Rick Sommerfeld talks about what it’s like to work with graduate students and make amazing buildings from unconventional materials.

What could possibly make those ugly beginnings worse? Try going through the messy process of designing and building with 15 graduate students. Then repeat the process every semester and call it your career.

Since founding Colorado Building Workshop in 2009 Rick Sommerfeld has built nine community projects in Colorado and, in collaboration with DesignBuildBLUFF, five charitable homes and two cabins in Southern Utah. Many of the projects utilize discarded or utilitarian materials most would deem “ugly”. Through the years Colorado Building Workshop has embraced these affordable materials, analyzed them for their unique qualities and elevated them in their projects.

About the speaker

Erik “Rick” Sommerfeld is a Senior Instructor and Director of Colorado Building Workshop, the design build program at the University of Colorado Denver. Since founding Colorado Building Workshop in 2009 Rick has built 9 community projects in Colorado and, in collaboration with DesignBuildBLUFF, 5 charitable homes in Southern Utah.

Rick’s work with Colorado Building Workshop and DesignBuildBLUFF has been featured in numerous publications including the New York Times, Architectural Record, Mark Magazine, and Colorado Architect. His projects have also been covered in two recent books, “Urgent Architecture: 40 Sustainable Housing Solutions for a Changing World” and “Architectural Follies.”

In the last 5 years, under Rick’s direction, Colorado Building Workshop has exhibited work at the AIA National Convention, Denver International Airport, 16th Street Mall in Downtown Denver, and the Downtown Aurora Visual Arts Center. His work has received over a dozen local and national awards including the 2015 ACSA Collaborative Practice Award, 2014 ACSA Design Build Award, two AIA Colorado Young Architect’s Award for project of the year, a Western Mountain Region AIA Honor Award and a Gold Hard Hat Award for Outstanding Small Project. This winter his work is on display at the Pavillon de l’Arsenal in Paris, France as part of the exhibit entitled “Grey Matter- material, architecture and reuse”.

Rick’s pedagogical vision for design build in heavily focused on integrated project delivery. This requires students to work closely with engineers and consultants at the earliest stages of design, testing their ideas against contextual and programmatic constraints. He believes this enhances the practical application of architectural theory and promotes a blend of hands-on skills, authentic learning, and material exploration to construct buildings for communities in need.

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