Students Tour the New Academic Building Construction Site

Most of them had walked past the new academic building construction site at the corner of Speer and Larimer Street on the Auraria Campus dozens of time. The University of Colorado Denver College of Architecture and Planning undergraduate students in Phillip Gallegos, ArchD, Construction Practices class had smelled the diesel fumes, heard the hammering and watched the building rise up. Then, they got to go inside.

Perfect Timing
“We are literally reading about steel frame construction right now,” Nathan Spaulding explained. “I’ve always enjoyed seeing the physical embodiment of what I’m studying and this tour came at a perfect time. Walking through and seeing the steel firsthand was pretty cool.”

Learning first-hand
Gallegos is one of several faculty members taking advantage of the on-campus field trip location. Civil engineering students also have toured the site.

“Having the construction site nearby is so convenient”, said Gallegos. “We only have an hour and a quarter for this class each week. If the project wasn’t right here, a field trip wouldn’t be possible.”

Inspiring tour guide
The tours are facilitated by Saunders Construction, the company in charge of the site. The first CU Denver College of Architecture and Planning tour was led by Cynthia Ottenbrite, AIA from AndersonMasonDale Architects. Ottenbrite received her Master of Architecture (MArch) degree from CU Denver and is one of the building’s project architects.

“The thing that energized me the most was seeing a woman leading the tour,” said CAP student Margarita Holguin. “Observing everything up close as opposed to just learning about it in a book was helpful, but I’d always heard that this was a hard career for women. Seeing Cynthia as a leader inspires me.”

Safety first
The tour began outside the building with talk about safety. Everyone was issued a hard hat and Gallegos set up a buddy system for each student to be responsible for another. “The whole point of this is that you don’t trip or step in a hole. It sounds silly, but it’s happened.”

Ottenbrite pointed out the exterior features of the building talking about steel and concrete and the structure’s four-sided design that will be visible from all directions. Limestone around the entrances was just being placed as the students toured.

Textbooks come alive
The focus of the tour was to make the students’ textbook come alive. “This is about visualization,” said Gallegos, “having the students understand how structural systems are built, the selection of materials and the process of construction sequencing. By touring early in the process, they’ll see the ‘bones’ of the building before it’s covered up.”

The students climbed up the five flights of temporary stairs attached to the outside of the building to access the top floor. Once there, they were just as impressed with the fireproofing as they were with the grand mountain view.

They observed design features and nitty-gritty construction details. Among other things, Gallegos pointed out the markings and dates on the steel beams that help the crew keep track of the pieces and their directions.

The group made its way through what will be the Disabilities Resources suite, to the new café and the computer lounge. The students saw where the landscaped courtyard and lawn will be and learned that it will be large enough for Frisbee­­ -­- and, studying.

Surprising details
The surprise came late in the tour as they looked into the two-story classroom wing from the five-story tower section. That’s when they were told that the two buildings won’t actually be physically joined. Instead, they are structurally separated by a two-inch-wide elastomeric expansion joint that spans the floor, up the walls and through the roof assembly. The expansion joint is a structural necessity, accommodating thermal expansion and differential movement between the two wings.

This physical separation allowed the design team to develop two different lateral bracing systems. The five-story tower uses concrete shear walls to transfer lateral loads to the foundation while the classroom wing utilizes steel “x” braced frames.

Rave reviews
When the tour had ended and all the questions were answered, student Joshua Munroe called the tour, “very educational from a design aspect” and his classmates seemed to agree.

“It’s nice to be able to see the flip side of it,” Spaulding explained. “You think architecture is just design but it’s so much more than that. I enjoy putting puzzles together and that’s exactly what this building looks like. After this tour, I am rock solid now that this is what I want to do for my career.”

Leave your mark
The final structural beam soon will be placed atop the building, but before it is hoisted up all students, faculty and staff are invited to sign the beam. To accommodate everyone, the beam will be at ground level in front of North Classroom on Thursday, Oct. 31 from 8-9:30 a.m.

Grand opening fall ‘14
CU Denver’s new academic building is scheduled to open on schedule for the 2014 fall semester. And, when it does, this group of future architects will be among the very few who see the hidden “bones” inside the structure.

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