Tino Leone

The summer he was 16 years old, Tino Leone attended a weeklong design camp at Kansas State University, Manhattan. That week sparked an interest in architecture and design that turned into a career.

Now he’s reached a pinnacle. After 12 years at HB&A Architecture and Planning in Colorado Springs, Leone has been named one of the firm’s seven principals. The promotion means he will be part of the firm’s leadership while managing diverse teams for renovations and new construction projects.

Leone grew up in Emporia, Kan. After completing high school, he returned to Kansas State University, Manhattan, and graduated summa cum laude. He earned a bachelor of architecture in one of the last classes before the five-year degree was converted to a master’s.

His wife was still in school when he graduated, so the couple remained in Kansas until she finished her studies, and he worked as an intern at a Kansas City architectural firm.

In 2005, the couple moved to Cañon City, where his wife got a teaching job and Leone was employed as a designer at Five Oaks Homes, a custom modular home company.

“It was a really interesting job,” he said, “quite a bit different than what I was doing at the architecture firm. It was a lot more hands-on dealing with the construction of the buildings as well as the design.”

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In 2007, though, he decided to continue his path toward architecture licensure by interning with a registered architect.

He joined HB&A that year and has designed projects for private, municipal and federal clients along Colorado’s Front Range. He has received awards for his projects from the American Institute of Architects, U.S. Green Building Council Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials and Enterprise Green Communities.

Leone lives with his wife and three children in Cañon City. He spoke with the Business Journal about notable projects he’s worked on, from firehouses to memorials at the Air Force Academy, and how architects are incorporating cutting-edge technologies for affordable housing and sustainability.

What drew you to architecture?

Architecture really uses the left brain and right brain. It’s really a problem-solving profession and takes a lot of creativity, but it requires a lot of analysis too. So I think I was drawn to that as a practice. I enjoyed math and science and I enjoyed art — kind of a combination of both worlds.

At HB&A, you’ve worked on several fire stations. What are the special considerations when you’re designing fire stations?

Fire stations are pretty unique projects. It’s really a home away from home for the firefighters, so we need to design spaces that are comfortable, that provide areas for rest and relaxation. You know, as they come back from what can be some very traumatic events, having a space to decompress and sort of recharge the batteries is really important. They spend a lot of their time in the firehouse in the kitchen/dining area, preparing meals together. So that kind of social aspect of firehouses is really important.

And then another piece that is becoming increasingly important is the health and safety of firefighters — making sure that the firehouse has good separation between what we call the dirty areas where the trucks are housed and the clean areas where they live, so things like the diesel fumes from the apparatus bays don’t get into the living quarters. A lot of details go into making sure that those fire stations are safe places.

Tell us about your work on the Colorado Springs historic Fire Station One remodel and addition.

That was a real fun project. Part of the challenge was bringing the old parts of the building up to current code and providing all the comforts and safety aspects of the fire station within the old part of the building. We completely gutted the old part of the station and built all new rooms inside of it. We were able to maintain the historic structure, the shell, which has all that beautiful brick work. On the addition next to it, one of the things we got to do was choose a selection of brick that matched the blond brick on the old station. We had to mix two or three different brick types together to find a good match that closely approximated the old brick.

What are your thoughts on affordable housing and how architects can help facilitate that?

Architects, I think, have a role to play in the respect that they can bring creative designs and incorporate some newer technologies that help bring the cost of construction down. But there’s so many different players that go into making successful affordable housing projects — from the public sector, whether it’s the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority that provides tax credits, to the local authority who maybe provides breaks on development fees, to the private developer that may be the equity partner. Architects, I think, play a role in that, but are a piece of the whole puzzle.

Are there newer technologies that can help lower costs?

Well, modular housing is one — being able to build units in a factory and then ship them out to a site and assemble them. That can save a lot, especially on the timeline of construction, which of course saves money in the long run. Other technologies that are becoming more interesting and more useful are other ways of building in a factory where you don’t build an entire section of the house, but maybe you build a bunch of separate walls that can come out and be assembled, like a kit of parts that already have a lot of the infrastructure built in.

There’s a factory in the Midwest that we’ve been looking at that builds wall sections complete with insulation and some electrical and might have the windows already installed in them, and then they just come out, labeled, and click together, which really speeds up the pace of construction. There are other technologies which we really haven’t had the opportunity to explore, like 3D printing, building parts or 3D printing entire buildings, which are really fascinating emerging technologies that could really contribute to the affordable housing market.

You’ve been honored with several awards for sustainable design. Could you talk about those projects and how architects can lead the way toward more sustainability?

Well, one of the projects that I worked on was with the Boulder County Housing Authority in Lafayette. It was a long-term relationship where we designed a couple of modular duplex units. In some respects that was a test project to see how feasible it was to build them, ship them to the site, put them all together and do it in a cost-effective manner. It was a highly insulated building envelope. We used geothermal [heating] for some of those projects. So we had geothermal wells — vertical wells that were drilled underneath the duplex, with heat pumps and energy recovery ventilators for providing fresh air ventilation into the units.

We were working with an engineering firm, Farnsworth Group, that did a number of different life-cycle cost analyses and determined that the geothermal design was a really fast payback for the initial upfront cost. … That specific project was the first in the series of projects we did with them. We also did a multifamily apartment building for seniors through Boulder County Housing [Authority] that also used geothermal shields and solar on the roof of the apartment building. And then as a follow-on to that, we did a series of townhomes and duplexes, which used similar technology — geothermal fields, PVs [photovoltaics] on the roofs, highly insulated building envelopes. … It takes an initial investment. So I think the type of project has to be right for it, and it has to be an owner who is willing to invest in the short term in order to see long-term, sustainable benefits.

One of the fire stations we did down in Pueblo, Fire Station Four, also achieved LEED certification. We didn’t do geothermal with that one, but it had some pretty efficient HVAC systems. The Pueblo Fire Department received a grant for construction of that station, and part of the requirements for that grant was that it was meeting LEED certification [standards]. Like I said, it takes the right project type, and sometimes the grants, with some of those stipulations attached, really spur that to take place.

Talk about some projects you’re particularly proud of or that had particularly interesting aspects.

The one that comes to mind for me is up at the Air Force Academy. We did a couple of projects for the Association of Graduates. The class of 1969 and the class of 1970 privately fundraised to build a couple of memorial projects. The first one was called the Southeast Asia Memorial Pavilion, and it was a pavilion to memorialize the graduates who had fought in the Vietnam War. It was a really fascinating project to be a part of because of the memorial aspect and the national pride of what they had done.

Then we did a follow-on project to that, which was a sunken amphitheater with a memorial wall and wonderful sculpture done by one of the graduates of the Air Force Academy who’s now a professional sculptor — a prisoner of war memorial. And the symbolism, the thoughtfulness of those projects was really neat to be a part of. Those memorials are along what’s called the Heritage Trail. There are several different memorials along that Heritage Trail done by different classes. It’s a really neat collection of different memorials throughout the arc of history of the Air Force Academy.