Horsebarn Sustainability

The finer points of sustainability on the HORSEBARN project.

Reclamation of an existing building that was marked for demolition.  By reclaiming the building itself we were able to dramatically decrease the embodied energy in the making of the building. Keen engineering and sympathetic space planning allowed us to reuse this 120+ year old ‘Barn”.

Resource consolidation and space efficiency. The practice of shared amenities among 25+ companies is at the spine of our sustainability practices at the HorseBarn. Most of the tenants were able to downsize from their previous space because everything is shared; conference rooms, bathrooms, kitchen, public spaces.  This results in substantially lowered energy usage on the net project.

Energy conservation. The entire building envelope was insulated with poly-iso blown in foam. The resultant r-value for the envelope is r-32 throughout. All windows were replaced with r-4 low E double paned glass.

Natural day lighting. A 400 sq. ft. atrium skylight was installed to daylight the core of the building and all common spaces. All internal offices were built with glass walls to allow for daylighting throughout the project. Artificial lighting is on either motion or photo sensors to ensure the artificial lights are turned off when not in use or satisfied with daylight.

Reclaimed materials. The majority of all materials brought into the project were reclaimed from the Denver region. All carpet was reused from HP headquarter demolition, all furniture / work surfaces / stairs were built out of railroad boxcar floors.

Folk: John Bezouska // Project Manager


John has been running projects at tres birds for the past three years and has logged the most miles managing projects both in Boulder and Denver. Coming to tres birds with a Bachelor of Environmental Design with an emphasis in Architecture from CU Boulder, John not only manages projects, but helps build them as well. His project list includes: Taxi, Quickleft, Victor Ops and Swoon.

Swoon has been the most rewarding project for him, but also the most challenging, for the same reason- figuring out how to translate the artistic details into reality.

Outside of tres birds workshop, John continues his creative passion for design and construction by building custom furniture. In the winter months, John can be found on the ski slopes and this summer he purchased a sail boat that he has been fixing up. John is a true tinkerer and craftsman who enjoys working with his hands and finding creative solutions to design challenges. tres birds workshop is lucky to have him. 

John shares a kindred spirit with the wild marmot.

Process: Reduction


Reduction in this case refers to the process of reduction in architecture 1) taking away as a means of revealing the intrinsic value of the structure 2) minimizing material types 3) simplifying program. 

Historical structures, especially, lend themselves to reductive possibilities: bricks to be uncovered, floors to be revealed, classic details to be revived once again. However, the process of reduction can take place in new construction as well. We take away extraneous building material to let natural light in, we combine functions of building features to increase efficiency, we merge programmatic elements, we push the boundaries of typical material use. Ultimately, we use reduction (in place of decoration) to make spaces that are beautiful and functional in their inherent qualities. 

Key Case Studies:


1) Layers of dirt and soot were blasted away from the building’s original wood framed structure. Beams that once separated horse stalls and bear the markings of their time were once again revived. These wood beams make up the primary aesthetic quality of the project.

2) Reinforcements of the original structure were created using material from the original structure in surgery-like fashion. Railroad boxcar was used throughout as workstations, stairs, kiosks, structural flooring, doors, kitchen and furniture.

3) Common areas were created to increase efficient use of space and reduce footprint for building tenants.


1) Since its first inception as a 1901 mercantile building, the interior had slowly built up layers of previous lives over the years. By the time Cactus bought the building, there was a clear encroaching of layers that resulted in small work cavities as well as stale air and light circulation. In the process of reduction, each layer was peeled away until the original strata was reached, where light and air could once again move freely.

2) Introduced materials were limited to steel, glass, and reclaimed maple wood.

3) Client requested four conference room spaces of various sizes. We created a conference core made out of an adjustable wall system that can be one space or four, depending on how the walls are drawn.


1) The building had a history of remodels, covering windows with walls, blocking skylights and the destruction of original volumes. We spent four months getting back to the circa 1910 condition of the built structure, limiting our installation only to devices that allow sunlight in.

2) All introduced, functional programming is made of pine beetle kill from our region’s dead forest.

3) Programming structures were made with an afterlife in mind. Since this project was completed for The Biennial, programming structures were made to be reused in other settings. 

Materials: Light


Natural light is a life force that contains many healing properties and that our connection to as healthy humans is essential. We consider natural light a fundamental building material, used to bring health to residents and building inhabitants alike. Lumina Denver (opening fall 2014), a mixed-use apartment building designed by tres birds workshop, developed by TreeHouse Denver and built by JHL Constructors helps illustrate this concept.

Lumina is a Latin word meaning brilliant light. In botany, it also refers to the cavity enclosed by cellular walls. Lumina Denver {Lumina} is a building that gives particular emphasis to the theme of light, a concept that is integrated throughout.

