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Filimón participated in the Colorado Building Workshop project in Antarctica. Photo: Courtesy

Eco-friendly shelter built in Antarctica

Mexican alum of CU Denver shares his experience building laboratory facilities for scientists.

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Chasing the American Dream, Filimón Alvarez was born in Zacatecas, Mexico, and moved to Aurora, Colorado. After completing high school, the low-income student conflicted about how to pay for college, joined the U.S. Marines, where he says, “I felt I could give back to the country that offered my family a better life.” 

Alvarez spent eight years in the military, serving in the Iraq War (Operation Iraqi Freedom) and the war in Afghanistan (Operation Enduring Freedom) and leaving in 2014 to help his family while his father was sick. 

He explains, not wanting to be “stereotyped as just a construction worker,” after leaving the military and decided to obtain a higher education at the Community College of Aurora—excelling academically, he was able to transfer to the University of Colorado Denver (CU Denver), and becoming the first college graduate in his family. 

“A significant achievement that I am incredibly proud of,” assured Alvarez, who received the Alpha Rho Chi Award, which is given to graduating students from a school of architecture and has demonstrated leadership, and performed willing service for the school and department. He adds that this award is “a testament to my dedication and hard work, and it motivates me to keep pushing boundaries and strive for excellence.” 

Today, he works for Alan Ford Architects and specializes in designing educational spaces for pre-K to 12 graders that inspire creativity and innovation in children. To Alvarez, architecture is “a way to give back to the community and create spaces that make a difference in people’s lives.” 

He is currently studying to be a licensed architect, and he credits much of his success to his studio professors, “who believed in me and saw my potential.” 

Alvarez is the father of two young children, ages one and five, and he is determined to set an example for them and inspire them to pursue their dreams— he is excited to continue to make a positive impact in the community and beyond. 

Filimón admits to having an academic career “a bit out of the ordinary” since he began college at the age of 26, and soon after, transferred to UC Denver, where he obtained a Bachelor of Architecture in May 2018 and proceeded to further his education and acquiring a Master of Architecture in May 2020 from the same university. 

Off-grid Construction in Antarctica

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries), Antarctic Ecosystem Research Division (AERD), located at the Southwest Fisheries Center (SWFSC), has conducted ecosystem assessments since 1986. 

In 2021, NOAA Fisheries awarded a contract for the replacement of the facilities at Cape Shirreff, now called Holt Watters Field Camp, and the Colorado Building Workshop program at CU Denver, allowed students pursuing a Master of Architecture degree to design the first buildings— Phase I, built at CU Denver campus in 19 weeks by 22 graduate students (40% woman) under the direction of Rick Sommerfeld, an associate professor in the College of Architecture and Planning.  

However, Filimón shares that out of 40 students, only seven got chosen. Filimón was one of them. 

The project was to design and construct green buildings to improve living conditions for four to eight rotating environmental scientists with the NOAA Fisheries that research the population dynamics, behavior, diet, and survival of Antarctic seabirds and pinnipeds. The scientists spend four to five months conducting research. Filimón was one of the members that helped with the reassembly in Antarctica. 

The materials were shipped to Antarctica for reassembly— a living area with a kitchen in one building, personal space, and sleeping quarters in a separate building—a 30-day process to reassemble the weather-resistant construction with an off-grid power system. Structural Insulated Panels (SIP); were used for the walls, floors, and ceiling due to the structural insulating capabilities and ease of construction—factoring the harsh climate of Antarctica, the buildings are equipped to collect rainwater and have photovoltaics. 

Some design features include a mudroom entry, sleeping quarters, personal storage space, an open state-of-the-art kitchen and food storage areas, and windows deliberately positioned to capture stunning views of humpback whales, seals, and penguins,” reported CU Denver News. 

Testimonial from Rick Sommerfeld, Associate Professor in the College of Architecture and Planning:

“Having a diverse student body in a graduate architecture program brings immense value to the Colorado Building Workshop program and the field. It ensures that multiple perspectives and experiences are represented, leading to a more holistic approach to design that better serves the needs of all communities. It also creates a more inclusive and equitable learning environment, preparing students to be thoughtful, culturally responsible, and socially engaged architects.”
 

 

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