POR: Ed Chamberlin March 15, 2009
Chamberlin Architects is in its 30th year.
From the observation platform of the steel tower that rises above the Museum of the West in downtown Grand Junction, you can see the past, the present and the future.
Past is visible in the nearby historic buildings and the distant geological landmarks; present is weather observations above, or the robust Main Street and busy Riverside Parkway below; future is observed in the vast expansion and construction in the valley.
The Sterling T. Smith Educational Tower at the museum was constructed in 1999 and architect firm Chamberlin Architects received an award for its design the following year.
“Grand Junction is so low-lying that its hard to get a view of everything that’s going on in the valley,” said Ed Chamberlin, founder of the firm. “There are so many stories to tell from the tower.
“The idea was that if we could get above the trees we could see the confluence of the Gunnison and Colorado rivers, we could get a good view of the town buildings, the historic buildings that are downtown, a good view of the geology and the monument, mesa and Bookcliffs. We could tell a story of irrigation from there and we could show where the Spanish Trail was.”
Chamberlin grew up in San Jose, Calif., and received an architectural degree from Cal-Poly in San Luis, Obispo, Calif. He worked part-time for the San Luis Obispo planning department, which at the time was trying to promote open spaces. There was a lot of communication with Boulder because of its advanced open-space program, aimed at halting urban sprawl.
After graduation, he packed up his skis and went looking for a job in Boulder.
The drive eastward took him through Grand Junction and he was intrigued by the charming little town, so much so that he stopped to visit with an architect in town. There wasn’t much work going on, so he continued to Boulder as planned.
Six months later the Grand Junction architect formed a partnership and they had a lot of work.
They called Chamberlin and he relocated to the valley, working on the building designs of the Alpine Bank building (then Valley Federal Saving and Loan) Two Rivers Plaza (Convention Center), and the Mesa County Public Library.
When work slowed, Chamberlin went to Denver and formed a partnership there with a kayaking friend. Together they designed passive solar buildings throughout Colorado and New Mexico.
“This was 1976. It was the last time we had an energy crisis and it was an exciting time to be involved because a lot of the work we did was experimental,” Chamberlin said.
Chamberlin met his future wife, Barbara, while kayaking in Idaho. They married in 1977, moved back to Grand Junction in 1978 and founded the firm, working out of their home at first, then renting space on Main Street.
In 1984 they bought the current building at 437 Main St., which previously housed a Zales jewelry store downstairs and “what looked like the old Western Union office,” upstairs, Chamberlin said.
“The building was practically condemned and the roof was sagging about 3 inches,” he said.
The region was in the middle of a recession and in order to keep the staff together, he took out a loan and put everybody to work on carpentry and painting and fixing the space, along with historical preservation work of the building.
“We were doing what we could, but there was not a lot of work. Most of the projects we had were renovating old buildings,” Chamberlin said.
And then the firm was selected to design 22 buildings at Canyonlands National Park in Utah.
“That was a big time, an important turning time for our business because it had been so depressed here,” he said.
Soon after, they were one of three firms selected nationwide for a five-year, open-ended contract with the National Park Service — work that included restoration of six bath houses in Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas, a visitor center at George Washington Carver National Monument in Missouri and visitor facilities at Cumberland Gap in Virginia.
Chamberlin Architects is in its 30th year and to date, Chamberlin and his staff of 20 have designed 100 projects in the area, and probably 400–500 projects that have been built around the state and nationally. The firm has seven licensed architects and more than half of the staff is LEED accredited, referring to the Green Building Rating System.
On a drive around town, no doubt you’ll see a number of Chamberlin Architect banners hung at construction projects under way — at Mesa State College they are the campus architect, at
The Liberty Center near the Mesa County Justice Center, and the stately St. Mary’s Century Project Tower, just to name a few.
“We were fortunate to have been included on all four of the short-listed teams (for St. Mary’s).
On a project like that we need to team with a hospital- expert architect firm. We worked in a variety of primarily support roles on that, including from day one, involved in the project,” Chamberlin said.
In November, when the 12-story Century Project Tower is expected to be completed, there will be more work remodeling the spaces that those departments move from.
“Completed,” Chamberlin says, though, “is a relative term.”
Thumbing through a collection of photos of recently completed projects just barely touches the surface of buildings that he and his staff have designed — from the restored Telluride School in Telluride to the Moab, Utah, Information Center, and from most of the new elementary schools in School District 51 to the Avalon Theatre restoration.
Add to that homes that blend in with the natural desert surroundings, and pro bono projects, such as the Catholic Outreach Soup Kitchen and St. Benedict Place, a housing complex for the homeless. There are several bank buildings both downtown and by the mall, and the Killian, Jensen and Davis building on Seventh Street. And there’s ...
... the list goes on.