Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

Buildings pay homage to their makers

At the University of Denver, buildings are more than just structures. They offer places for students to learn, faculty to teach and staff to work. More importantly, they offer places for people to connect. It’s in the University’s buildings that nearly everything that makes up the academic life happens.

And what of all the hands that toil to build these special places?

It isn’t unusual for construction to take a couple of years. During that time some 600–700 pairs of hands might be at work — excavators, bricklayers, roofers, finishers and many more.

University Architect Mark Rodgers says that in recent years, DU has paid homage to those construction workers by literally carving their names in stone. It all started with the Ritchie Center in 1999.

“Toward the end, it was clear it had become a labor of love for quite a few of the people who worked on the building. This was a way to publicly thank all the hands that had worked very hard to build it,” Rodgers says.

Since then, “workers’ walls” have been constructed at the Newman Center for the Performing Arts in 2003 and at Nagel Hall in 2008.

While there are traditions in construction to sign the highest beam or place a flag signed by workers in the rafters, Rodgers says those things are encased in buildings where no one can see them. And he says, only the workers at the end of the process are involved. The workers’ walls at DU are unique in that every worker is listed by name, alphabetically, and that the walls are in prominent locations.

The workers’ walls are located between the Ritchie Center’s south entry and the Coors Fitness Center, outside the Newman Center and in the covered area just outside Nagel Hall.

The locations were picked, Rodgers says, “Where it seemed appropriate, with dignity and where people can go and see them.”

Rodgers says that DU buildings aren’t just for the people at DU.

“In the end it touches on one of the core ideas of the institution. Buildings are not just for our needs. [My] real hope is that the kind of buildings we build — people do want to come back and say, ‘I had something to do with this,’” Rodgers says.

In recent years DU buildings have been constructed to last “multicenturies,” a practice Rodgers says is uncommon in construction. Because of this, he imagines workers coming back someday to show their names to their grandchildren.

While Rodgers is proud of the extra effort to acknowledge workers, he says the decision usually comes late in the building process and requires a lot of effort just to round up the names. First, the names are gathered from all the contractors’ payroll records and checked for spelling and hyphenation. Next, Rodgers prepares a text document, carefully laying out the columns and including a drawing.

For Nagel Hall, the names were sandblasted on the wall by Great Panes, which put Rodgers’ document through a computer program that turned the names into a plastic “resist” pattern. Sandblasting with an abrasive steam cuts the letters into the stone.

While the Ritchie Center names included middle initials, the letter was dropped on later buildings. Rodgers says by the time the Nagel wall was done, there were many more hyphenated names.

The process is imperfect, and occasionally names are forgotten. Corrections depend on the wall’s location and what it’s made of. Misspellings can sometimes be patched, but in exposed locations where the walls get wet, patches are revealed.

“It’s more likely we’d forget someone than misspell their name,” Rodgers says.

He says that when many individuals have the same name, they purposely included it many times. He acknowledges two misspellings, which he hopes to patch.

Although he could have made the dedications out of something easier to correct, Rodgers says it seemed more appropriate to use the walls themselves.

“You literally carve in stone because it won’t get covered up, forgotten. It’s borne from a deep and abiding affection for these workers and what they do, the time they commit and that they spend on these projects,” he says.

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