One of the main light features of Lumina can be found in the central atrium or “light core,” which will allow daylight to penetrate the common areas throughout. The light core is achieved by punctuating the roof structure with 50 circular skylights of varying sizes. There are no hallways inside Lumina, only balconies that open to the center atrium, where all apartment units are connected.

Inside individual apartment units, sunlight is used for aesthetics, as well as temperature control. Aluminum screens that outfit each outdoor balcony will diffuse incoming light to create interior light patterning. The screens can be adjusted by each individual resident to either shade sunlight or let it in, allowing residents to determine their own comfort levels.

Part of what makes light unique as a building material is the ability to direct it in a variety of ways to achieve different results. It can be used as a heating or cooling agent or to adjust levels of brightness for example. Considering how light interacts with the envelope of the building, we selected white as an exterior color in order to reflect summer heat (instead of attracting and concentrating it using a dark color).

We also value light for it’s ability to help power buildings and generate electricity. Using solar PV panels as dual-purpose walls for the main circulation stair, sunlight will be absorbed and converted into energy to help supplement electrical generation from the city’s grid.

Lastly, the neon lights that once adorned former Pagliacci’s restaurant will be re-purposed on the building’s exterior and within its interior. The clown light will be fixed high up on the exterior and will be visible from the freeway. The namesake Pagliacci’s sign will convert into a garden box inside the lobby and one other will appear in the solar clad stairwell.

In our experience, when light is considered as a fundamental building material, the building becomes inherently more illuminated and with this, a greater sense of health and well-being for building inhabitants.

Running tests on the display shelving for @toddreedjewelry showroom in Venice, CA. #denver #architecture #toddreed

Running tests on the display shelving for @toddreedjewelry showroom in Venice, CA. #denver #architecture #toddreed

Folk: Aaron Tweedie // Architect + Project Manager


Aaron is a long-time tres birds workshop hand, blending his love of sustainable architecture with his astuteness to mange projects from beginning to end. Aaron received his undergraduate degree in Environmental Design at Texas A&M, completing his last semester at the Ecosa Institute, a sustainable design school in Prescott, Arizona. Aaron went on to New York to complete a Masters in Architecture at Parson’s School of Design, where he further deepened his understanding of sustainable architecture.  Being a “hard-core urbanite” at heart, studying architecture in New York City provided a range of experiences for Aaron to consider density and various building structures. In 2009, Aaron and his wife Haily migrated to Colorado in search of sun and a place of architectural and urban opportunity.  Shortly after arriving Aaron joined tres birds workshop.

Aaron enjoys being involved in the full process of creating buildings and notes that working closely with a client can be an immersing, fascinating, and rewarding experience.  Working through all aspects of a project – programming, financial analysis, permitting, design, and ultimately construction are all aspects that, when brought together successfully, afford a high level of reward. Aaron says the HORSEBARN project is a perfect example of this challenge and reward scenario. Starting with a historical building that most people thought should be torn down, Aaron was tasked with managing the project from start to finish, which he did with great organization and leadership. Today the HORSEBARN hosts 200+ employees and is a hub of activity in the Curtis Park neighborhood.

Other major projects Aaron has managed include: CACTUS, BROADWAY TRIANGLE and currently in progress, 2601 LARIMER, and ENTERPRISE - a 70,000 sf co-working space opening in the spring. Aaron’s main focus outside of work is on his family, including new son Nathan, as well as their newly purchased 110-year-old house. Aaron’s animal spirit is one part Labrador and one part aspiring honey badger.

Lumina: Context



Lumina is a mixed-use apartment building designed by tres birds workshop, developed by TreeHouse Denver and built by JHL Constructors. We will be examining the Lumina project in parts, leading up to it’s completion in the fall of 2014. The first place to begin is by looking at the context surrounding Lumina, both within the Lower Highlands and also Denver.

The Lower Highlands is one of Denver’s most rapidly changing neighborhoods. Between 2013-2015, over 13,000 apartment units have become available/ are coming onto the scene. That’s a lot of density, and it is part of Denver’s plan to promote conservation of land, energy and natural resources. We believe in density within our urban core. Creating density in our cities reduces sprawl, eases use of natural resources and preserves open spaces. It also gives way to more cultural transmission and livelier cities. Yet, it behooves us to take care when developing densely. How can we lessen the impact and integrate with existing residents? Is it possible to use existing buildings? Can the shape, orientation, and materiality of these new structures mend themselves into the existing fabric?

In the case of Lumina, using an existing structure was not an option, so new construction has been implemented instead. When considering the impact of Lumina on the surrounding neighborhood, parking was a prime concern. To address this issue, an underground parking structure has been included in order to lessen the burden of parking in the neighborhood.

