Mid-century modern

Fall in Boulder, 2018

Flatirons Fall 01.jpeg

Autumn has fully come upon us along the Front Range, with the usual frozen mix of snow and rain and the rustle of leaves blowing around the now dry grasses.

We have a couple of new projects in the office and maybe nothing is more exciting than those early days of a project, meeting the homeowners, traversing the site. For me, the only thing that compares is that moment in construction when the final project begins to take shape. This is not just at framing or drywall installation, but when the final finishes are beginning to show up - the tile, cabinets, countertops - those elements that give scale and color to the realized space.

 beautiful bookcase in afromosia veneer by Laak Woodworks and a white painted fireplace

beautiful bookcase in afromosia veneer by Laak Woodworks and a white painted fireplace

This project is a renovation and small addition to a 1960-’s tri-level house in South Boulder’s Table Mesa neighborhood. These are particularly difficult houses to make changes to, their original plans and constricted entry and circulation making the work challenging. In this case, we turned the standard Living, Dining and Kitchen areas ninety degrees, running them the depth of the property instead of parallel to the street.

Chen construction 02.jpeg

This increased the circulation areas and the bedrooms remained largely as originally constructed and the entry was increased by adding a few feet to the front of the house.

I am very excited to see this project come close to completion. A great client and a great contractor, Modafferi Construction, has made for a successful collaboration and nice outcome.

 blue-gray painted ceiling seen through the reveals between maple veneer plywood ceiling panels

blue-gray painted ceiling seen through the reveals between maple veneer plywood ceiling panels

Another ongoing project is another collaboration with ACI design:build on a complete renovation and large addition on an old house near downtown Boulder on West Arapahoe. The framing is moving along and we are in the process of experimenting with different paint removal products and techniques.

 That’s me inspecting paint removal coatings on the old, painted brick

That’s me inspecting paint removal coatings on the old, painted brick

The above project is at about the halfway point and just getting dried-in for the oncoming weather.

At the earliest stages of construction, the Palisade Farmhouse project is just getting underway with framing. Located in Western Colorado on a family-owned peach farm, this house is a multi-generational dwelling sitting on the edge between the orchard and the life-giving irrigation canal. To this dramatic landscape of mesas and lush, green orchards, we are adding a traditional, gabled farmhouse to serve as a family gathering place. MacPherson Construction is heading up the work and we will be posting images of the ongoing construction over the next 6 months or so.

 main level floor framing being installed in Palisade, Colorado

main level floor framing being installed in Palisade, Colorado

Fall leaves 01.JPG

school building architecture - post-war

 Waggener High School, aerial photo

Waggener High School, aerial photo

School building architecture

I grew up in Louisville, Kentucky and attended suburban Mayme S.  Waggener High School.  I have written previous posts about Hyper-Attenuated Building Syndrome, and it only recently occurred to me that this building is in fact a prime example.  Its plan proportions are something like 12:1 - a long, lean, learning machine.

What I remember the most is the unendingly-long hallways.  Or maybe I should say "hall", for although there are a few transverse ones, the overall plan of the school is one long, continuous, locker-lined hallway.

 Waggener High School, original building

Waggener High School, original building

The building is also a good example of that kind of generic, bland international style design that was so ubiquitous after World War II and has made most Americans hate Modernism.  The long bands of windows and panels are systemized and designed more for the speed and cost of construction than anything else.  Like a jamb-band live, it could conceivable go on forever.

 Waggener High School, window bands

Waggener High School, window bands

The building opened in 1954, originally as a Junior High School.  It grew as its population expanded and aged and it became a combined Junior and High School soon thereafter.  Anyone who grew up in eastern Jefferson County knows this building not because of its unique character, but because so many of the schools around that part of the county are nearly identical.  Maybe only the red doors, painted in the school colors, distinguishes this building from so many others.

 Waggener High School, side entrance

Waggener High School, side entrance

A machine for learning.  Maybe.  Maybe not so much.

Yale Art and Architecture Building

Yale Art and Architecture Building

I recently made a trip back to New Haven and visited my grad school haunt, the Yale Art and Architecture building. To say that it is a remarkable building does not do justice to its monumental and cruel presence.  Siting on the edge of Yale's collegiate gothic campus, the stark Brutalist hulk has a severe monumentality that perfectly reflects the role of architecture and architects at its 1963 completion.

Mid-Century Modern in Boulder talk, Boulder edition

Mid-Century Modern in Boulder talk, Boulder edition

On Wednesday, February 17th, as part of the City of Boulder's Landmarks Board and Preservation Program Lecture and Film Series, a talk will be given highlighting...

Colfax Avenue, signs of western journey

Colfax Avenue, signs of western journey

Each year Colorado Preservation Inc identifies a number of interesting and threatened buildings across the state. This year, prominent on the list, was a collective entry - the older advertising signs along Denver's Colfax Avenue.

Boulder Modern - talk by Mark Gerwing, local architect

 First Christian church

First Christian church

I am giving a public talk on February 19th on a brief history of Modern Architecture in Boulder at the public library Canyon Theater.  I have given a version of this talk in the past, with emphasis on preservation of the recent past.  This time around I have rewritten the focus of the talk to present the work of some of Boulder earliest Modernist architects as a harbinger of the growth of a regionalist style.

Kenneth Frampton presciently set forth the idea of a type of critical regionalism that he felt would become one of the dominant paradigms for architecture as far back as the early 1980's.  I am certainly no academic scholar, but it is abundantly clear to me that a majority of the most interesting architecture produced over the last three decades in this country has come out of far-flung offices that embody Frampton's notion of Critical Regionalism.  Even a very cursory glance at the work of Will Bruder and Rick Joy down the southwest or Clark and Menefee and the late Sam Mockbee in the South reveals architectural practices that have extended the lessons of classic Modernism and have imbued them with the local vernacular architecture as well as very particular regional concerns.  In fact, most regions of the country have developed just this kind of very place specific architecture that consistently produce the most interesting work, albeit not the most breathlessly praised trends of the architectural press.

 Willard 05

Willard 05

However, all that being said, it has seemed curious to me that the Rocky Mountain West does not seemed to have produced similarly informed, critical practices that have coalesced into a critical mass that could be seen as a regionalist style or approach.  At least not in the present tense.

 P1070325

P1070325

Boulder, Colorado, nestled against the Front Range, was a sleepy little college town with its founding based in mining and agriculture.  It was not that dissimilar from many similarly situated little cities, from Missoula, Montana to Ft. Collins and Colorado Springs, Colorado, south to Albuquerque.  From 1950 to 1970 however, radical transforms in population, transportation, local technology and an unprecendented growth building spree, allowed for a flourishing architectural culture that I believe was the avant garde of a nascent Mountain West critical regional style.

 Mark Gerwing lecture invite revised

Mark Gerwing lecture invite revised

All of that is a very long introduction to what I hope will be a more brief, and certainly more entertaining talk.  Of particular interest to me is trying to place some remarkable buildings within their cultural context, from sox hops to the sexual revolution, in this time of great national and international upheaval - changes both frightening and thrilling.  If nothing else, I will be showing some pictures of some really cool buildings.