Terry Willis – 8 questions with KTGY Architecture and Planning exec on Denver design

Denver Business Journal

January 21, 2019

KTGY has been in Denver for 12 years, and has designed a large variety of buildings from offices to apartments, mixed-use projects and senior-living homes. Recent projects include TriVista on Speer and Vita Littleton.

Terry Willis, principal of KTGY Architecture and Planning’s Denver office, chatted with Denver Business Journal about design in the Denver metro. The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

What first attracted you to a career in architecture? I actually started my college career thinking civil engineering, since I was good at math, and mentors had steered me that way. But during the summer after freshman year, my brother asked me what I wanted to do – I replied “design.” To which he said ‘then why not architectural school?’ Duh! I had spent many hours of my childhood drawing plans of dream houses.

What interesting trends in architecture have you observed recently? I think commercial architecture is much more adventurous than ever, with architects and developers vying in the market with uniqueness and authenticity, seeking to establish an iconic “place.” Residential architecture is currently fighting with the economics of development. Everyone is searching for ways to design and build buildings more economically so that they both attract investment and are affordable for the buyer or renter.

Do you have a favorite project you’ve designed, or worked on, in the metro? What is it, and why? We are very excited in the Denver office of KTGY about our current work and I am looking forward to what our on-the-boards projects here will mean to the metro area once they are complete. Thinking about my career overall, there are three completed projects of which I am very fond:

  • 200 Fillmore for Western Development. This was my first use of terra cotta panels, and the result is elegant and beautiful.
  • Stapleton Town Center for Forest City. This project consists of 13 buildings, establishing a completely new urban context where the airport previously stood.
  • Boulder’s St. Julien Hotel. After working for years to create it, it is heartening to see that The St. Julien has truly become downtown Boulder’s living room … with a backyard view of the Flatirons.

In your opinion, what is the biggest design challenge Denver faces? Costs and labor shortages are on everyone’s minds now. How do we design developments that pencil for our development and investor partners? But it is an exciting time to be an architect, with these challenges pushing us to innovate. At KTGY, we draw on the strength and depth of resources that a large firm offers. For example, we have a research and development team that is constantly looking to the future, innovating design solutions for better living.

To that same point, what challenges face architects in Denver? Thriving architectural practices rely on growth. However, there was such built-up demand for new construction coming out of the “great recession” that a building boom resulted. The rapid changes as a result of the boom has unnerved many in the general population. Several communities have introduced initiatives that would severely limit growth. Unfortunately, those efforts, if successful and even when well-intentioned, will result in an even higher cost of housing, exacerbating the current affordable housing crisis we face.

What sector is the most exciting and dynamic to design for? I love to design mixed-use communities, creating places from that elusive recipe that results in a special kind of energy … unique places that inspire and feed the soul.

Talk to me about the Central Park Station TOD project. What design elements were most important for this project, and why? All of our energies in planning at CPS were dedicated to place-making, surrounding a new public space at its heart with a variety of uses: office, hotel, apartments, condos, retail, health clubs, restaurants and cafes. The buildings that surround the space reinforce its activity and vitality by opening their walls onto the space, not only the ground floor restaurants and cafes, but the office and residential spaces at the upper levels with true indoor/outdoor experiences — and the engagement of the plaza at many levels.

The plaza creates a canvas to fill with programs and activities to keep it active, vital, memorable and enjoyable for all who experience it. For it is people who make a place. In addition to all of the terraces, balconies and occupied rooftops, a couple of unique features are (1) the iridescent aluminum skin of the Central Park Station ONE office building, which will change from silver/gray to a violet tone, depending on the angle viewed, blue sky or cloudy, and the position of the sun; and (2) the shade structures in the form of lenticular clouds drifting over the Colorado plains.

KTGY designs a considerable amount of senior living/55+ communities, such as Vita in Littleton. What has changed about senior living in the past decades? Both Vita in Littleton and Avenida Lakewood, two local 55+ projects under construction look nothing like nursing homes, and act nothing like nursing homes, with a contemporary aesthetic desired by the new boomer residents as they matriculate into this age category. The top amenity for anyone in this age group is proximity to grocery stores, restaurants and entertainment. Both of these projects are inserted into the urban commercial fabric. Vita, even has a Bacon Social House restaurant as a restaurant tenant within the project.