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The boy next door 

When looking for someone to revamp the FAC, board members chose a man who grew up in its shadows

click to enlarge Architect David Owen Tryba
  • Architect David Owen Tryba

At once, David Owen Tryba exudes confidence and caution. He takes his time with his words extra careful that they correctly portray his exact intent but upon relinquishing them, he does so surely.

So when he explains that he was the "natural" choice to restore and expand the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, you know he means it.

"I grew up on Wood Avenue," he says, recalling his Colorado Springs upbringing in the shadow of the Fine Arts Center. "Always, from the beginning of my life, [I"ve] been part of this neighborhood. The idea of the Fine Arts Center and what the arts mean to the culture and the life of the city is something that I was always familiar with."

He waxes poetically about the momentous occasions in his life like learning how to ride his bicycle and drive his baby blue 1964 Ford Galaxie 500 "with a bench seat" and how the FAC served as their backdrop. And there, too, were those in-between moments, like when he attended Bemis School of Art for drawing classes or simply found himself dilly-dallying throughout the FAC's courtyard as his mother, a museum docent, tended to her other responsibilities.

"[They were] those kinds of experiences we all had," he says, nostalgically. "And, again, at the Fine Arts Center, it all came together."

Needless to say, there's a personal touch hidden behind the crisp, clean and daunting lines that run throughout Tryba's additions to this historic, John Gaw Meem-designed building.

"To be a part of that preservation," Tryba says, "is something that we're awful proud of."

The "we" he speaks of is a nod to the 48 employees at his Denver-based firm, David Owen Tryba Architects, which opened in 1988. Tryba estimates more than half of his staff was "deeply involved" in the re-design and oversight of the FAC expansion project.

Given his personal connection to the building coupled with the fact that Tryba's firm specializes in restoration projects, and in the time period when the FAC was originally built he explains that his firm's selection to undertake this massive project just, well, made sense. Still, he was a bit taken aback when he first heard the news.

"This is probably the quintessential mid-century modern structure in the region," Tryba says. "I can't think of another early mid-century modern building that could rival any of the characteristics and qualities of this original John Gaw Meem building. It's at once classical in its approach, but entirely modern. It was one of the structures that inspired me to be an architect."

Tryba likens the building, sitting on a hill overlooking Monument Valley Park, to a "modern Acropolis." And in designing its restoration and expansion, he scrupulously examined the elements of Meem's design.

As he walks through the building just days from its official ribbon-cutting opening ceremony, he carefully points out the inspiration he took from Meem's use of aluminum, pillars, light sources and the Golden mean the proportions seen throughout nature that gave his creation a sense that it "just feels right."

Tryba admits some ideas were shot down due to budgetary or time constraints, but he is extremely proud of the finished product.

"There were some pretty significant donors," he says, "and everyone has their thoughts and dreams for their institution. The big win is that the building is built. It's of an extraordinary quality and it was built on budget, and it's going to be completed on time."

He almost sounds slightly bitter. But he's quick to point out that he's not not at all.

"Actually, it has brought out the best kind of work that anyone can do," Tryba says.

"So far, this is the best thing that our firm has ever done."

pete@csindy.com

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