ongoing, the path to really being good at one’s craft is long, choose substance over style, travel with eyes open and a good pencil, …oh, and pay attention to your shoes—they say a lot about you.”
Anything else you’d like to add about yourself or your career/business?
“They say that one’s good fortune is earned. Our thoughtfulness has earned us forty or so local and national design awards. It is encouraging to have the efforts recognized, but they are outweighed by the reviews of clients and taking delight in watching their lives interact with the space—whether a house, school or office.
There is a cliché amongst architects when asked what project is their favorite and the they answer, ‘the next one.’ I think it actually was a Wright quote. In keeping with that tradition, I am very excited about two projects that we recently completed design of and will be building in the coming year. The first is a very simple house slipped into a mesa in Boulder county. The home is a concrete and glass pavilion designed around five canonical works of American conceptual art including original pieces by Jenny Holzer, Richard Serra, and Ellsworth Kelly.
The second project in many ways represents the goal of all our work going forward. Many of the homes we design are net-zero energy use. That is, they produce all the power they need to heat, cool and light the space over the course of a year. As stewards of the environment, we work to minimize buildings impact on the environment. We completed one of the first LEED gold homes in the City of Boulder. And I’m proud to say it doesn’t look like one. It is a building that is still almost half glass, but operates with sustainable conscience.
The second project is a science and nature center located in the foothills at almost 9000’ above sea level. It is high design in many senses of the word! Designed as a building to teach about the Front Range ecosystems, part museum, part school, part public auditorium, it knits itself into a hillside, literally set up as a device to view the landscape. And moreover, we’ve limited the carbon footprint of the materials and it has no carbon emissions in its operation. It proves design can be esthetically progressive and exemplary in limiting our impact on climate change. At this point in my career, there is only time to do work we believe in.”
For business inquiries, please contact E.J. at EJMeade@arch11.com or 303.546.6868 ext. 106.