Daniel Craig (BA ’99)
For architect and alumnus Dan Craig of Shears Adkins Rockmore (SAR+) Architects, joining the team tasked with designing and building DU’s Burwell Center for Career Achievement represented a career zenith. After all, the team faced a compelling challenge: Create a building that would fit within the established context of his alma mater, while supporting the University’s commitment to sustainability.
“The DU community and campus are an incredible context to work within,” Craig says, noting that the institution’s design vision and signature materials—brick, copper, limestone and sandstone—give the campus a cohesive style. “It was really well established, over 20 years, what a DU building might be. And so, our challenge and our opportunity was to learn from that, to expand on it and make it more representative of a 21st century DU. It was a wonderful opportunity.”
It was also not his first experience with a campus building project. While majoring in music and minoring in mathematics, Craig traveled to Rome, Italy, for a study abroad program. There, he became drawn to architecture. Back on campus, he helped build—and raise funds for—an outdoor classroom south of Sturm Hall, a gift from the Class of ’97.
That project helped open his eyes to DU’s distinctive setting. “It’s the University of Denver—in the city of Denver—and yet it’s got this really unique place in the city where it’s connected but it also has its own presence. You can walk on University Boulevard and you feel very urban—there’s a lot of traffic and cars and noise—but if you just walk between a couple buildings and get into one of the green spaces in the interior of the campus, all of a sudden it’s really quiet and you have these great views of the mountains. It’s a completely different experience,” Craig says. “I don’t think that exists in a lot of places.”
When Craig studied at DU, its programs were spread over two campuses, the 124-acre University Park campus and the Park Hill campus, then home to the Lamont School of Music. The aesthetic lure of the former was so strong that Craig chose to live on the main campus and bike 8 miles to Park Hill, with saxophone in tow, for music classes.
In addition to music and math, Craig dove into other subjects that stirred his passions, from history to sustainability. A book from a seminar on water issues in the American West sits behind his desk to this day.
“The fact that DU allowed me to explore such a broad set of topics set me up for success in ways that I don’t imagine other schools could have,” he says. “It made me a better human being. You can’t teach that. There’s not a class on that. It wasn’t a goal I had when I got to the University. It’s just something that happened, I think, because of the incredible people who are part of that community and who were willing to share with me and help me see how I could be my best self.”
That best self went on to earn master’s degrees in architecture and urban design from University of Colorado Denver. He has worked in DU’s Office of the University Architect and on projects at the Denver Botanic Gardens, Meow Wolf Denver and the Rocky Mountain Deaf School.
When Craig returned to campus for the Burwell project, he was eager to help DU realize its commitment to a sustainable setting for learning. Among the many choices the design team made, Craig is particularly proud of the decision to incorporate mass timber, with its minimal carbon footprint. (SAR+ served as the project’s local architect, in collaboration with Texas-based Lake|Flato, for the 23,000-square-foot building dedicated to student career development.)
“Mass timber is a very natural way to approach the objective of being sustainable,” Craig says. It combines many layers of wood to form structural elements, allowing timber systems to be flexible and efficient. Additionally, mass timber structural systems utilize less embodied energy than concrete or steel.
Better still, the building, which debuted in fall 2020, promises to serve the DU community well into the future. Creating flexible spaces that can adapt to new inhabitants and different uses long after the final beam is put in place, Craig says, is crucial for long-term sustainability.
“What becomes important in the design work that we do is to understand how you can design a building to have a long life and a loose fit so that it can serve many generations to come,” he says.
Photo courtesy of SAR+