Category: Industry News

Navigating Denver’s Development Boom

Navigating Denver’s Development Boom

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Smart development goals for a rapidly growing city

It’s no surprise that commercial real estate is booming in Denver. In Q4 2018 alone, we had 4.12 million square feet of office space and 4.6 million square feet of industrial space under construction (85.4% of which was classified as spec).

While there is unprecedented permit demand for building infrastructure, some critical pieces of supportive infrastructure that create a better quality of life for inhabitants—open space, urban forest, public transit and walkability—have been left out of the conversation.

With the current growth fueling new construction, urban infill projects, and the densification and expansion of Denver Metro Area, our community is racing to address these questions:

  • How do we want our city to look, feel, live?
  • What changes and policies need to be initiated?
  • What values and characteristics need to be preserved?
  • How can we build a better Denver?

Downtown Larimer Square. Photo via

Planning for a Better Denver
“People love this city and want to live here. This means our challenge is to plan for new residents who will call Denver home over the next 20 years while preserving the neighborhoods, open spaces, and unique places we all love,” says Laura Swartz, Communications Director for the Community Planning and Development department of the City and County of Denver.

And we’re headed in the right direction. In early 2019, the 3-year Denveright planning process culminated in the release of five citywide plans designed to address

  • Walkability
  • Affordable housing
  • Transit corridors
  • Commercial development in dense areas
  • Protection of historic buildings, architecture and neighborhoods
  • Access to green space
  • A myriad of other growth opportunities and challenges over the next 20-year period.

The plans were built on 3+ years of extensive research and community engagement. As of April 22, all five plans are approved. Click here to learn more.

Photo by

The Perks of a Changing Car Culture
The challenge is: What needs are we planning for? Those of the present? Or those of the future?

As millennials become the dominant workforce population, car culture continues to evolve—albeit slowly—and fewer working professionals either own or seek to own a vehicle. This places a newfound importance and reliability on our public transit infrastructure, and allows us to activate communities now seen as disconnected and removed.

In 2017, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock rolled out the $2 billion Mobility Action Plan designed to greatly reduce emissions, infrastructure deterioration, and traffic deaths by transforming Denver’s public transit system and redesigning streets to be more walkable and bike friendly. The plan also aims to reduce the percentage of ‘solo driving’ commuters from 73 percent to 50 percent by 2030.

Fewer drivers. Fewer cars. Reduced need for parking.

If successful, the plan would create an opportunity to repurpose existing parking spaces to instead address some of the needs of our community—housing, greenspace, urban forest. Projects like the High Line in New York City showcase the potential to reimagine remnants of neglected transportation infrastructure into vibrant, community spaces.

A rendering of North Wynkoop, a 14-acre project that’s transforming an industrial warehouse district into a vibrant community.

Crafting Walkable Communities
We’re seeing more and more projects like North Wynkoop—a 14-acre project conceived and currently being executed by Westfield Company, Works Progress Architecture and Mortenson—that promise to provide all the necessary amenities within a walkable, bikeable environment.

Neighborhood developments like 9+CO will feature a variety of housing options, entertainment, restaurants, open green space, retail, and office buildings all within close proximity.

Once-industrial spaces are also being converted into cultural hubs. Coming later this year, LOT Twenty Eight—an adaptive-reuse development created by Formativ—will turn a historic manufacturing plant in the heart of RiNo into a hub for retail, makers, restaurants, creative offices and entertainment.

“For us, we always approach projects with placemaking in mind,” says Sean Campbell, principal at Formativ. “We look at the user experience and how we can help them be more productive, efficient, engaged, happy and vested in their community.”

Photo via Downtown Denver Partnership

Accelerated Growth = Changing Communities
Denver’s rapid growth has propelled the city into a new economic and developmental era, but not without fallback. As Denver native and Westfield Partner Jonathan Alpert puts it, “We’ve been on a rocket ship for the past decade without a chance to take a breath. We’ve gone from being a manageable city to being expensive.”

Similarly, Campbell cites affordability, mobility and thoughtful design as the three main challenges for Denver development. “Construction is very expensive now; the state bird should be the construction crane,” he says. “Dollars and cents can get in the way of lofty visions, but you have to think about how to work within the budget without sacrificing creativity and design.”

Alpert believes this invites an opportunity for innovation. “Design can solve for a rising cost by getting creative.”

