Category Archives: Community Resilience


ONE DAY – A chance to help many

Only 3 weeks till our first BRS/Be A Tool Build day in Golden, CO and we have almost 40 volunteers on board!

NRP-logoThank you Neighborhood Rehab Project for organizing the event! Thank you volunteers for your interest and generous support!

Last week we had a chance to meet with the 5 home owners and learn more about their repair needs.   The projects range from painting and yard work to a full deck replacement and a new roof.   In only ONE DAY, we can help many live in a warmer, safer, dryer home.

This week we are very excited to reveal our official Build Day T-shirt design. Many thanks for those who participated in the t-shirt design competition – we had some creative ideas and it was tough to choose.  Congratulations to Mackenzie Manson for the extremely creative and literal “Be A Tool” image.  BRS-BeATool-TShirt-W2 Next update will share more about the official build day work plan.

Thanks for following.


BRS “Be A Tool” Volunteer Build Day!

brs-logo NRP-logoSaturday May 14th, 2016, Barker Rinker Seacat Architecture will host their first volunteer build day with Neighborhood Rehab Project’sBe A Tool” program. 

Based in Golden, CO, Neighborhood Rehab Project partners with local organizations to host a volunteer build days called “Be A Tool”.   This build day focuses on helping homeowners within communities address their warm, safe, dry household needs, through empowering volunteers and purchasing materials to meet those needs.  


 Neighborhood Rehab Project cultivates partnerships that unify and support sustainable change within community.

This happens through facilitation from their parent organization Community Faith in Action and a partnership with the city of Golden. It is their vision to empower volunteers and homeowners to work together for the betterment of our community. This happens through service, skill development, and a strong focus on relational development. 

 Here’s a link to their website

untitled6We are excited to have 30 volunteers on board and look forward to working with Neighborhood Rehab Project to support our local families in Golden, Colorado.

There is much planning yet to be done, stay tuned as we learn more about the families and scope of work. 

Monona Solar Project

The City of Monona’s Solar Project was recently recognized as RENEW Wisconsin’s “2013 Most Innovative Renewable Energy Project.”

CityHall_entryview - CopyWhat has become the largest solar project for a municipality in the State of Wisconsin started with a collaborative partnership with Solar Connections, LLC, Madison based Solar Consultant,  and Falcon Energy Systems, a Colorado-based investment group.

In the agreement between the City and Falcon, the City agreed to lease roof space to Falcon-owned solar arrays in exchange for renewable energy credits.

PublicWorks-roofview1The system is installed across four City buildings and totals 157 kW that will produce 30% of the energy used for these facilities. The City of Monona will save over $75,000 in the first 6 years and has the option to purchase the Solar System at the end of year 6, realizing a return on investment within 8-10 years.

CityHall_groundview3 - Copyhow-solar-works - CopyLibrary-egauge - Copy

Canstruction Madison 2013

A community competition to end hunger.  When made from cans of food and packaged goods, the structures’ building blocks will fill the shelves of one of the largest food pantries in Dane County.  Via AIA WI, several of my colleagues and I worked with MOM (Middleton Outreach Ministry) to organize the event, making it’s Madison debut in 2011, and assist teams with Can structure design and construction.  Hope to see you and your creative design team and innovative can-structure in 2014!

The following are 2013’s top picks:










money does buy happiness

How you spend your money this holiday season can have a direct affect on your happiness.   I challenge you to think a little differently about this year’s giving season.


After being bombarded by a whirl-wind of messages hyping bargains on both Black Friday and Cyber Monday, tomorrow brings yet another holiday shopping slogan…

Worldwide volunteers and non-profits are celebrating GivingTuesday A day to raise awareness about the importance of paying-it-forward during the holiday season. Find out more at

el salvador trip_red
Thanksgiving dinner table 2012, my sister made a recommendation:  “Instead of giving gifts for Christmas this year, let’s donate to Habitat of Humanity – Global Village El Salvador?”

The monies donated helped to support my Feb. 2013 volunteer trip to build homes in Ahuachapán, El Salvador.

This year, we’ve decided to continue this giving season tradition.

