Wavy roof wows town looking for ‘icon’
VAIL ” Some see mountains. Some see a “mushroom.”
A somewhat avant garde design meant to blend into the surrounding cliffs and hillsides rather than Vail Village’s Bavarian motif has been chosen for the $42 million convention center.
Many town leaders hope the center will energize the local economy if it eventually opens between the Lionshead parking garage and Dobson Ice Arena, and they said the building should therefore be an architectural icon.
The centerpieces of the design, known in town deliberations as “No. 3,” are a conical tree structure that would face the South Frontage Road and I-70, and the building’s undulating roof, which is meant in the winter to create overhanging snow cornices.
“When the Sydney Opera House came on line, what was the response? Maybe a lot of people thought it was the craziest thing they’d ever seen. But over time, it’s been accepted as a masterpiece,” Vail resident Paul Rondeau said Tuesday night as the Town Council prepared to approved the design.
“This is kind of avant garde for Vail,” Rondeau added.
‘Go for greatness’
The natural look will help make Vail stand out, both to planners of conventions and motorists driving past on I-70, said Kurt Fentress, an owner of Fentress Bradburn Architects, which is designing the conference center.
“It will give you an iconic building, it will give you a building to be on a picture postcard, the building will help you in terms of marketing in the future,” said Fentress, who also called such a design, “inviting and exciting.”
Vail resident and bar owner Bill Jewitt backed the natural designed enthusiastically.
“I hope we can go for greatness and build No. 3,” Jewitt said.
The town-owned building will have large windows to give those inside wide views of Vail Mountain, said Michael Winters, also of Fentress Bradburn Architects.
The council voted for the natural design 6-1, despite some apprehension about whether the architecture was too far out. Two other proposals were for a so-called modern building with more geometric angles and had sharper lines, and a “Vail vernacular” design that matched the town’s Bavarian facades.
Councilwoman Kim Ruotolo, who voted “yes,” said she was a little worried about the difference between an architect’s two drawings of the natural building.
“I really like the winter rendering. The summer, I can’t stand,” Ruotolo said. “I don’t like the brown roof, it looks like a mushroom to me.”
Under the cornice
The designs were previously analyzed for the council by a town advisory committee made up of elected officials, business people and residents. Though the committee endorsed the natural design, one member, Rick Scalpello, dissented, saying the design’s rounded walls were better suited for a desert than for Vail.
“The single-most distinguishing element of option 3 is the roof. The roof that we see … is a snow cornice and skiers know not to spend much time under a snow cornice,” said Scalpello.
Scalpello also warned there is risk in avant garde designs. When Lionshead was built, the design was considered progressive. But that part of town is now considered ugly and is being extensively renovated.
Less-ambitious Bavarian architecture however, has been attractive for 40 years in Vail and hundreds of years in Europe, he said.
We’ve got the Gore Range
Councilwoman Diana Donovan, who has long criticized the close 2002 vote in which residents approved a lodging tax to pay for the conference center, voted against the natural design, saying she preferred to mimic Vail’s Bavarian-themed buildings.
“We’ve had a great 40 years selling Bavarian and last time I checked, it worked just fine and that’s what we need to stick to,” Donovan said.
She added: “I don’t like that big, fake tree out front.”
And Vail doesn’t need a building to be its icon, Donovan said.
“Vail already has an icon and it’s not a building,” she said. “I think the Gore Range is an icon.”
But Councilman Farrow Hitt said it’s time Vail tried something new.
“Vail is a unique place … and No. 3 is a very unique design and different than everything else,” Hitt said. “I think Vail can handle unique.”
Assistant Editor for Local News Matt Zalaznick can be reached at (970) 949-0555, ext. 606, or email@example.com.