In 2010, the Denver Zoning Code was updated to reflect the goals of Denver’s Downtown Area Plan. Stated in the intent of the code, is the intent to balance conservation and development. For this part of Lower Highlands (north of 20th Street), only a small corridor along the freeway was zoned for buildings five stories or less, encouraging the enclosure of the neighborhood from the freeway.

Adjacent to Lumina is a bike path that connects to the Platte River trail to the south and wraps under the freeway, connecting the north side to downtown and allowing residents to circumvent the city using bike power.

Lumina is being built on a triangular site, bound by I-25 to the south-east, Navajo St. to the west and 33rd to the north, where the former Italian restaruant, Pagliacci’s, used to stand. Pagliacci’s was a Denver legend– 66 years old and Denver’s oldest single-family-owned Italian restaurant. In 2012, the restaurant owners decided to sell their lot and move on to something else. While the sale of the property was the choice of the owners and a friendly one, when a place with so much heritage and memories is no longer, it signifies the end of an era. Just as Pagliacci’s symbolized the spirit of the times in their day, we intend for Lumina to reflect the spirit of today in a thoughtful way.

Folk: Shawn Mather // Partnering Architect

Shawn is one of tres birds workshop’s first employees and we are grateful for his stamina and loyalty in the adventure of partnering with a growing architecture firm. Over the years, Shawn has contributed so much to tres birds workshop and has helped shape what it is today. Shawn is truly the best at what he does, bringing a sharp analytical mind to creative collaborations, assembling well-laid drawings and plans as well as managing multiple architecture projects at once, some of them no where near textbook. With all that Shawn manages day to day, he also manages to remain calm and we appreciate his relaxed demeanor.

As a student of philosophy, before getting his Masters in Architecture from the University of Colorado Denver, Shawn says he enjoys the process of seeing philosophical ideas behind architecture practice become physical representations. While he has been involved with a wide range of tres birds workshop projects, including the Burton stores, the Good Building and most recently, Lumina, Shawn says Taxi holds particular meaning for him. He points to the honesty of the materials, clear design intent and simple execution as reasons he finds Taxi to be an exceptionally beautiful project and we thank Shawn for helping to make it happen from start to finish.

Shawn is a big fan of Mid-century modern design. He recently purchased a Denver Mid-century home and while he says it needs some work, it is exactly what he was looking for. Helsinki, Finland is one of the places that has made the greatest impression on Shawn architecturally. He says a dog might be his spirit animal, but only because he really likes his dog. Fair enough.

Energy: Living in an Energetic World


“Energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only be changed from one form to another.”

–Albert Einstein

Can we take a minute to think about how cool energy is? Seriously. Consider the quote above. Consider energy as an infinite property. Then consider the different ways energy runs our world. Consider energy (in all its varied forms) as the core of everything. How simple. How amazing.

Matter was once thought of as separate from energy, but in Einstein’s work, he revealed that matter is actually a dense form of energy. Today, in physics, matter is studied and discussed in terms of energy. That means everything we encounter in our world can be traced back to even the smallest unit of energy. If energy is malleable and can be transformed, this speaks volumes of hope for the health of our world.

Not only does this apply to thinking about the types of fuels we use to power our daily lives, but molecular vibrations are also key to understanding how energy works in its varied forms and how they affect our existence day to day. Molecular vibrations that give way to high frequencies are linked to vitality, movement and health, while low frequencies are experienced as stagnation and disease. For example, sources of high vibrational frequency include full-spectrum daylight, natural foods, living plants, animals and even states of being like relaxation…to name a few. If the goal is health, then it makes sense to associate with higher energy frequencies more of the time.

Reflect on your own experiences to see if you agree. Compare the quality of your own energy level when exposed to natural light vs. fluorescent or artificial lighting, foods in their natural form vs. processed foods. How do plants, animals and other living things in your environment affect your energy levels? Would you agree going about life in a relaxed state (even when confronting a stressful situation) is a more enjoyable experience than operating in a state of stress?

If energy can be endlessly transformed and if health is the goal, then it is a matter of converting low energy frequencies in our environment into higher ones as far as possible. If we are also trying to lessen the demand for the kind of energy extraction that has harmful consequences for our natural environment, then it is a matter of conserving energy. How do we do this? In architecture, as far as possible, we choose to use natural materials vs. materials that are overly processed. We update structures that have already used energy to be built. We consider daylight as a fundamental building material, not an afterthought. We incorporate plants and living things into our design plans. We design for culture as well as facilitating human connection. We implement renewable energy where we can. We connect humans to nature.

When these things are culminated, we are creating spaces spaces that feel good to be in, spaces that carry high energy and vitality. Where else in our environment can energy be converted for health?

Image: Japanese artist Kohei Nawa, PixCell series.

Workshopping. #tresbirds #denver #architecture

Workshopping. #tresbirds #denver #architecture