Each person must find a non-profit organization, research it, donate, and the report on it at our Christmas dinner.



I recently viewed a TED talk video where a Harvard Professor describes  how “Money does buy happiness.”  Click this link below to watch the video:

Before You Go Shopping Today, Listen To This Harvard Guy Talk About Spending Money And Happiness


giving-season_handsHERE ARE MY FAVORITES:

Below are some organizations I have personally worked with and can highly recommend.  Click on the logos to visit their websites.









What is a Bioneer?

What is a Bioneer?Bioneers-Logo-tm

I spent the day with 270 + people who can talk Sustainability for 8+ hours straight.  It’s exhausting.

Listening to the first speaker, I felt excited and inspired.  By mid-day, a headache….so much talking and thinking and brainstorming and….. By the end, the responsibility weighed heavy.

road-bike-classicI do NOT drive a hybrid/electric vehicle, always buy organic, recycle everything, buy local everything, always remember turn off the lights, or always remember to buy less stuff.  But, I DO get excited when I can reduce energy bills and save money, buy healthy food, support local businesses, teach my niece and nephew that biking is fun, and work with people who respect our lakes and rivers.

Registration question: What is your biggest sustainability challenge? Aside from MG&E refusing to play nice, the biggest challenge is engaging my community.  How do I empower them to build and own a sustainability plan?

I asked other “Bioneers” this very question, hoping to leave with a clear answer.  Instead, I just got another question – “What is important to them?”  Start there and work backwards – you will find the answers.  (Yoda, is that you?)

imagesCAT5O3UQA Parent’s priority may be good education, a Senior’s priority is how to get to an event, any resident’s priority may be safe streets – Figure out how Sustainability meets those needs and you will have your answer.  Thank you Michael M. for your insight.

What is your biggest challenge and who can help you find the answer?…. or at least ask the right question that will bring you to the answer.

P.S.  coined by Kenny Ausubel, a  bioneer is a biological pioneer, an ecological inventor who’s got an elegant and often simple set of solutions for environmental conundrums.   Below are links to more information on this topic.

Sustainability in El Salvador


I wish it weren’t, but it’s easy to forget that people elsewhere see and do things differently.  The arrogance is in assuming that our approach is the only way.

When a student asked me how to handle a difference of opinion in a third world country. I responded, “It depends.”

The student described a situation where he was on a work trip to Guatemala and helping a local laborer paint a house.  The laborer dipped a large piece of cloth in the paint and threw it up against the house exterior.  Standing next to the laborer, the student picked up a roller handle, gently rolled it in the pan of paint, and then meticulously rolled the paint on the wall.  The laborer went about his business with the cloth and ignored the roller.

41-largeThe student grew frustrated and tried again to demonstrate how the roller worked.  When he finished telling his story I asked, “Why do you think the laborer kept about his business?” He answered, “Though it may be inefficient to us, it is the way it has been done for many years.”  I asked, “Will this scenario put anyone into danger or cause the building to fail?”  He’d realized that this was a good example of when to let it go and set our ego aside.


I still struggle with how to handle a difference of opinion when visiting another culture.  It is important to remember that we are the guest and to show respect.  I reflect on this when preparing for my El Salvador trip, less than a month away.  Part of a new sustainability initiative for the established partnership with Habitat for Humanity El Salvador, I wonder what sustainability means to them.


When I asked our trip organizer, “How do I prepare for our meetings on sustainability with the HFH El Salvador staff architect?”, he responded with the outline below.

Meeting to Explore Shared Sustainability Interests under the HFHDC/HFHES Partnership:


– Primary – information exchange

– Determine if there are any areas/topics appropriate for follow up under the partnership


–  Respect cultural and economic differences

– Respond to the needs and priorities of our partners at HFH El Salvador; don’t push solutions we may be enamored with but that are not appropriate for them.


– Current and anticipated sustainability practices in new house and lot construction

– Financial implications of sustainability practices

– Designing Habitat houses to accommodate changing uses over time

– Preparations for adapting to climate change and weird weather events

hfh-el-salvadorOut of all the items, I think that Approach is the most important.  Without a mutual respect, nothing can be accomplished. Sincerely hoping for an exchange  where as we can learn how to best provide what they need, not what we think they need.

merci beaucoup

merci beaucoup 

vielen dank 


muchas gracias 

hartelijk dank 



grazie mille  

Can you guess the languages?

