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Walnut Creek residences, Boulder

This is an urban infill project located near downtown Boulder, Colorado.  The existing site was dominated by a well-preserved 1890's house with a wrapping porch and porch cochere.  The new design consists of renovating that old house and adding two duplex units at the street and four small single-family houses in the site's large south side.

The old house has been renovated into two separate condo units, one up and one down, while maintaining the essential historic character of the building.  The new duplex units on each side are located to fill in the large gap between houses on Walnut Street, filling in the "gap tooth" appearance of the street while maintaining the historic scale of the neighborhood.

Each of the south single-family houses consists of two levels with an attached garage and large deck above.  These four houses sit along an arm of Boulder Creek and are oriented to take advantage of the water's sound and presence.

Designed by M. Gerwing Architects with Arcadea, Inc.

Mark Gerwing, Project Architect

Currently under construction

Builder:  Coburn Development

Landscape Architect:  Hidelly Kane

Structural Engineer: Nicols & Associates and Gebau, Inc.

author-illustrator studio construction progress

We are making good progress on the construction of a new studio in Boulder, Colorado for a couple who are artists, illustrators and authors of children's books.

The project greatly increases the size of their existing studio and adds a second-level loft space.  The original studio was a dark, poorly-constructed structure and it was awkwardly attached to their 1880's Second Empire house.  Our new work involves creating a new studio that looks primarily to the west to take advantage of the deep space of their richly landscaped property.  The link to the old house is created by a small hall whose eastern face is pulled back from the older house's front porch to allow the old house to have a more complete expression.  This little reveal between the old and new is a small example of the project's attempt to create a positive dialogue between the old and new.  The studio's size and position required us to make a building that might "compete" with the older house.  Rather than fight with that formal issue, we used this potential problem as the central narrative for the project.

More updates to come as the construction progresses.

Builder:  Cottonwood Custom Builders

Hannah Barker house – preservation and perseverance

circa 1900

Yesterday Historic Boulder, our local non-profit preservation advocate organization, announced that it has purchased the long-unoccupied Hannah Barker house.  Most folks here in Boulder know it better as that dilapidated, boarded up white elephant on Arapahoe west of 9th Street.  Buying the house themselves certainly is a bold put-your-money-where-your-mouth-is move.  And it is not the first time.


Historic Boulder largely got its start in an effort in the early 1970's to save the threatened Boulder Theatre.  Rather than just picket the building and shout at some public hearings, they bought the building and secured it for a few years until a buyer could be found.  They have done similar purchase-to-perserve efforts since including the Highland Lawn School which has become the Highland City Club building.

1880 drawing

Sitting on the Landmarks Board, I hear a lot of complaining about the entire preservation process.  Maybe more than most places, in the West there is a strong owner's rights ethic that often runs smack into perservation efforts which attempts to protect our cultural heritage by primarily regulatory means. The recent success of Historic Boulder purchasing the Barker house mutes that conflict and lends immense credibility to the organization and the act of preservation in general.  And in the end, Historic Boulder will take the risk and the community will gain the benefit of a truly architecturally and historically significant building saved.

One of the most interesting aspects of this project will be Historic Boulder's intention to use the renovation of the house as a model for demonstrating that preservation, old houses and sustainability concerns can all work seamlessly together.  In Boulder we have a wealth of talented and experienced architects, builders, energy consultants and building science professionals that can be brought to bear on this project.

The building is currently a much-abused shell, but even in that state it has a tremendous amount of embodied energy that needs to be accounted for. Embodied energy is the all the energy inputs that the existing building represents - the energy required to lay the masonry, frame the house, and it also includes the trapped energy that was used in the creation of all those bricks and all that lumber, including its transportation.

Most energy conservation ordinances and programs do not give sufficient credit for embodied energy and rely more heavily on building systems and performance to meet sustainability goals.  Embodied energy is difficult to calculate, but only by carefully stepping through this process can we have a quantitative marker that proves "the greenest building is the one already there."

circa 1885

Hopefully a careful and exhaustively documented renovation process can convince the City of Boulder and other municipalities that they must included embodied energy as an integral part of their sustainability regulations and give it it's proper credit.  At that point, perservation and sustainability can be partners, not often contentious constituents.

Congratulations to Historic Boulder and all its volunteer members who made this possible, as well as the City of Boulder preservation and planning staff that aided in this much-needed process.

(All image from Historic Boulder and/or The Boulder Public Library, Carnegie Branch for Local History)