CSU Service 1982 to present
Director, Institute for the Built Environment 1994 – present
Brian Dunbar was born in Michigan into a family of architects – his father and grandfather were architects. His mother was a talented interior designer, who taught him about the intersections of design, color, and apparel. From her, Brian learned how to create a sense of place – within his architectural work and when furnishing spaces.
As a child, Brian spent many weekends traveling to various buildings under construction for his father’s business. Beginning in tenth grade, he worked in the office of his father’s architecture company, learning about the production of architecture. Inspired by his father, Brian took drafting classes in High School and was able to hone his skills in his father’s office.
One day, Brian told his father that he wanted to be an architect. He looked at Brian and said, “I’ll tell you the same thing my dad told me. You’re not coming to work for me.” Brian was not expecting this response, but understood that his father didn’t want him to expect to have a job after college. He wanted Brian to treat college as a place of learning and to work hard to find a job somewhere else.
Brian’s interest in sustainability began in High School during the U.S. energy crisis. His English teacher assigned the class a research paper around a question that intrigued them. Brian asked himself, “What is the future of architecture?” Reflecting on the energy crisis, Brian made an immediate connection between alternative energy and how the built environment could be the way to help instead of harm the natural environment.
It was the careers of his father and grandfather that eventually inspired him to attend the University of Michigan Architecture School. The 6-year program culminated in a Master’s Degree. With his father’s encouragement to create his own career, Brian intended to go work in Colorado after graduation.
Brian always planned that, one day after establishing his career elsewhere, he would go back to work alongside his father. Sadly, his father was diagnosed with cancer during Brian’s last few years in High School, and he passed away at age 49, when Brian was a sophomore in college.
Upon graduation from the University of Michigan, Brian married his longtime girlfriend, Karen, and they kept his promise to his father by moving to Colorado in 1981. When Brian arrived in Colorado, he did not have a job secured, and spent weeks visiting various architectural firms in the area before he showed his portfolio to Jim Cox, owner of Architecture Plus.
CSU Work History
The most significant moment in Brian’s time at Architecture Plus was only eight months into the position when his boss walked into the studio and asked his team, “I’m supposed to be at CSU critiquing student design projects, but I have a conflict. Can anyone step in for me?” Brian volunteered and had a blast working with Interior Design students. At only 24 years old, Brian taught students how to improve their designs.
With a serendipitous professorial vacancy in both the interior design and art departments a few months later, Brian stepped in as an adjunct professor in 1982. By 1983, when Brian was 25, he was hired as a tenure-track assistant professor in the art department. He found that students were able to relate to him, as they were close in age, and they appreciated his direct job experience. He knew what the profession was like and how to succeed in design school, which built trust among the students.
Brian always felt that as a teacher, he learned just as much as his students. He remained open to their ideas and cared deeply about their success. He has been fortunate to have been able to continue to work with many of his former students, who now work at the Institute for the Built Environment, or who he sees at national conferences, now established sustainability experts themselves.
In 1989, CSU was going through tough times and needed to consolidate programs that had similar curricula. Art and interior environments created one program that was then housed in the Department of Design and Merchandising. He found himself in the College of Applied Human Sciences and was exposed to the world of science and publishing.
Institute for the Built Environment
Nancy Hartley, Dean of the College of Applied Human Sciences, approached Brian with an idea for interdisciplinary work, which led to the creation of the Institute for the Built Environment in 1994. Faculty from interior design, Construction Management, Landscape Architecture, and Historic Preservation came together to research and practice sustainable architecture, design, and construction.
Hartley challenged the group to create a proposal to get the Institute up and running, pledging 2-years of funding. Suddenly, Brian’s research focus shifted to the built environment. He began thinking about how the actual building from the site to the neighborhood could be created through sustainable practices.
In 1999, Brian transitioned from Interior Design to Construction Management, where he was able to teach more courses on sustainable and green building practices. After 22 years, IBE has continued to grow and thrive. The mission has evolved to in an effort to “advance the development of healthy, thriving built environments.”
Brian believes that CSU’s land grant mission helped IBE, as it provided opportunities to collaborate with community, state, and national groups in an effort to spread access to sustainability education. Brian and his team have traveled the world consulting on building projects, teaching classes, and helping to make CSU one of the greenest campuses in the U.S.
While at CSU, Brian has received the CSU Service Learning Award, the NEAT Award from Colorado Governor Bill Owens, and became a U.S. Green Building fellow in 2012.
What is Brian doing today?
Brian retired early at age 54. During his final years at CSU, he was busy teaching, chairing the tenure and promotion committee, and participating in department faculty work. He loved teaching, but was enjoying opportunities to travel across the country teaching green building seminars and wanted to devote more time to it. Encouraged by IBE’s growth, Brian chose to retire from his teaching role during a 3-year transitional retirement.
Now, through IBE, Brian continues to teach and provide outreach off-campus to community partners. Since his”retirement” from CSU in 2012, the Professor Emeritus has remained fully engaged at CSU as the Director of the Institute for the Built Environment. Through IBE, Brian has guided project work and facilitated design charrettes for the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, American Institute of Architects, cities, numerous school districts, and the Colorado Governor’s Energy Office.
A few recent IBE projects include helping Poudre School District create sustainable schools and establishing a framework that can be used to create healthy school systems across the country. IBE continues to evolve with a focus on healthy communities – sustainable, green practices from large scale buildings and public spaces to neighborhoods and homes. Their focus is on how to leave a positive footprint instead of a “less negative footprint.” IBE is focused on creating only as much energy as you use, and getting rid of waste altogether.
Through the years, his family grew and continued their own legacy at CSU. His eldest son, Gabe, followed in his family’s footsteps, graduating from Colorado State University with a degree in Construction Management. One of Brian’s favorite teaching memories was when he was able to have Gabe in his class and to coach his CM competition teams. His son, Kyle, continues the family legacy at CSU, working in fundraising for the University and his wife, Karen, is now the Assistant Vice President of Gift Planning.