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Evolving the valley

Scott N. Miller
Vail, CO, Colorado
Preston Utley putley@vaildaily.comScott Nevin, left, and Gary Adams of Davis Partnership Architects
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EAGLE COUNTY ” Only a few companies can claim a part of the valley’s past and its future. Davis Partnership Architects is on that relatively short list.

From its headquarters in Denver, Davis Partnership designed the first iteration of Vail Valley Medical Center. Most of the company’s people are still in Denver, but in 1999, firm partner Gary Adams opened an office in Edwards.

Today, Adams and fellow partner Scott Nevin work out of a modern, airy office in Edwards. The office’s front door faces Main Street in the Edwards Riverwalk. If people strolling by on the way to shops or restaurants happen to peek in, they’ll see video displays of the company’s most recent projects, including Solaris in Vail and Vail Christian High School in Edwards. In the back of the office, the 15 or so employees can look out the north-facing windows out over the Eagle River.

Those north-facing windows were a big reason the company set up shop in the office. The windows let in a lot of natural light all year long, without the sometimes blinding sun that can come in through south-facing windows. That lets the company use less artificial light, and better control the inside temperature in winter and summer.

The same ideas were used at Vail Christian High School, another Davis Partnership project.

Technology meets nature

While “sustainability” has become a too-used buzzword, Adams said his company has long believed in the idea of using what’s available in the environment to make buildings better.

That idea extends from the projected life of a building to the materials used in various buildings.

While built on a budget, Vail Christian High School features a lot of natural stone, because it was available locally. Similarly, a hospital project the company did in Pocatello, Idaho, used materials available there.

Besides saving on shipping, using local materials also lets the company use local contractors and craftsmen who know how to build with those materials.

From lighting to materials, modern building designs are often made possible, and more efficient, by technology.

Ventilation systems today are often finely tuned to balance efficiency and comfort. But those systems are first designed as part of a whole. Davis Partnership is among a growing number of companies that use “building integrated modeling,” a computer system that allows designers to create a virtual model of a project. The system goes beyond traditional computer-aided design in that it can build a three-dimensional image on a timeline. That way, clients can see when different parts of a building will be completed, a process that can help with material delivery, contractor scheduling and other jobs. It can also give designers and contractors a first chance to catch mistakes.

“It lets you look for problems before they happen,” Adams said.

“In 10 years, all projects will be done this way,” he said. “It cuts down on surprises in the field.” Still, he acknowleged, problems on the job site will still crop up.

An evolving valley

Technology isn’t the only thing that’s changed in the design business. From blueprints to grand openings, creating new buildings in the Vail Valley isn’t as simple as it once was, due to a combination of more sophisticated customers, a lack of buildable land and changing communities.

“It’s somewhat a new valley,” Adams said. “Most communities evolve over time, and that’s what this valley’s starting to do. In a way, you have a second generation of businesses and people today.”

That evolution is different in the upper and lower valleys. In Vail and Avon, developers face a simple question almost from the start – whether to renovate or start over.

Solaris and Bel Lago put brand-new projects where old buildings stood. The Lodge at Vail, meanwhile, is adding another floor to the existing structures.

The valley’s evolution is political, too.

“When we started Bel Lago and working with the town of Avon, they were kind of in flux,” said Daniel Ritsch, President of Colorado Mountain Properties, the company developing the condo project. “(Nevin) had aclear understanding of what was taking place, even if the people at the town didn’t at that time.”

The evolution in Avon is going from more primary homes to more second homes, Ritsch said, and Nevin was able to help shepherd Bel Lago through a tricky political climate.

Vail Valley Medical Center seems as if it’s always trying to get more out of its limited space in the heart of Vail. After several years apart, Davis Partnership has renewed its relationship with the hospital. The company is responsible for the most recent exterior and interior remodeling jobs there.

“In Vail, it’s kind of like working on a body,” Nevin said. “Now we’re working on the outside. In the future, we’ll need to provide the interior improvements.”

Interior work in an older building can be daunting, from upgrading wiring to putting modern medical and communications gear in a 40-year-old shell.

To do that, designers have talked to doctors, nurses and patients before finishing the work.

The lower valley presents designers with a different set of problems to solve. While there’s open land in Gypsum, and, to an extent, in Eagle, it’s not enough to just build a buiding any more.

“That simple process is gone,” Nevin said. “There’s more scrutiny of projects today.” That scrutiny comes from both the public and the government agencies that issue building permits.

“The regulatory system is fairly balanced here now,” Nevin said. “The communities are pretty balanced, too.”

The balance between building big projects, but insisting on fairly efficient buildings isn’t unique to mountain communities, but it may be more pronounced.

“I think that interaction between regulations, neighbors and clients will create a better sense of community,” Adams said.

A changing ethic?

As more people recognize how special their mountain homes are, a subtle change may be occurring in what customers want.

The old development cliche of making the “best and highest use” of a piece of property most often meant putting as much building as possible on that land, Adams said. Now, he said, some clients are starting to think a little differently.

“We’re seeing some sensitivity from our clients,” Adams said. “They realize that this is a special place.”

The allure of the mountains is what brought Adams, Nevin and their crew from Denver. And technology allows designers in Edwards to work on a hospital in Idaho, and the Edwards office to depend on people in Denver for accounting, technology and other corporate functions.

And despite the cost of local housing, Adams believes other companies will follow suit in the coming years.

“Part of coming here was our ability to serve our clients here,” Adams said. “But part was that our employees wanted to live here. We believed technology would allow people to work where they want to live.

“We may see more companies move here,” he added. “We’ve seen it in Boulder, and we see it coming here.”


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