Five Under Forty: Collin Frank

Meet the Project Architect for DJArchitects in Aspen
Collin Frank Five Under Forty

Portrait by Jennifer Olson

Collin Frank has his own theory of evolution. “It’s an architect’s responsibility to remain open and constantly curious, to reinvent and evolve. Architecture is an exploration. You have to use your imagination, exercising your design skills in different ways, which can only make you a better architect.”

The Michigan native, 32, who describes himself as “both detail-oriented and driven,” earned a bachelor’s degree in environmental design and architecture from Montana State University in 2011 before moving to Aspen and taking a job at DJArchitects. There, Frank has worked on everything from small-scale residential projects (like a 750-square- foot studio condo in downtown Aspen) to a 15,000-square-foot, $35 million home to multifamily affordable housing designs.

“The great thing about the architectural process is being challenged so you explore an idea further and perhaps end up at a spot where there are no compromises at all—with the client, with the site, with nature, and with political and cultural ideas. All of that push-pull hopefully evolves into a place where everyone’s happy.”

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Photo by Tony Prikryl


“Even as a child, I had a dual fascination with how things were put together and then putting them together myself. I was always hands-on. It was always about the built environment. I remember walking through our neighborhood with my dad when the water lines were being torn up and replaced and wanting to know what they were doing and why they were doing it.”


“I’ve always had this ability to see the big picture right away and then expand upon it. I live in the spaces I’m making before they’ve even left my head and been put on paper. Architects have a lot of different processes—for some, these things come together slowly. But I immediately see everything in my mind’s eye and then start to translate that.”


“There are these two kinds of architecture: the avant-garde and the ‘put it in a box and don’t offend anyone’ kind. As a young architect, you come out of school thinking you’re going to be Walter Gropius and rebel against everything. But I’ve learned you need to meet somewhere in the middle and pick the ideas that continue to work instead of fighting everything in the past.”

“Good architecture makes people HAVE A FEELING IN A SPACE—good, bad, beautiful, ominous, enlightening. When you walk into a space, it should speak to you.” — Collin Frank


“I love to sketch. I always keep sketchbooks with one pencil, one pen and a couple of colored pencils. A lot of projects start there, with multiple ideas overlapping, one on top of the other. There’s really no sense of rhythm—it’s just me working an idea over and over.”

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Photo by Mountain Home Photo / Michael Brands


“I don’t want to ever be put in a box, but I’m interested in modernism as a style. Modern architecture fits into the mountains. It fits into nature. It fits into the American West. The architecture itself is both complex and rudimentary. It’s a reflection of the natural processes and the construction of nature. The simplicity of modern design yields to the intricacies of nature. They’re perfect foils.”


“Good architecture makes people have a feeling in a space—good, bad, beautiful, ominous, enlightening. When you walk into a space, it should speak to you.”

See the rest of the 2020 Five Under Forty Design Award winners.

Categories: Stylemakers