Building For the Future

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"When out-of-town architects come in here and we've beat them up about their inability to understand LoDo, we're not surprised to see them come to the second meeting with David on their team," says Anderson, a veteran Denver architect. "I think he's done the best work of any of the architects working in LoDo."

Despite his passion for historic preservation, Tryba has not simply copied nineteenth-century styles. Many of his buildings are deeply modern but still reflect a concern with context and historical precedent.

His most significant new building is Regis Jesuit High School in Arapahoe County, a project incorporating a traditional high school and a three-story chapel. The materials used are the stuff of high schools everywhere: brick, linoleum tile, concrete. But in Tryba's hands, those common materials come together to create a spiritual community in an otherwise bland suburban setting.

The blond and tan bricks used at Regis echo the tawny prairie grasses that cover the hillside location. The design of the chapel makes subtle reference to classic European cathedrals. The detailing on the roof and sides of the building allude to Notre Dame's famous flying buttresses, while skylights on the side of the nave bring a flood of otherworldly light into the chapel and mark the central worship area as sacred space.

In Tradition Hall, which links the chapel and the school, displays of trophies and ribbons note the triumphs of Regis students over the years. A simple linoleum floor is patterned in a checkerboard of mauve and gray, reflecting the school's shield. The school library faces west and is enclosed with three stories of glass that bring inside a sweeping view of the Front Range.

After seeing this building, it's not surprising to hear Tryba use a vocabulary of regeneration to describe his architectural mission.

"What we need to do is heal our built environment and provide buildings that nurture people," says Tryba. "What we've lost as a profession is our ability to see and our ability to create nurturing buildings."

Tryba's own history has shaped his approach to architecture. The 43-year-old Colorado Springs native grew up near Colorado College, in a stately old neighborhood that was laid out a century ago by the city's founders. Once known as the state's loveliest city because of its carefully planned network of grand boulevards and civic monuments, Colorado Springs has been scarred by helter-skelter development during the past thirty years. Watching his hometown's degradation has been a sad but informative experience for Tryba.

"The planning that was done in the Springs in the later part of the nineteenth century played a role in my understanding of public space," says Tryba. "There were boulevards and parkways and vistas and monuments. Now it's been destroyed."

Tryba remembers growing up in a neighborhood where children from all classes played together in the local parks. His own interest in architecture began to grow in his teenage years.

"When I was in high school, I was taking drawing classes," he recalls. "It was fun and the first thing I'd ever done that was easy for me to excel at."

As an undergraduate, he studied design at the University of Colorado in Boulder, where he took an interest in environmentally friendly construction. After graduation he backpacked around Europe before returning to Colorado and CU-Denver's graduate architecture program. He finished that program in 1980, right in the midst of the oil-driven high-rise boom, and immediately went to work for the Denver-based Gensler & Associates.

But the devastating oil-industry bust of the mid-1980s was just around the corner, and not a single building Tryba worked on at Gensler was ever built. As the local economy imploded, Tryba realized he would have to leave Colorado.

"I was thinking, 'I'm going nowhere as fast as I can,'" he remembers. "So I moved to New York City. It was fortuitous. I think there was an angel sitting on my shoulder."

In New York, where he, worked until 1988, he signed on with Beyer, Blinder, Belle. That firm is now famous for its renovations of Ellis Island and the Grand Central Terminal, and Tryba says he was plunged into an architectural milieu that was radically different from his previous experience.

"I had no love affair with historic buildings or urban design at that time," says Tryba. "I thought the purpose of architecture was to build things taller and sleeker. I was then humbled to experience an entire firm of architects that had all their egos in check."

James Fitch, one of the guiding lights at Beyer, Blinder, Belle, remembers Tryba as a brilliant designer who was quick to understand the firm's dislike of grandstanding.

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Stuart Steers
Contact: Stuart Steers

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