So do we.

An aerial view of Globeville and Elyria-Swansea neighborhoods, where a massive interstate expansion is currently underway. James Chance via the Colorado Trust

The First Neighborhoods to Grow
From a growth standpoint, Denver is blockaded by mountains on the west, but has ample room to grow to the east, north and south. This means that we’re seeing very different approaches to architecture and development depending on where the project is located.

Central, often industrial neighborhoods like RiNo, Globeville and North Wynkoop are being “activated” while outskirt areas like Fitzsimmons in Aurora and DTC are breaking ground on massive mixed-use development projects.

“We are in the process of reviewing five different projects currently in development which will be excellent catalysts for the new Fitzsimmons Innovation Campus,” says Robin Ault, Clutch Design Studio’s director of design and a board member of Fitzsimons Redevelopment Authority Design Review.

For the space in between, development projects are largely focused on transit corridors, both interstate and light rail, with several projects popping up adjacent to light rail stations.

But, in the rush to get structures built and occupied (amidst rising construction costs), few projects are fully capitalizing on the opportunity for design to address both the needs of investors and of our community in the 5, 10, 20 years to come.

A green roof on top of a residential parking structure on Little Raven Street. Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

Designing for the future
Architecture and design play a major role in shaping our city, especially during a time of rapid growth. At Clutch, we believe creating spaces that adapt to change and promote a healthy and happy community start with:

  • Shifting the program. Folding value-add design choices like green roofs, efficient windows, and hospitality-driven communal areas into the program makes for healthier structures and communities while protecting an investment in the long-term.
  • Building for longevity. “Sustainability” and “resilience” can sound like buzzwords, but mark the difference between a building that needs to be scraped and/or retrofitted in 10 years, and one that needs minor cosmetic upgrades. Similarly, trend-driven design can quickly look dated. Thoughtful design, on the other hand, may be rooted in the vocabulary of a certain decade, but offers something distinctive that outlives the rise and fall of passing trends.
  • Folding in flexibility. Though we can’t fully anticipate our future needs, we can be nimble and responsive in tailoring design to the shifting culture of our community. Parking ratios can be reassessed. Parking structures can be built to allow for future renovations (into commercial or residential space). And buildings can be designed to allow for the increasing role of technology.
  • Creating a sense of place. With multi-national, publicly traded development companies buying real estate in Denver, many “carbon-copied” buildings with lackluster architecture and design elements will continue to crop up. But for every cookie cutter building that goes up, a local firm is working hard to design one that’s thoughtful, innovative, relevant and responsive to Denver’s unique demands.

Like Schwartz said, “People love this city and want to live here.” But it’s important that our patterns of growth continue to serve the needs of our community while adding to the character of Denver that attracts and maintains so many residents.

Work Well: Designing the Office of the Future

Work Well: Designing the Office of the Future

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Gone are the days of low-ceiling office environments draped in beige hues and fluorescent light. Developers and business owners alike are realizing that good design is good business, and plays a vital role in both attracting and maintaining tenants and employees.

The new paradigm for office design includes:

— Innovative technological advancements

— New organizational models (think open floor plans, co-working spaces and private pods)

— Comfortable, home-like environments

— Elements that promote a healthier lifestyle

A grand porte-cochère welcomes guests at 50Fifty DTC.

Technology as Steward for Innovative Design
This shift in office design is not simply a trend; it’s a reflection of rapid technological advancements in architecture. From a software standpoint, CAD and energy modeling software have:  

— Accelerated the speed at which we can develop new ideas

— Simplified the realization of custom, innovative solutions

— Deepened our understanding of sustainability in architecture

The multi-faceted exterior of 50Fifty DTC is designed/oriented for passive temperature and lighting control—inviting solar heat gain in the winter and minimizing solar heat gain in the summer. This saves money for the client and reduces the building’s environmental impact.

From an engineering standpoint, advancements in glazing, acoustics, building envelope, floor plates, etc. invite continued architectural innovation.

— New fabrication processes and coatings allow for large glass panels optimized for insulation, reflectance and transmittance.

— Advancements in acoustic management and adaptive interior design support open floor plans and mixed-use office environments.

— An increased focus on material placement and building envelope promotes efficiency in architecture.

Through all of these advancements, we’re learning the benefits of daylighting, airflow and passive temperature control in contemporary office design.

