Category Archives: Project Colorado


Affordable Housing

Affordable Housing

A friend recently asked what my thoughts were on affordable housing.  My first response, “That’s a loaded question.” 

My greatest fear is that I may never learn how to solve this problem in my own part of the world because visiting homes in remote post disaster struck regions of Haiti, El Salvador, and Nepal has forever shifted my perspective.  The American culture has a skewed idea of what is affordable and the cost of housing is escalating out of control.  This is not a problem unique to the United States and thus the solution varies greatly by region. 

house-damageThe families we met in Mahadevtar, a remote village in the mountains of Nepal, were very kind and overly generous hosts. While there, we conducted post disaster assessments; 98% of homes were destroyed and/or completely unsafe. 

Simple farming families, the only thing affordable to them at that moment was the corrugated metal shack they were sleeping in.  Namaste Nepal raised and distributed money to help these families rebuild, closing the gap between what is “affordable” and what is not in this region of Nepal. 


house paintThe families we worked side by side with in El Salvador were both gracious hosts and hard workers.  Habitat for Humanity does an excellent job of helping entire communities and regions develop affordable housing, one house at a time.  Many homes in Ahuachapan had been destroyed by floods years earlier, but when we were there in 2013, several had been rebuilt and many more were in progress. 

We helped one family build a new flood/earthquake resistant home and it was amazing to participate in the project. 

neighbors-childrenMy heart still aches for the people of Haiti.  Six years after the horrible 2010 earthquake, many are still without an affordable safe home. 

The recovery in Nepal and El Salvador is credited to the great network of Non-Government Organizations (NGOs or non-profits) and the partnerships with local government. 


A strong infrastructure is absolutely critical to solving housing problems. 

Haiti is lacking in organization and thus suffers the fate of great poverty and minimal housing.  Why then can’t a country like the United States, one supposedly well supported with great infrastructure, solve critical housing issues like the lack of affordable housing?”   I’m not sure which frustrates me more, the helplessness of Haiti or the complete arrogance of our American culture. 

 The City of Golden, CO is currently facing a dangerous lack of affordable housing. Nestled in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, Golden has drawn many new outdoor enthusiasts, but has yet to meet the new housing demand.    I credit the City for hiring a staff member dedicated solely to affordable housing, but there is much yet to be done.   

NRP-logoNeighborhood Rehab Project (NRP), a local non-profit, has now formed a team dedicated to helping to develop affordable housing in Golden.  

A local architect and new member of this affordable housing team, I look forward to working with NRP and disproving my fear of not finding way to solve this problem locally.

That’s my 2 cents on the topic.  Thanks for reading. 


Project CO #6: Thank You

CO mountains

Thank you to All Hands Volunteers (AHV) Project Colorado leaders for your passion and dedication. Thank you for the generosity of friends and family who have supported my AHV CO venture either through financial contributions or moral support.

all hands sq logoAs learned in Haiti and El Salvador, partnerships are the key to helping families recover and communities rebuild.

The success of Project CO is the partnership between AHV and Habitat for Humanity (HFH) CO.

HFH-CO-logo_newWith the close of AHV Project CO, HFH CO will carry forward the rebuilding.

Please visit their website to learn how you can get involved (click icon.)

For those interested learning more about the 2013 CO, below are resources and statistics on the flood damage and the rebuilding efforts.

Thank you for following my blog.

Please stay tuned for updates as I apply lessons learned in CO to our AIA WI disaster assistance and response partnership with Wisconsin Emergency Management.

The Pediment Group has published a book called “A Thousand Year Rain.”

100 yr rn coverThe Daily Camera, the Estes Park Trail Gazette, the Reporter-Herald and the Times-Call are proud to present this hardcover pictorial book that captures the devastation of the massive flooding that swept across Boulder and Larimer counties.

5% of all sales will be donated to the Community Foundation of Northern Colorado & the Foothills Flood Relief Fund for Boulder and Broomfield Counties.

Boulder CO flood 2013: Facts

Deaths:                                                 4

People unaccounted for:                       0

Homes destroyed:                                 345

Homes damaged:                                  557

Commercial properties damaged:           33

Commercial properties destroyed:           3

Total properties assessed:                     5,592

People evacuated by air:                       1,102

People evacuated by road:                    707

Miles of county roads damaged: Approximately 150

Cost to replace damaged county roads: $100 million to $150 million

Source: Boulder County Office of Emergency Management






Project CO #5 Bakel Residence

hand logoThanks to the help of All Hands Volunteers, Patty Bakel, an elderly woman with health problems, is able to stay in her own home.

