Merging Our Natural & Human Environments | VailDaily.com

Merging Our Natural & Human Environments

Local landscape architect Pedro Campos envisions community gardens improving life in the Vail Valley

Most of us, if we ponder architecture at all, imagine manmade structures, such as bridges, commercial spaces, public buildings, and private homes.

Great architecture, that which endures, involves more than just structures, however. It demands those structures, and others around them, fit properly into a larger framework, the local environment, and become a living part of the community for which they were created — beyond their walls to gardens, parks, pathways and other outdoor living spaces.

Welcome to the world of landscape architecture, where Pedro Campos has been pondering and planning that bigger architectural picture for nearly two decades, taking and improving upon ideas along the way he hopes will help make the Vail Valley an even better place to live than it is today.

‘Appropriate in scale, feel and character’

“Landscape architects, in a way, are somewhere between planners and architects, often fusing urban design principals that are universal and applying them in a manner that merges the built environment with the natural environment,” says Campos, a native of Portugal, who came to the United States to study his chosen field before settling in the Vail Valley in 1997 to marry and raise two kids. “We try to merge the projects we do so they not only fit in their neighborhood, but they’re appropriate in scale, feel and character and they respond to the natural environment.”

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It’s by design, naturally, that Campos finds himself now at Avon-based Zehren and Associates, a relatively unique architectural firm best known for taking on projects beyond private homes — and they've designed many fine ones — and one-off public projects, such as, among others, the Beaver Creek Chapel, The 10th restaurant on Vail Mountain, the Walking Mountains Science Center in Avon, the Sebastian Hotel, the new entrance, outdoor patios and lawn seating area at the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater, and the new Vail Golf Clubhouse in Vail.

The firm’s namesake, Jack Zehren, made his name decades ago master planning entire resort communities, such as Beaver Creek Resort and Cordillera. Today, he employs a staff chock full of professionals from various disciplines, traditional architects and their support staff to landscape architects and interior designers, too. The team designs and master plans projects not just in Colorado and across the United States but overseas, too, in Argentina, Canada, Chile, China, Costa Rica, India, Mexico, South Korea and Vietnam.

‘A novel idea’

Campos says one Zehren project in particular, La Estancia de Cafayate, brought him to the firm six years ago. Like many modern American resorts, this vast resort planned for the wine country of northwest Argentina includes a golf course and clubhouse, private residences, a spa, a social club and equestrian facilities. But to be more like Europe — and perhaps Portugal — Campos is helping design its central core, or “pueblito,” to be more vertically integrated with self-sustaining economic density; the entire community, meanwhile, is to be surrounded by vineyards, shared and cultivated as a co-operative winemaking operation.

“Integrating the history of the place with the architecture, the agricultural heritage of the vineyards, bringing golf as part of the framework and landscape,” Campos rambles, “and fusing all that together with individual residences and things like herb gardens, orchards and celebrating the landscape as a major component of the place — there’s continuity there.”

Another Zehren project dear to Campos’ heart is Tres Santos Town Farm on the Pacific coast of Mexico’s Baja Peninsula, developing a tract of land adjacent to the existing historic town of Todos Santos. Campos is most involved with integrating the residential components of Town Farm, including luxury cottages, a village plaza, trails, and commercial uses, with a working community garden planned as the center piece of Town Farm.

“I’m interested in food cultivation and agriculture and those sorts of things because of where I come from in the world, where people are more cognizant of the foods they eat, nutrition, lifestyle, health,” Campos says.

The community garden has roots in the development of Mankind itself, he adds, one that’s been forgotten and cast aside over the centuries as we become more urbanized.

“Merging those interests into a project I think really is a mirror for our society today — the core amenity having a central garden instead of a golf course — is a novel idea.”

‘A venue for education’

A resident of EagleVail, Campos has applied land-use designs from La Estancia de Cafayate and Todos Santos for his own community, volunteering his expertise to help develop the EagleVail Community Garden, in conjunction with residents Cassie Pence and Keri Hayes and the boards of directors of the Eagle Vail Metro District and the EagleVail Property Owners Association. EagleVail residents, and others, can lease 4-foot by 8-foot plots for $50 per year; 4-foot by 16-foot commercial plots are available to local businesses for $200 per year.

“The vision of the EagleVail Community Garden is not only to provide a space for neighbors to grow their own food, but also to create a space where community members gather,” states the operation’s website, eaglevailgarden.com. “We envision the garden as a venue for education, where individuals, families, and children can gain practical information about how to grow vegetables and herbs at high altitude.”

And it’s the social, interactive and educational aspects of a communal garden that Campos believes contribute to a greater feeling of community among its residents.

“It’s a functioning, living, public space that requires people’s energy, focus and care. It requires resources and it forces the community to pay attention to it, and to learn from it. It’s a learning experience for the entire community,” Campos says. “Plus, it puts food on your table that is healthy and that you can take pride in because you invested your own human effort and resources.”

Making a ‘home’

As the Vail Valley continues to evolve, Campos says, he’ll continue to suggest community gardens and other proven methods for using our limited common lands to greater advantage for the common good.

“It’s all about integrating things like a community garden, putting mixed uses together, being more efficient with space. There's been a lot of single-use projects done piecemeal here; particularly in an environment like this, we need to be better about mixing uses and putting more emphasis on our outdoor spaces,” Campos says. “In the end, that’s part of the reason we all moved here. The No. 1 thing, the environment, is a unifying thread for the vast majority of us, so we need to think things through.

“It’s all part of making this place a ‘home.'”

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“(A community garden is) a functioning, living, public space that requires people’s energy, focus and care. … It’s a learning experience for the entire community.” — Pedro Campos