Christine Costa is an architect aged 9 to 5 and an after-sunset woodcarver. She works in RTA Architects’ downtown office on Tejon Street, and prior to moving to Colorado Springs, she received her BA and MA in Architecture from Lawrence Technological University in Southfield, Michigan. âI grew up an hour north of Detroit in Port Huron,â said Costa.
âWhile at Lawrence Tech I started working for a company in Southfield called Neumann / Smith – they also had an office in Detroit. I worked for the company for 10 years doing a lot of commercial and historic renovations. My whole life was in Michigan until my husband and I moved here in June 2017. â
Costa’s sister is in the Air Force and is stationed in Colorado Springs. Costa and her husband therefore often spent vacations there. With the Springs in mind, the Costas decided to save up for some important free time. âWe started putting money together for two years, planning everything,â Costa said. She and her husband spent a few cents to be able to live a year without working. âI don’t think anyone thought we were going to move, until we packed our truck,â Costa said. âWe had just taken a break in life. We wanted to see what it would be like to be retired before 65. We wanted to move and not have to work right awayâ¦ we wanted to explore Colorado. We rented a small apartment in Manitou … but there was a garage so I could still prune. It only lasted about eight months, however, before I started working full time again.
The sculpture Costa is referring to relates to his side project: The Dead Tree Workshop. During Costa’s sabbatical, his hands created a dead tree. She achieved the rejuvenating energy of pruning wood. âWoodcarving is calming,â said Costa. âEvery time I work with my hands I’m relaxed and in the moment. I can sit for hours and my brain feels refreshed at the end of it. It’s awesome; I can do things and my mind is actually healthier.
Costa and her husband have since moved to Woodland Park, in a cabin with a large garage that allows Costa to make utensils, dishes, trays and more. âWhen you start carving by handâ¦ shaping with knives, gouges and scissors, that’s when you can sit quietly – that’s what I love. ”
Costa spoke with the Business journal on her career, the work of RTA Architects, the lessons of the deadtree workshop and what she values.
How did you come to work for RTA Architects?
Architecture is a tight-knit community, even in Detroit – where I’m from, everyone knows each other. So I knew the springs would be really tight. I started talking to local architects – not to ask for jobs, but just to see what it was like here. I went to an event at Briarhurst Manor in Manitou Springs. I ended up speaking with someone from Bryan Construction, asking him which architectural firm he likes, because I respect the opinion of construction workers on architects. This person introduced me to Stuart Coppedge, one of the directors of RTA Architects. [Coppedge and I] started talking, then I had a few interviews and was quickly hired. Honestly, I was more laid back than usual about the interviews, not because I didn’t respect RTA – not at all. I was just more confident and self-assured because taking time off work taught me something about work-life balance: I understood the value of life, and my value, outside of work. Anyway, since I was hired I have been working for RTA for about 3 and a half years now.
What do you like about RTA Architects?
Usually, in a design company, you are either classified as a designer, draftsman or in construction administration. It is often very segmented. In my last company, I always worked with designers but I never did any design myself. At RTA there are no designers, everyone has to do it themselves, it’s fun and you become much more complete as an architect. I hated him at first; I didn’t want to design – I just wanted to draw and do all the technical stuffâ¦ use my methodical left brain. It was horrible at first, I thought, but now I love the design. Really, I always wanted to be an architect. And the great thing about architecture is that it uses both parts of your brain. At school, when I was a kid, I loved art lessons but also maths.
So now I can do the design work and all the detailed drawing work – with a little bit of construction administration as well: working with contractors on site, while the building is raised, while it’s being done. I love doing this, because I learn so much as the building goes up – you can see your mistakes and know what not to do again.
What do you use to draw your plans or drafts?
At RTA, we use Revit, which is an Autodesk software product. It’s like AutoCAD. I used to work with AutoCAD in Michigan and love CAD. I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with Revit; it is different from CAD. AutoCAD looks a lot more like a drawing on a piece of paper, it’s the way I work best or my personal favorite. I like to draw with pencil and paper. Anyway, we use Autodesk’s Revit at RTA.
What is a local project that you have contributed to, and what is another RTA project that you are proud of?
I will answer the second part first. One of my favorite recognizable projects is the new Summit complex on Pikes Peak – the new visitor center. I haven’t personally worked on it, but it’s an RTA project and it’s really great.
We work on a lot of schools. My favorite school, which just ended, is CaÃ±on City Middle School. It is a historic building from 1928 which was not protected by the historical society. They originally intended to demolish it. We made the master plan for them and insisted on keeping part of the historic building, because it’s so awesome. We kept part of the 90 year old building but created this modern addition with this really cool concept of respect [history] while looking to the future – moving forward, recognizing the wisdom of the past. I had done a lot of work like that in Michigan with Neumann / Smith, so the CaÃ±on City Middle School project was assigned to me by RTA due to my previous experience.
RTA is also very focused on health care and education projects. You, or anyone else, can see the work we have done on our website, which is rtaarchitects.com.
Do you have any favorite architectural styles or movements?
I really like the brutal architecture, but I can appreciate them all. I used to hate postmodernist architecture, but it grew in me. I’m slowly starting to like him, actually. There’s a little bit of sarcasm in there that I can appreciate. And Mid-Century Modern is simply a shoo-in.
Tell us more about the Dead Tree Workshop.
With architecture, you can still click Control Z. But with woodcarving, when you break the head of a spoon, you can’t undo that. In my brain, it’s almost a habit of thinking, ‘Oh, I can just press Control Z.’ But no, you can’t do that, you have to start over. It’s good for your brain not to think about Control Z all the time, because life doesn’t often work that way at all.
I make spoons, cutting boards, dishes, teaspoons that double as a tong for your pound of grounds or beans – and more recently, walnut mortar and pestles. Some of my work is on display and available for purchase at the G44 Gallery on Boulder Street, Downtown. I also have a website; you can find me at deadtreeworkshop.com or through my Instagram account, which is: @deadtreeworkshop.
Editor’s Note: This Q&A has been corrected. The original reported on a networking event at the Summit House in Pikes Peak. The event took place at Briarhurst Manor in Manitou Springs. the CSBJ regret the error.