“Merci beaucoup” – French for ‘thank you very much.’   The day after what we celebrate as “Thanksgiving Day”, a day to give thanks, we reflect on the many things to be thankful for.  Among the many things I am most thankful for are family and friends.   

Do what you can with what you have where you are.

“Do what you can with what you have where you are.”   Theodore Roosevelt


Considering recent questions on the purpose of project “Architect Unseen,” I respond with this.  All that remains undone is overwhelming and the path, at times, seems insurmountable.   However, if one can break down a big idea into manageable projects, it is possible.

The project launch is a focus on fundraising for a volunteer trip to El Salvador.  The purpose of this trip is to learn firsthand from a successful recovery program in a country similar to Haiti in climate and geography.  With hopes to bring home an understanding of what it takes to empower people with the knowledge to help themselves, I hope to apply this locally and globally – especially in Haiti.

My advice, be careful what you ask for, you just might get it.

 Following the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, I asked – “What can I do to help?”  Closely connected to Key West, I traveled south to help pick up garbage from the shorelines.  Neither scientist nor marine biologist, the feeling of helplessness was overwhelming.  On returning home, I asked the question a little differently, “What can I do as an architect to help?”  I searched for architecture volunteer programs and sent a few emails.  The next day, Rachel Minnery, co-founder of Architects Without Borders Seattle, asks if I would like to talk with her about an upcoming Haiti relief trip. Three weeks later, I am on an airplane to Miami to meet 11 architects and engineers and travel on to Petit Goave, Haiti.

It was the beginning of this journey and a fitting introduction to this project, Architect Unseen.

Visiting and working with people from other cultures provides an opportunity to learn more about one’s own.  Now certified as a disaster assistance – safety assessment program trainer, it is time to start training.  Exposed to the worst case situation in Haiti, it is time to find a way to prevent it.   With your help, project Architect Unseen will continue to evolve and find ways to help people.

Thank you for taking the time to read my story.


Rebuild, Restore, Renew New Jersey



As I work to prepare for El Salvador and my role as AIA Disaster Assistance Coordinator for the state of WI, there are lessons to be learned from Hurricane Sandy.  I remain in touch with AIA contacts in Washington DC and New Jersey. Below is an update on the slow, but steady progress made in New Jersey.

A little more than two weeks after Hurricane Sandy, the focus is still on emergency response.

The 3 stages of disaster response are as follows: 

1. Emergency: The first response, it relies on quick action and involves providing emergency shelter, medical assistance, food, and other such services. This stage can last two to three weeks

2.  Relief: Short-term housing, health services, and employment counseling are provided. Formal assessment of damage begins with examinations of buildings, including analysis of historic properties and other structures. This stage may last up to six months.

3. recovery:  up to and beyond 3 yrs +This stage is characterized by rebuilding, with an emphasis on long-term comprehensive planning to enhance the physical fabric of the community. Regulatory changes may be necessary to mitigate the effect of future disasters. This period may last three years or more.

As we work toward relief and recovery, AIA architects in New Jersey remain closely involved in the efforts.  A letter below from Cooper Martin, AIA National, shares that most building damage assessments have been completed, but that the future focus will be not only on rebuilding, but also making sure that a better infrastructure is in place should there be another disaster.

Subject: RE: AIA and the California Safety Assessment Program – New Jersey


Our assessments have been completed where we were allowed to help conduct them, and right now I think we have more local volunteers than we know what to do with. Most of our current activities are roundtable discussions such as this:

If you haven’t seen it already, there was a good story on the obstacles we experienced in our aid efforts at:

Our next step will actually be to organize a couple of training sessions and to prepare to lobby the state legislature to pass Good Samaritan law for the next disaster. Our partners at Arch. for Humanity are assessing needs and identifying gaps in the recovery activities that federal funding will support.

Cooper Martin
Manager, Community Resilience
The American Institute of Architects