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Vail Valley Voices: Vail should have its own architectural syle

Patrick N. Espy
Vail, CO, Colorado
newsroom@vaildaily.com

This economic downturn and slowdown in construction gives us an opportunity. As an architect, I would suggest that we need this chance to stop, take a breath and consider what we have done architecturally in the Vail Valley.

First, I would like to establish some facts. One, we are not in Europe. We are building in the heartland of the United States. Two, it is not the 18th century. We are, in fact, living in the 21st century. So why are we using European styles?

This country, and the Vail Valley, has more than enough character to have its own identity. There is absolutely no reason to think that we need to borrow from European history to successfully design our own “mountain architecture.” We have



a rich agrarian, resort and construction

history in



our own Vail Valley.

Why are we repeating styles from Europe that Europe gave up centuries ago?

Consider the pyramid in the courtyard of the Louvre, the dome addition to the Reichstag, the “dancing building” in Prague. European architecture now is contemporary, and technologically on the cutting edge. Every notable architectural statement in Europe over the past few decades seems to support that notion that history is just that. History.



Even China, with little shared history with Europe, created wildly contemporary architectural statements with the buildings for the Olympics.

I don’t propose that any of the buildings I mentioned are good or bad. Only that the U.S. and, notably, the Vail Valley are missing a genuine identity.

So I will grant that the new museum addition in Denver is bold and internationally notable (again, I give no opinion about the building), but it was a “foreign” designer that did it.

Back to the Vail Valley. What we build now, and what we are limited to build by design review boards, is simply un-American. This supposedly European timber construction that we call “traditional” has no basis in Colorado tradition. Has anyone seen “Colorado mountain architecture” that is older than 20 years? It’s a marketing tool, and it’s aimed to please a population that doesn’t pay attention to world architecture.

Colorado’s history is agrarian and mining. If we want to build traditional building, that is where we need to look to inform our design process.

Luxurious homes can still be authentic. You can’t simply throw fancy details (often formed out of foam and painted) on a building and consider it good architecture. Even if it was good architecture in Renaissance Europe, it just looks like an old rerun here.

If we want to build a Disneyland version of some nonexistent history, we can keep building what we are building, but we don’t have to. Where are the massive, rough-hewn timbers we use from? Clearly not from Colorado. They are from old forests with massive trees that we really don’t need to destroy.

I propose this: Let’s discuss what an authentic history of Colorado is and, like Frank Lloyd Wright, develop a truly American style. We, the United States, are (or have been) the great experiment in democracy.

We have been the cutting edge in culture. We have been the economic and military superpower. Why do we feel compelled to borrow outdated European styles? And the Arrabelle? Are you kidding me? We must find our own identity.

By the way, I don’t like much of Frank Lloyd Wright’s work. But that isn’t the point.

Patrick N. Espy is a Vail architect.


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