Last fall’s rains flooded the basement of her Longmont home, requiring the entire level to be gutted, rewired, plumbed, framed, and dry walled.


photo3Heather, our All Hands leader, was the onsite supervisor the days we worked on Patty’s house.

Heather joined All Hands just over a year ago while volunteering on post hurricane Sandy cleanup efforts.

I listened in awe as Heather shared stories about the people she’d helped on both the post Sandy and Colorado projects. She spoke very passionately about her disaster response work.



photo4With great patience, Heather walked me through the “drywall & mud” process. Finishing corners is a challenge, but ceilings are a lot harder.

Heather snapped a photo just as I was making another attempt at “mudding.”

Humbled by the complexity of the art, this experience has taught me a whole new respect for this process.







The Habitat for Humanity /All Hands partnership has been the key to the success of the Colorado rebuild project.

Reuben, the All Hands Volunteer Coordinator (and a very patient and kind man), gave me a tour of the new Longmont Habitat office. This is where the magic started and will keep moving forward after the All Hands team moves on to Project Detroit next week.


The two white boards serve photo10as a most effective tool in tracking both each project’s success and where volunteers will be sent each day.

Project CO #4: Historic Preservation

DSC01660Wednesday’s work day focused on the restoration of a historic home in Longmont. I worked side by side with Habitat for Humanity and AmeriCorps volunteers and was most impressed by the enthusiasm of the young AmeriCorps candidates. After driving through the heavy snow from Loveland, they arrived smiling and ready to work. As the outside temps read 5 degrees, we were all grateful to work inside.

 americorps-logoAll Hands Volunteers and Habitat for Humanity have partnered to renovate this 100 year old home that will serve as a home for AmeriCorps Volunteers who will continue the local rebuilding efforts.   This house, currently owned by the church next door, was not damaged by the floods, but it will serve an important role in providing a place to stay for these key volunteer laborers.

drywall girlsWork responsibilities included drywall hanging/taping, plastering, painting, and floor staining. Here are two vibrant young women having fun doing the drywall work – kudos ladies.

I’d worked side by side with Janette, a regular Habitat volunteer who has traveled the country with her husband to work on these projects. She was wonderful with the young AmeriCorps folks – very patient and encouraging. After Janette asked me to help with scrubbing the wood floors to prep them for staining, she grabbed a bucket and kneeled down right next to me.


Since most volunteers are not seasoned contractors, they often hire local tradesmen to do the technical work, including plumbing, electrical, and tiling work.   The electricians are on site today to run new wiring and install fixtures.

A local architect generously volunteered his time to draw up the plans (elevations, floor layout , electrical placement, and plumbing locations)  for this renovation.   This is another good example of architects giving back to their communitie by helping with the rebuilding efforts.

longmont tempThursday’s temperatures are breaking Colorado’s record lows. Unfortunately, this weather is limiting the work that can be accomplished today, but we are hopeful that tomorrows forecasted high of 35 degrees will allow us to make better head way on the rebuilding efforts.

Thank you for your interest in All Hands Volunteers Project Colorado. Stay tuned for more updates from the field. Stay warm!

Project CO #3: First Day – Joe’s House

DSC01623Today we worked on Joe’s house. This is the home where he raised his 3 children and started a successful chiropractic practice.

Last September, when a year’s worth of rain fell in two days, Lyons was one of the areas hardest hit. Joe’s house and business were literally under water.


Months later, the rebuilding efforts began with partial demolition of his home and then lifting of the main structure.

DSC01627One year after the floods, Joe’s street is lined with homes that appear to be either condemned or under construction. Two blocks away, I could see where other houses had already been lifted and renovated, much like the work we were doing on Joe’s house.




Greg, a seasoned contractor and our All Hands Site Leader, swiftly organized gear and delegate tasks. Greg has been here since June.

Next week, after All Hands hands off the CO rebuilding efforts to Habitat for Humanity, Greg will transfer to the Detroit post flood rebuilding efforts.


DSC01642With temps in the 20s, we were grateful for the propane heaters that kept us warm while we painted interior walls.  I worked along two very bright and interesting young students from the San Francisco area.  Kate is studying public health and Naoki – humanities, both are taking a little time away from school to travel and volunteer on cool projects.


AH-hfh-signThe CO build team is comprised of both All Hands and Habitat for Humanity staff who work full time and many volunteers who have been here since August of this year.  There are others, like me, who are only here for one to two weeks.

I’ve met some who have worked in Haiti – we exchanged stories about the villages and kind Haitian people.

Many volunteers here have traveled the world working with All Hands Volunteers or Habitat for Humanity on other disaster response projects. I look forward to hearing their stories.