“It’s paramount that employees have a connection to the outside environment. Through new technologies, we can take advantage of expansive Colorado views and natural light without compromising the efficiency of the building.”   —Robin Ault, Director of Design


In 50Fifty DTC, we used floor-to-ceiling windows and strategic lightwells to ensure that tenants have a continuous connection to the surrounding environment.

Shape Shifter: Designing for New Organizational Models
There’s no one-size-fits-all for the modern office. Instead, the layout includes a mix of area types that all serve separate purposes. Think: co-working spaces, open floor plans, collaborative environments, mixed-use environments, private pods.

As architects, it’s important that we understand the dynamics of a specific organization in order to create environments that are well tailored to their long-term needs. The primary questions we ask with every client are:

— What is the current workflow, climate and culture of your organization?

— How can we use design to support and/or shift any of the above?

— What are the primary functions of the space?

— What adjacencies will best support those functions?

— What level of privacy vs. collaboration is appropriate for your organization?

— How do you want people—executives, employees, clients, guests—to feel in the space?

In general, open floor plans feel bigger, simplify use of natural light and foster connection between employees. Fewer walls also equate to lower costs, allowing us to allocate additional resources towards furniture and finishes.

But, zero-wall office spaces aren’t appropriate for every organization. Not only do open floor plans present new challenges around acoustics and privacy, but they often weave disparate functions into a single environment, requiring us to employ alternative solutions (lighting, dynamic screens, etc.) to create nodes of space within.

“If people don’t feel good in their workspace, they will leave to find something that better fits their preferences and philosophies. Our goal is to create environments that benefit the organization within by promoting individual and collective well being.” — Kristen Tonsager, Head of Interior Design

For an upcoming project, we’ve employed sliding glass partitions to create different atmospheres within the central space while allowing for shared daylight throughout.

Your Home Away From Home
The average American spends more weekday, waking hours at work than at home, so it makes sense that we’re seeing an increased emphasis on comfort, atmosphere, materiality and craftsmanship in the work environment. We’ve created conference rooms that double as dining rooms, workspaces that feel like hotel lobbies, and far-from-utilitarian community environments marked by high-end detailing and luxury design elements.

More and more Denver companies are seeking out iconic designs that inspire and draw people in while more and more employees are seeking healthy work environments that mirror the comforts of home. It’s an exciting time to be in design.

The office kitchen and dining area at Fios Capital will feature high-end appliances and quality finishes typically found in custom homes.

Health-Conscious Design
Perhaps the most effective way architecture can be used to advance healthy work environments lies in creating continued opportunities for connection between indoors and outdoors:

— Expansive views

— Daylight

— Circulation of fresh air

— Outdoor walkways and/or work areas

— Rooftop gardens and terraces

Architecture can further promote employee well-being by supporting behaviors such as biking to work, taking the stairs, or seeking a moment of solace in the midst of a busy workday.

— An increasing number of Denver employees are commuting to work via bicycle, public transit or ride-share programs. This trend is expected to continue throughout the 21st century, and should be reflected in how we allocate space.

— No longer an afterthought in office design, stairwells can be used to promote movement while reducing energy usage and reliance on escalators/elevators. To encourage the climb, stairwells should be widened, centralized and finished with a level of detailing consistent with the rest of the design.

— Even collaborative workspaces should consider including separate pods or quiet rooms where employees can enjoy a moment of privacy, take a phone call, nurse a migraine or simply gather their thoughts.

The Hensel Phelps office redesign employs full-length skylights to pull natural light into interior spaces.

Interested in giving your office a modern makeover? Contact us.

Food, Form & Function: How to Craft Stand-Out Design in a Booming Restaurant Industry

Food, Form & Function: How to Craft Stand-Out Design in a Booming Restaurant Industry

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In the last decade, Denver has become a boomtown—strewn with bustling restaurants, award-winning breweries and plush lounges. 2018 brought more than 230 new restaurants, bars and coffee shops to the Denver metro area. But, in the same year, nearly 100 closed their doors. In this increasingly competitive market, everything matters: food, drink, service and space. So how do you create an environment that works?

Our Head of Interior Design, Kristen Tonsager, speaks to designing for the service industry and how to create authentic spaces that function as well as they feel.

The brand story of Wild Blue Yonder nods to owners’ shared background in the Air Force. Subtle details in the architecture and interior design of the space invite conversation and provide a direct connection between guests’ experience and owners’ vision.

