Denver’s New Condo Project Raises the Bar on Affordability and Sustainability
By Nate Huyler
New construction of for-sale condominium projects is few and far between in Denver. At the affordable level, there have been none. La Tela, one of Denver’s newest developments, was conceived to change that. The condos provide a rare homeownership opportunity for Denver’s workforce. It does this with an attractive, high-quality contribution to the urban neighborhood of the Santa Fe Arts District. This recently completed housing project is raising the bar for the future of affordability and energy performance in architecture.
Denver Architecture and Design firm Studio Completiva actively take a fresh approach to typical affordable housing design. For this project, the team adopted the idea of a canvas (la tela). They wanted to create a representation of the interconnected threads of a community — a blank canvas where residents can create a home within the systems of the city.
La Tela is Denver’s first 100 percent permanently affordable for-sale condominium development. Comprised of 92 units, the building is a mix of studio, two-bedroom, and three-bedroom units available for under $200k. It is intended for people making 80-100% of the Area Median Income. Studio Completiva felt that it was important to bring a refined design aesthetic to the project that could elevate the day-to-day experience of the occupants. They worked within the development budget to achieve this goal. The exterior design of the building was developed to reflect the idea of canvas – the brick is even patterned to literally express fabric. The building presents a clean, minimal aesthetic to the street and the neighborhood. It was important to the design team that the brick be consistent all around the building, but not flat or simplistic. This is in keeping with the older Denver neighborhoods that use brick to achieve a sense of longevity and quality. By adding texture, the building takes on a deeper visual dimension as well as a deeper meaning for the idea of the blank slate and a fresh start for those living there.
La Tela also stands as an important urban infill project for the neighborhood. Visually it meets the line of the street and establishes a strong presence along 6th Avenue and Inca Street – expanding the Santa Fe urban environment deeper into a neighborhood that is rapidly growing and densifying. With Denver ever-expanding, the design team anticipated future infill at neighboring properties and thoughtfully proportioned the masses to be appropriate to a mid-rise building. The windows were carefully sized and located to emphasize the views from the interior and to provide quality daylight for residents.
These design considerations earned La Tela a Denver Mayor’s Design Award for 2021. The project was recognized for its richly authentic, context-sensitive, and creative design. While this design award is a great honor for the project team, for the residents the design translates to an attractive, well-functioning home that they can be proud of.
Another important consideration in the design of La Tela was the city’s Energize Denver Performance Requirements enacted in November 2021. The requirements outline energy use for buildings over 25,000 square feet and prescriptive measurements for buildings 5,000-25,000 square feet as a means of meeting Denver’s goal of net-zero energy by 2040. La Tela won the 1st place award for Energize Denver Renewable Heating and Cooling in the electrification category last September. The units are outfitted with Energy Star Appliances and energy-efficient heat pumps for peak efficiency. The building is powered by on-site solar and LED lighting was installed throughout.
La Tela is a prime example of how affordable housing developments can be creatively and mindfully designed to elevate a neighborhood and its residents while meeting strict energy requirements for a more efficient and responsible future.
Nate Huyler, senior associate with Studio Completiva, has over 20 years of professional experience. His rural upbringing melded with a modernist architectural education to create a commitment to design that is as practical as it is forward-thinking.