When Soren Simonsen was just 8 years old, he knew he wanted to be an architect.
Now 37, Simonsen has established a reputation as one of Utah's chief architects. Recently he was named the Young Architect of the Year, an annual award given by the American Institute of Architects' six-state Western Mountain region. The honor is granted to individuals who have shown exceptional leadership in design and service to the profession.
"I have never known an architect who has contributed so much time in so many different ways within the community and within the profession," said Elizabeth Mitchell, executive director of the American Institute of Architects' Western Mountain Region. "Whatever he does, he does very thoroughly."
Whether it is helping Mayor Rocky Anderson on an initiative to promote sustainable buildings or designing a new city hall for Moab, Simonsen's attention to his profession and community runs deep.
Simonsen led the development of green building guidelines and ordinances for Salt Lake City, West Valley, Sandy and Daybreak, a residential community in South Jordan.
He serves as the chair of the Utah Arts Festival and the Parley's Regional Trail Advisory Board. He contributes his time to Envision Utah and with the Utah Quality Growth Commission. He is the chair for the national American Institute of Architects' Young Architects Forum Advisory Committee. He also sits on AIA's regional/urban design committee.
The list goes on.
Besides being an architect, Simonsen is a certified planner, acting as a consultant for a transit development guidebook for the Wasatch Front.
As a young boy, Simonsen said, he had several opportunities to visit Europe, from which his mother and grandmother came.
"I was very impressed with the nature of cities in Europe, which was very different from sprawling suburbs, which is where I grew up," Simonsen said. "It's always kind of been something in the back of my mind to try and bridge (the gap between) architecture and city planning."
Some of downtown Salt Lake City's problems, Simonsen maintains, are a direct result of poor design and planning, with few buildings conducive to retailers, shops and stores.
"One of the challenges on Main Street is that we've designed it into a financial institutional district," Simonsen said. "As you walk down the 200 block by the Gallivan Center, there are no entrances along those buildings except at the corners. The windows are tinted, so you can't look inside. There's no activity on the ground floor other than office space. We've essentially created an environment that has no interest or engaging qualities that would attract pedestrians to that environment."
Design, Simonsen said, must again be called upon to create an active streetscape.
For example, storefronts must engage people to stop and view something inside. Entrances must be located every 40 to 50 feet. In addition, there must be a variety of architecture, trees, canopies and benches."Where those things exist," he said, "typically you have a very vibrant streetscape."
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