Touchstone: Brand Story

With restaurant design, it’s particularly important that the architectural elements align with the brand story. This cohesion creates authenticity and a sense of place.

Whether clients come to us with a well-developed brand story or we go on that journey with them, we’ve learned that meaningful design requires clarity of vision. Once defined, this vision can be realized throughout the space—in both literal and abstract ways. Restaurant projects often hold the dreams and ambitions of our clients. It’s a very personal experience to see their vision come to life.

By centralizing the primary kitchen at Tribe Market, we streamlined restaurant cooking operations while inviting intimate guest interactions with various open air food stalls surrounding the core area.

Think: Function

In space planning, the focus is always on function first. We have to understand the equipment and adjacencies required to accommodate the primary functions of the space: cooking, brewing, serving, bartending, etc. It’s easy to get caught up on the public side but efficiency is what makes a space successful and allows for exceptional service experiences.

The primary seating area at Wild Blue Yonder stretches between bar and brewery operations so guests are continually invited to interact with both.

Design: Interactions

Elevated service industry design involves thinking through not only how but also how much interaction occurs between guests and primary service functions. In Denver, we’ve seen an increased openness in guest services: open kitchens, brewery tours, tableside service, extravagant cocktail prep. But this visibility isn’t right for every concept. We work closely with clients to create thoughtful service interactions tailored to their clientele, staff and brand story.

We also used decorative lighting fixtures to create various zones or vignettes throughout the space. From a distance, all fixtures play into the cohesive brand story, but take a closer look and you’ll notice that each zone offers a unique character and guest experience.

Curate: Details

Much of the brand story is revealed in the details of a service industry design—palette, lighting, furniture, texture. Yes, it’s important to select durable, cleanable, abrasion-resistant materials. But it’s equally important to consider what emotions are evoked, and whether or not those emotions fit the character of the design.

Year in Review: Our 2018 Highlights

Year in Review: Our 2018 Highlights

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At Clutch, we’re dedicated to “creating the incredible,” and this year has been a testament to that. We bid 2018 adieu with residential and commercial projects that have bettered Colorado’s design landscape and given us a greater appreciation for our craft.

Here, we salute to this year’s victories, inside and outside the office, because as Coloradans we DO know how to get outside and play.


Clutch Highlights



We knew this project provided an incredible opportunity when our client stated, “I’m not interested in designing just another building.” After several years of planning, designing and building, 50 Fifty set sail this winter. Located in the Denver Tech Center, the Class AAA, 12-story office tower offers 185,000 square feet of elegant design elements and world-class amenities. Our vision was to evoke the feeling of being on ship deck and looking down at the hull as it cuts through the water.


Wild Blue Yonder

As a team that thoroughly enjoys a pint or two from time to time, designing and executing Castle Rock’s newest brewery was especially rewarding. Its elevated-yet-comfortable farmhouse-inspired interiors were designed to encourage community gathering for a busy corner on Main St.


Team Highlights


Kristen Tonsanger, Head of Interior Design

Kristen crossed some grueling mountain bike races off her bucket list this year. She was the third female finisher in the Colorado Trail Race, a 545-mile and 84,000-foot gain trek that she completed in eight days. She also tackled the 100-mile Bailey HUNDO course and took home second place in her age bracket.


Robin Ault, Director of Design

2018 took Robin around the world. He rang in the new year in Rome, hiked the Na Pali coast of Kauai with his wife and daughters, listened to the Boston Pops Orchestra on Nantucket Island, and skied 40,867 vertical feet in one day at Beaver Creek.


Mark Bourne, Principal/Architect

In addition to bringing the 50Fifty project to completion, Mark’s highlights include celebrating the birth of his second daughter, Calder Grace, and teaching her big sister, 4-year-old Hailey, how to ski.


Matt Robertson, President/Architect

Despite a hectic schedule, Matt found time to take 10 trips (mostly long weekends) this year, coinciding with 10 years of marriage to his wife. From jaunts to Mexico, Miami for the Ultra Music Festival and New York City for the AIA Conference with the Clutch team, Matt’s adventures were nothing compared to experiencing life through his two-year old’s eyes.