Project CO #2: Welcome to CO

 imagesCAXJI0PTThe sun was shining brightly over the mountains as my plane landed in Denver – wohoo, sunshine!

However, as I rode the shuttle bus from the terminal, the driver reported, “Enjoy it while it lasts, in just two hours the temperature is going to drop 40 degrees. “  What?


The All Hands Volunteers work week starts on Tuesday at 8:00 am – that’s tomorrow already! I’ve a day to stop in Golden to visit my brother before heading up to base camp in Longmont in the morning.


During a gorgeous afternoon walk along Clear Creek with my brother Ken and Mocha the wonder-dog, the temperature abruptly dropped from 65 to 32 degrees.

And then the snow began to fall…..



The thought of working on a job site in 30 degree temps makes me cringe.

In many ways, this is going to be a different experience than Haiti and El Salvador.

Last thought for the day…..

What do you think of this quote?

Citizen Architect: The Citizen Architect uses his/her insights, talents, training, and experience to contribute meaningfully, beyond self, to the improvement of the community and human condition.”

My brother said, “That sounds a bit esoteric.” I guess he meant that it sounds vague or cryptic. Perhaps he’s right – the phrase alone doesn’t really say all that much.  Well then, it a mission – to discover what that means in the “real world.”

Thanks big brother – I love you.





Project CO #1: T-36 hours

In 36 hours, I’ll be en route to Colorado for two weeks of disaster recovery work in Lyons and Longmont, two cities hit hard by last year’s flooding.

aerial view flooding2th4






Flood Event: 

In mid-September of last year, heavy rains pummeled Colorado’s Front Range for almost a week, falling especially hard in the area ranging from Boulder to Greeley. The result: catastrophic flooding across 200 miles.

Eight people died as a result of the flooding, an estimated 20,000 homes were damaged – close to 2,000 of which were totally destroyed and Colorado declared a disaster emergency in 17 counties.

Thank You:

A heartfelt thank you to friends, family, and colleagues who’ve supported my travels to provide relief efforts and help communities rebuild after a natural disaster. I could not do this work without your donations, moral support, and help with logistics.

PCO-UpdateThank you Knothe and Bruce Architects for covering my responsibilities, allowing me the time off for this CO work trip. This work is important, not just in that we can help communities rebuild, but so that we can learn from them. As the AIA WI State Disaster Assistance Coordinator, I hope to gain a better understanding of how architects can help respond to a flood situation in Wisconsin.

Each volunteer is asked to raise $500 to cover job site materials and general supplies. I’ve set up a personal fundraising page at ALL HANDS VOLUNTEERS.  A sincere thank you to those who have contributed as your money is going directly into the CO efforts where I’ll be working.

A little more on our work in CO:

rectangle_on_transparentIn June of this year, All Hands Volunteers launched Project Colorado: Recovery & Rebuild. Working with our partner, Habitat for Humanity of the St. Vrain Valley. Thanks HFH-logoto the generous support of many, we have completed repairs or rebuild on 6 homes, are currently working on another 5 homes, and have 3 major projects in the pipeline, including one home that is being rebuilt from the foundation up.

Stay Tuned:

Thank you for reading my blog. Stay tuned from Nov. 11-21st for daily work site updates and more about the Lyons and Longmont communities.


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.


Climate…. politics & weather


Whether or not you believe in global warming or that weather changes are part of the natural cycle, or both – one cannot argue that there is an increase in both number and intensity of global natural disasters.  With this increase in disruption, there is need for assistance.  What is the architect’s role and how is it changing?

On this election day, all are waiting in anticipation.   How will the elected president face this climate challenge?  Hurricane Sandy was a global event – affecting not just the United State’s east coast, but also Cuba, Haiti – poor Haiti, and other surrounding areas. What is the role of architects in this disaster?


Using a similar approach to what we did in Haiti.  Where they can, AIA members are already responding to Hurricane Sandy. In Rhode Island, architects, engineers, and other design professionals from the AIA Rhode Island Architects and Engineers Emergency Response Task Force (AEERTF) are working with the state’s Emergency Management Agency to provide building safety assessments in hard hit communities along the coast.

Thank you, thank you, thank you to the AIAS (American Institute of Architects Student) group at UW Milwaukee, SARUP (School of Architecture and Urban Planning) for graciously hosting last evening’s event and inviting me to talk with you.  Melissa, Nathan, and Caroline – you we fabulous hosts.  It was such a pleasure to be back at UWM and working with students.  Thank you for all your energy and support.

The process of preparing for this presentation reaffirmed my mission to continue forward with disaster assistance locally- as the WI AIA State Disaster Response Coordinator role and globally – in El Salvador and as the need arises elsewhere.