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Denver’s Gold Rush. Smart Design, Construction Deadlines & Material Selection


There isn’t a bar or coffee shop in Denver where you don’t hear the buzz & murmuring from locals about Denver’s explosion in growth. “This place is turning into California,” “Wages are not keeping up with housing prices!” “My commute time has almost doubled.” But instead of complaining about it, which isn’t the favorable perspective on challenges, we think it’s best to analyze what is fueling the growth. This article is about the buildings we build, the designs used and the materials selected. There is a prevailing theme revolving around budgets, beauty, labor and we will see many successes and growing pains surrounding the Denver BOOM.

Denver is the perfect storm of many components. The mountains attract high end investment from upscale citizens that like to vacation, ski, snowboard, fish, hunt in places like Vail, Aspen, Breckenridge and Steamboat.

Colorado is one of only 2 states that have legalized marijuana. Marijuana has proven to be the optimum cash crop. Breaking it into metrics, consider the market value of CBD oil priced at $150 per 500 milligrams = $300 per gram x 28.35 (grams / oz) yields a mind boggling $8505.00 per ounce. The ultimate cash crop, just do the math to reveal the reality...harvesting marijuana is like Growing Gold on Steroids.

Moreover Denver and Colorado have pulled together an impressive light rail system that connects the city to the airport and is poised to connect Denver to Boulder. So if you consider the technology sector, healthcare, education, marijuana, transportation, energy, alternative foods, craft beer,’s the perfect storm for a population explosion. People are moving here not because more people are born than dying but because there is opportunity here. So in keeping with the Gold metaphor Denver is like the Gold Rush of the 1800’s except the covered wagon has been replaced with Tesla’s & Light Rail Cars manufactured by Siemens.

The Dialogue:

All this reality and talk about growth in Denver has sparked a lot of planning around housing for the newcomers. Now that we’ve set the stage for why Denver is growing it is chiefly important to discuss how planning is responding. Then equally important is to make sure that the development pressure is not compromising the integrity of buildings in terms of their functionality & aesthetics. It’s the dollar that moves the needle, everyone has to be mindful of budgeting. Just off the top of my head here is a short list of new commercial / residential projects designed by some of Denver’s top architectural firms.

Kent Place designed by Kephart architects, Union Station North and South Wing designed by AndersonMasonDale, Aggie Village designed by 4240 architecture, One City Block designed by Davis Partnership & 999 S. Logan by The Mulhern Group. By discussing a few projects I have noticed a theme in building that relates to the physical and aesthetic properties of a typical wall system. So in evaluating material selection we spoke with area architects, suppliers and installers to see if there are some “go to” products that provide solutions within this aforementioned pressure on development.

Andy Baldyga of The Mulhern group has recently worked on projects such as 2828 Zuni and 999 S. Logan and remarks that his firm likes to use materials that are affordable, beautiful and durable. In the case of 999 S. Logan the project originally called out for a budget busting dimensional stone from out of state but Summit Brick a local manufacturer came to the rescue with a brick they call the Meridian. It is a clay fired product that will last forever as clay is a ceramic product vitrified in a kiln at 2100 degrees. The Mulhern architect chose an off white “thistledown” color to look like Indiana Limestone and it resulted in a pleased owner and architect. The clay fired brick was less than half the cost of the imported limestone and a glorious example of sourcing locally without compromising the physical cladding properties.

There is also a brilliant new product we discovered called Zen24 by Eldorado Stone. Zen24 is 12 inches tall by 24 inches in length so each piece is 2 square feet. We talked to Katy Kavanas of Rio Grande Cement who sells Eldorado stone. She said that Eldorado

Stone’s product line is perfect for these Smart Projects. The architect needs the module to fit the design scheme. The stone has to be authentic and believable whereas years ago manufactured stone looked man made. The product is half the weight of natural stone so it lays up quickly, also if you consider what it would take for masons to cut each stone, no one could fabricate 12 x 24 modules. Speed of installation, a low price per sq foot price point, aesthetic splendor and high compressive strength makes these 12 x 24 Zen24 modern stone the perfect selection.

We will be following this product and will be doing some future reporting showing some jobsite photos of Summit Brick and Eldorado stone.

The Encore:

Since the great recession of 2008 Denver has hung in there and stayed tough. The new diverse economy, natural resources galore and thriving local manufacturing together have painted a pretty picture for economic growth and jobs. There are some challenges pending such as making sure wages keep up with the price of housing. There will be many benefits of legalized marijuana w/ few social downsides except for the increase in homelessness amongst people under 25.

In terms of construction Denver has innovative architects that are responding well to development pressure. Having durable and attractive products like Summit Brick and Eldorado Stone available helps architects have choices for speedy construction, meeting deadlines, all without jeopardizing material standards. We will be keeping an eye on what blueprints are turning into construction documents and our next article will feature another building material and more construction projects.