Christopher Campbell, Principal/Architect

Completing the Wild Blue Yonder Brewery project was among Chris’ top 2018 highlights, as was spending quality time with his coworkers in New York at the inspiring AIA Conference. On the homefront, he enjoyed watching his son start violin lessons and begin his journey to becoming the next Joshua Bell.

Introducing Tribe Market

Introducing Tribe Market

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In the past five years, Denver’s dining scene has seen a rapid resurgence of an age-old concept: food and market halls. But these trendy hubs have yet to address the prevailing issues within the American agriculture industry—until now.


Enter our latest design project, Tribe Market, an urban marketplace that will put sustainable agriculture and holistic dining at the forefront. We are honored to be working with founder Todd Colehour, who is known for his popular Denver Highlands bars Williams & Graham and Occidental, to design a sprawling European-style market and high-end restaurant all under one roof.




The historic Mercado de San Miguel in Madrid, Spain, inspired the general concept and design of Tribe Market.


Each year, Colehour takes the Williams & Graham staff on a team trip to experience other cultures, unwind and regroup. While in Madrid a few years ago, they wandered into the Mercado de San Miguel—a historic market brimming with local produce, pastries, seafood, and freshly butchered cuts of meat, all within a beautifully designed space.

Colehour was so inspired he decided to launch this concept in Denver.


A high-end restaurant is slated to be situated at the heart of the design. Live trees and greenery will be added to bring the outdoors in.



Tribe Market will feature an upscale restaurant at the center of its design, with an open-air market circulating around it. Stalls will include a butcher, baker, root cellar, seafood monger and a pantry area, all with fresh recipe-driven ingredients harvested from local farms owned and operated by Colehour, as well as other regional growers.


For the design, our team at Clutch aims to echo Tribe Market’s holistic philosophy by mixing sustainable, organic materials with modern forms and urban-inspired style.


The market will include several seating areas where guests can enjoy coffee or lunch. High ceilings, open architecture and live plants will be implemented to make guests feel as if they’re wandering through an outdoor street market.



We are only in the beginning phases of this innovative project. Check back soon for updates on the design process, and follow us @clutchdesignstudio to watch the vision come to life.

A Fortress in Favignana

A Fortress in Favignana

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Two miles off the coast of Sicily sits a small island in the Mediterranean that’s rich in Italian heritage. From turquoise waters and coastal cliffs to ancient history and architecture, the island of Favignana is home to few, but plays host to many, including the 2018 Young Architects Competition.


Titled “Art Prison,” the competition brief challenged participants to transform the Fortress of Santa Caterina, a long-abandoned prison atop the island’s peak, into a centerpiece of contemporary art.


Robin Ault, Clutch Design Studio’s Director of Design—architect and artist—has a deep appreciation for Italian culture thanks to his previous studies in Rome. He channeled this love into his competition entry, creating a wholly unique design defined by purpose and place.


Since the fortress itself had long been abandoned, Robin turned the ancient structure into its own art exhibit using a circular design that would give visitors 360° views of the old prison.


“The structure is hundreds of years old,” says Robin. “I wanted something to circulate the historic buildings without interacting with them too much.”



The design includes plans for a gallery, luxury hotel, restaurant, lounge, spa, pool, helicopter pad and all of the high-end luxuries demanded by the world’s most prestigious centers of art and culture.



Tourists and locals alike can walk around the ring and engage with the exhibit, hotel and conference center, all while taking in new perspectives of the existing fortress.


“I wanted a clean, minimalist design that preserved and heightened the historic quality of the fortress through 21st-century contrast.” By juxtaposing views of antiquity with those of contemporary, Ault was able to bring new life to the old prison.



When asked about the biggest challenges he faced during his design process, Robin replied that it was the atmospheric vacuum that architecture competitions create. “You don’t get to bounce your ideas off of people,” he says. “I like to talk with clients about everything from the program to the materials, and in a competitive environment, asking too many questions is a double-edged sword. Ask too few and the task at hand is unclear. Ask too many, and you’ll give away your direction.”


Despite many upsides—beautiful scenery, historic surroundings, different cultures and the like—working internationally has its challenges as well. “Most international projects use the metric system, for one,” says Robin, “and visualizing in millimeters and meters is different than feet and inches. It’s like a switch in your head that you have to turn on and off.”


The other big hurdle Robin faced? The language barrier. “No matter how good a translation is, there is usually something that gets lost. But I stand by the saying ‘Good design is good design;’ it’s a universal thing.”