alt Disney once said, “We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”
Mike Moore is curious.
When I first spoke with Mike to discuss the potential to work together on this project it was a phone call right before the peak of the pandemic. A time before “Zoom” video conferences were the norm and it was just someone’s voice on the other end of the line. Everything in the universe was on alert at the time, senses heightened — but there was calmness in his voice, something later, after spending time with him I would describe as grounded. Our first conversation lasted longer than most of my introductory calls. We initially connected because we were intrigued by the project he created for S. Park, a redevelopment in the Curtis Park Neighborhood in Denver, Colorado. Included in the redevelopment is a 7000 square-foot elevated greenhouse, which captures enough natural light to grow microgreens throughout the year. The greenhouse utilizes passive heating and cooling strategies, with automatic venting and thermal blankets that stretch across the interior on cooler nights. This low energy, high tech glass building serves as a visual cornerstone of the site.
Uchi, the James Beard Award-winning Japanese restaurant also designed by Mike (and his company Tres Birds) that is below the greenhouse, is one of the main buyers of the produce grown there and allows for a visually connected ‘farm to table’ experience. Some of the produce is harvested moments before being plated for the guests. They also cut out an eight foot oculus in the center of the dining room so diners can experience the produce being grown in the greenhouse as they sit at their tables. The southern wall of the restaurant is a composite of red and crystal bricks that refract the light as it streams into the dining room (a Tres Birds innovation). Yes, it’s as magical as it sounds.
During that initial conversation I learned that Mike grew up in Wisconsin and was quite the talented soccer player. So much so that it led him to trade in the cold winters of the Midwest for the California sunshine where he played division one soccer and earned a degree in fine arts + environmental sciences from the University of California-Berkeley. He also received his masters of architecture from the University of Colorado Denver. In 2000, Mike founded Tres Birds, an acclaimed full-service planning, architecture and general contracting firm based in Denver, Colorado that operates with the intent of creating dynamic designs for a better world―building sustainable communities, respecting nature, and sparking innovation.
Going back to our first call, when I asked him one of those ice-breaker questions, “how would you describe what you do?” to which I expected him to respond with “I’m an architect”, but instead he described himself as an artist with architecture as one of his chosen mediums. Even with his multiple academic degrees, an extensive and prestigious career in architecture and design, Mike’s not one that I would ever try to put in a box (pun intended). Life is his canvas and the work that has come from him and Tres Birds are true works of art. Unbeknownst to me I was a fan of his work years before our paths crossed. During our research we learned that he and his team were behind the iconic flagship Los Angeles Burton retail store on the infamous Melrose Avenue. Just blocks from one of my first LA apartments, it was a must see destination for me to show friends that were visiting from out of town.
When I first met Mike it was at his home in Boulder, north of Denver. In person he’s kind and considerate and you get a sense that intention is a big part of his life. It’s not just some buzz word, I think “intention” is like his morning coffee when he’s starting his day. It informs the details not just in life but in his work as well. He doesn’t just do things to do them. We arrived at his home and it feels so simple (when I say simple I mean it in the highest form of flattery). There’s one couch in the living room, a dining room table that was purposely not finished to show the weathering of family meals spent together, natural light pours through the windows and there’s not a television in sight. We walked with him through his home garden that he started over fourteen years ago, just to see what he could grow and for the past fourteen years that garden has provided organic sustenance for his family (and some rabbits too). When speaking to him about the garden you get a sense of the joy it brings him — a childlike exuberance in his voice when describing the surprises it bestows. He talks about how nature informs so much of the work he does. Simplicity at it’s finest.
Before filming we wanted to do a location scout of where all of the magic happens, so we traveled south to Denver. The Tres Birds Workshop is located slightly east of the River North Arts District (RiNo). It’s a nondescript building in an industrial complex. Simple on the outside with a world of wonder being manifested on the inside. Probably just how Mike likes it. Because of the pandemic the staff were working remotely. Initial sketches of designs that evolved into completed projects adorn the walls, a workshop that houses machinery and materials for experimentation and a salvaged grain silo that’s been converted into a conference room for meetings inside the space. It’s almost like the feeling of getting a tour of the inner workings of Mike’s mind.
Once we’ve wrapped up our scout, it’s time to say our goodbyes for the day. We pack up to leave and Mike hops on his bicycle. He often rides a bike throughout the city to meetings, check on the status of projects or to just because he’s curious as to what he might discover. Just as we were walking away, someone from our team mentioned to Mike how much he liked his bike and asked him where he got it. Mike replied, “I made it”, and smiled.
Of course he did.