Author Archive

Loss and Opportunity: Four Homes Rise from the Ashes Part II

by David Barrett, AIA

The idea that design can be a part of the healing process has been termed “restorative” or “regenerative” design. The cycle of life, death, and rebirth is one that nature models for us in homeostasis, and cultures celebrate in seasonal rituals that remind us of the spiritual message found in impermanence and even of death itself.  When the Four Mile Fire raged through the foothills west of Boulder last Labor Day, 6,000 acres of mountain landscape were suddenly and drastically transformed.  In its wake, 169 homes were destroyed and those who had lived in them were left with the challenge of reconstructing their lives, their dreams, their homes, and the precious landscapes they had inhabited.

Over this past year, as Architects, we have been invited into four projects that are engaged in this process.  With each, we have the opportunity to touch the essence of restorative design in both human and ecological terms.  This is Part Two of a four-part series, wherein we’ll be sharing the story of each of these homes, families, and individuals: their experience, the co-creative process, and the unfolding of the built form as a tool for creating positive energy, opportunity, and with it, a quality of healing.

See Part One

The Phoenix Rising

We live in a culture geared to immediate gratification and short-term thinking.  Sudden change, and even loss, can bring about opportunity for us to challenge our value systems, our sense of beauty, and our trust in the perfect unfolding of life itself.

These clients live in Wisconsin, and are deeply connected to their community, their work, and their roots.  They also have a long-term love affair with the Rocky Mountains.  Like many of us boomers, they were looking at their dreams and were determined to act upon them.  In this case, that dream is the building of a family retreat in the foothills west of Boulder.  This retreat will act as a place of coming together for them and their grown children, who are scattered around the country and are often off on world adventures.

The site they found spoke to them in its relative ease of access, while being a part of the ponderosa forest that weaves its way through lichen covered rock outcroppings.  However, what most struck them was the broad view wrapping around them from east to west, taking in the plains, the city lights of both Boulder and Denver, the undulating foothills, and glimpses of the Divide to the west.  Our client stood on the place in the site that we all sensed as “home” and asked for an architecture that would “drink in the views.”

Site Pre-Fire

This desired sense of reach led to a formal approach that both found fit from an allusion to the rolling landscape’s folded forms, and to the skyscape molded by our spectacular lenticular clouds.  Stretching a long, thin house on an east-west axis invited sun penetration and acted as a lens to frame the dynamic views.  Following our client’s esoteric cues for an interconnected geometry, we developed a design that was akin to a vessel for connections.  Upon completing the Site Plan Review Process with Boulder County and submitting for a building permit, the winds of change drove the Four Mile Fire up the western slope below the building site, consuming the four acre site in an inferno that blackened every tree in the mature ponderosa forest, and with it made opaque the dream they had been actively pursuing for years.

[...read the rest + many more images...]

June 1, 2011 at 2:40 pm 2 comments

Loss & Opportunity: Four Homes Rising from the Ashes

by David Barrett, AIA

The idea that design can be a part of the healing process has been termed “restorative” or “regenerative” design. The cycle of life, death, and rebirth is one that nature models for us in homeostasis, and cultures celebrate in seasonal rituals that remind us of the spiritual message found in impermanence and even of death itself.  When the Four Mile Fire raged through the foothills west of Boulder last Labor Day, 6,000 acres of mountain landscape were suddenly and drastically transformed.  In its wake, 169 homes were destroyed and those who had lived in them were left with the challenge of reconstructing their lives, their dreams, their homes, and the precious landscapes they had inhabited.  Each individual has a unique experience of loss.  Each has a story that includes, in one way or another, the states of processing death: shock, anger, moments of fear & despair, glimmers of hope, tough decisions & setbacks, and then in its own time, acceptance and rebirth.

Over this past year, as Architects, we have been invited into four projects that are engaged in this process.  With each, we have the opportunity to touch the essence of restorative design in both human and ecological terms.  Over the next several weeks, we’ll be sharing the story of each of these homes, families, and individuals: their experience, the co-creative process, and the unfolding of the built form as a tool for creating positive energy, opportunity, and with it, a quality of healing.

Part One: The First Responder

Rod Moraga is a man who knows fire.  His professional expertise is in the analysis of fire potential in our urban/wild interface.  His work as co-founder of Anchor Point Group establishes and executes fire mitigation strategies.  His wife Shari has a long standing love for modernist architecture,  and Barrett Studio was hired to design a new home for their family in Boulder proper; one that would be a model of fire resistance, efficiency and climatic delight.  The family planned to sell their home in Four Mile Canyon and relocate to the new home in North Boulder.  With construction having just begun, Rod, a volunteer firefighter in the Four Mile Fire Department, answered a call to respond to a fire west of Wall Street.  From his nearby home in Four Mile Canyon, Rod became the first responder to a fire the soon exploded, being fed by mounting winds.  During the battle against this blaze, Rod’s own home was consumed by the inferno.  That construction was underway on his family’s new home in Boulder, using a material system & specifically designed for fire resistance was ironic at best.

Now, seven months later, Rod & his family have moved into their new home, built by Renove Construction using Aerated Autoclaved Concrete (AAC).  Nicole Delmage, an Associate at Barrett Studio, worked with me, Rod & Shari, to maximize the inherent potentials of this thick wall, high mass, highly insulative building system while expressing a decidedly modernist aesthetic.  More about the how the design was informed by the material’s unique properties can be found on the Barrett Studio website.

Rendering & AAC Construction

[...read the rest + more images...]

April 19, 2011 at 3:25 pm 3 comments

Our Future: Grab it by the Tale!

by David Barrett

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.” Dickens, Tale of Two Cities

Like many others, I’ve been wondering more and more, “What can we do to create in a time that seems to reflect this Dickensian world?” With an undeniable collapse of business as usual comes the associated need for invention. As the systems we have so embraced as standards and practices to keep our economic machine chugging along go haywire, we are fools to sit back and wait for the nex Ponzi scheme or “drill, baby, drill” mantra to fuel our engines. Can we really be so foolish as to hook our wagon – once again – to quick fixes that continue taking us down the inevitable slippery slope of the perfect storm: peak oil, religious fundamentalism (of all faiths), global climate change, and giganticism?

OR (The Call to Action)

Do we take stock of the dire straits we find ourselves in and see need, not greed…can we change our perspective from passive observers and codependents in this highly dysfunctional family and reclaim some power? As good capitalists – natural capitalists maybe – can we see that needs mean opportunities? Is this system not ripe for creative solutions? As designers of our future, are we not in the position to reclaim design as a meaningful act – one that looks at the big picture and as Charles and Ray Eames suggested in a similar season of design revolution, “Look for the big things in the little things, and the little things in the big things?” These words so clearly instruct us to think globally, think systemically & holistically; recognize interconnectivity, put on our telescopic minds!

The Eames' Powers of 10

powers of 10 courtesy the Eames

[...read the rest...]

June 9, 2010 at 10:36 am 2 comments


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