Cazes Martin ’98: Design as a way of life

Denver architect Cazes Martin ’98 is good at “figuring out how to figure things out.”

“I have a soft spot for the weird stuff, the ‘special teams’ projects,” says Martin, who earned his architecture degree from Cornell University.

Among the “weird stuff” he’s designed: an adaptive-reuse beer hall with a test kitchen and music venue; and a mountain-inspired, two-story topographic wall, consisting of 15 multi-ton 3D panels. Currently, Martin is working on a large-scale, mixed-use, multi-family structure in Denver’s River North (RINO) neighborhood.

“When a client wants something that has never been done before, and the design team says, ‘We don’t know how to do this,’ that’s when I get excited,” Martin says. “I like figuring it out.”

When you return to your alma mater

Nearly 20 years after graduating from Colorado Academy, Martin found himself back in the CA Dining Hall having lunch a few times a week.

As an architect with Shears Adkins Rockmore Architects (SA+R) in Denver, he worked on the large-scale renovations of Welborn House, the Ponzio Arts Center, and the Athletic Center, which were part of the See It Through campaign.

“For several years, that was my life,” Martin says. “I got to see a different side of CA than I did as a student. Being in the faculty and administrators’ world, it was fun getting to know those people for whom I have a ton of respect. And it was exciting being in those buildings I had been in all the time as a kid and running into former teachers in the hallways.”

Martin leveraged his history with CA to try to capture the vision and true essence of the school in the renovated buildings.

“I know what makes a person ‘CA,’” he says. “We tried hard to translate this culture and community into these cornerstone buildings.”

Throughout the three comprehensive renovation projects, Martin worked closely with SA+R Principal Andy Rockmore, whose family has deep roots at CA. His wife, Pre-K Director Lizzie Welborn Rockmore ’90, is the great-granddaughter of the original owners of Welborn House.

“Andy and SA+R are good at elevating all things CA. It was rewarding work and amazing people to work with,” says Martin, who was with SA+R for six years. “It was a group effort that led to awesome building renovations.”

When you strike out on your own

Martin says his colleagues at SA+R played an important role in preparing him to start his own firm, Engine 8, in 2018.

“Architecture is one of those apprentice professions where you need to work under someone to learn the ropes,” says Martin, whose design experience ranges from arenas and recreation centers to furniture and school buildings. “There’s a lot to learn and figure out. People like Chris [Shears], Jesse [Adkins], and Andy [Rockmore] gave me the opportunity to get to know clients and consultants and build my own relationships. I had a great network of people and experience with different project types. That was what allowed [a solo venture] to work.”

Having the experience and network in place coincided with Martin feeling mentally and emotionally prepared for the venture.

“Running my own firm is something I’ve always wanted to do, but I wasn’t in a hurry,” he says. “It’s not really a young person’s sport, so to speak. Architecture is a wide arena with so much that falls into this field. You usually don’t crack the code when you’re 27.”

Martin was nearly 40 when he felt he had the necessary understanding—of the field, the world, the business, his life, and his family—to go out on his own. Two years later, despite a pandemic and economic depression, Engine 8 is alive and well.

When you give back where you received

Martin knew as a kid that he wanted to be an architect. And he’s grateful for the ways CA empowered him to pursue that future.

In fact, his interest was affirmed from the very beginning, when his Upper School admission application assessment indicated that he was wired well for architecture.

Later, he received CA’s Jennifer Wu Memorial Fellowship, which allowed him to participate in a four-week summer architecture program at the University of Southern California. The intensive “mock-college” experience confirmed his passion for architecture and design and gave him additional resources for selecting a college to study it.

And along the way, Martin absorbed CA values that he still applies to his work and life.

“I got so much out of high school,” says Martin, whose brother, Webb Martin ’96, also attended CA. “CA taught me that learning is something that you’re in charge of yourself. At CA, the goal was to learn how to learn. And that’s what architecture is about: lifelong learning. I still learn stuff every single day – and I don’t expect that to ever change.”

Martin enjoys giving back to the school that gave him so much. He has served three times on the Alumni Career Panel during Senior Launch Week. For several years, he has guided students in multi-day architecture and design studios as part of their Eighth Grade capstone projects. And he says he contributes what he can financially.

“I have loved being involved with CA,” he says. “It’s a great place to be, with great people to interact with on all sides—from students, to teachers, to administrators, to maintenance staff. Everyone seems to have a similar mission of building a supportive community who is authentically interested in that love of learning.”