Alpine Aesthetic: At Rowland+Broughton, it’s in with the old
As razings run rampant, the history-driven architecture firm builds to protect Aspen’s legacy.
Jan. 1 obviously signals the start of a new year, but the date is also a major milestone for the locally based, award-winning design firm Rowland+Broughton.
It was on New Year’s Day in 2017 when principals Sarah Broughton and John Rowland went under contract for the historic Mesa Store building, which now serves as the company’s national headquarters (a second location opened in Denver’s LoDo neighborhood in 2019). The multi-year restoration project on Main Street is a brick-and-mortar embodiment of Rowland+Broughton’s unwavering ethos to preserving Aspen’s architectural history.
This mentality is especially poignant today, as the downtown core is dotted with deep holes of development ranging from the recent razings of landmarks like the Crystal Palace and Bidwell Building to the still-vacant Main Street Bakery and sad sight of Buckhorn Arms.
Broughton met her husband and business partner John Rowland when both were undergraduates studying architecture at the University of Colorado Boulder. After a three-and-a-half-year stint starting careers independently in New York City, they moved to Aspen in 2003.
“We wanted to get back to a mountain lifestyle and we chose Aspen because of why we’re all here, right?” Broughton told me during a recent phone interview. “Obviously for the amazing outdoors, but also its intellect, curiosity and cultural offerings. To us, Aspen was — and still is — a perfect synthesis of everything that drives us. Our agenda is the greatness of Aspen.”
Nearly two decades later, the couple has grown what started in the living room of their first condo rental into an industry-leading custom residential, commercial, hospitality, urban design, interior design, and planning studio. While Rowland+Broughton has a global reach, its local creative footprint spans more than 50 downtown Aspen projects and 20 Aspen Skiing Co. properties; Historic preservation- forward examples include the former Aspen Times offices, White House Tavern and Hotel Jerome plus, their own dream home “Game On” — a LEED Gold Certified renovation of a West End Victorian.
“(Rowland+Broughton) has shown great respect and responsibility for preserving and adding to Aspen’s architectural heritage in their work,” noted City of Aspen planning director Amy Simon. “Sarah and John
have served many hours as volunteers on review boards and have helped to write and improve regulations for design that fits the community — a goal that they are clearly connected to.”
Amid an increasingly complicated regulatory framework (earlier this month, the city of Aspen unanimously passed an emergency ordinance to freeze residential development) and notoriously negative attitudes among longtime locals, Broughton’s outlook is inspiring and hopeful.
“Certainly spending eight years (2003-11) on the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) was incredibly formative and during that time, we saw a lot of demolition,” shared Broughton, who also was just appointed as president-elect of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Colorado 2022 board of directors. “We are lucky to have a leader like Amy and so many great programs within the city that that allows (for the investment) in these historic properties.”
With 14 designated HPC buildings in Rowland+Broughton’s portfolio to date, Broughton cites mentors and influences from the late Frances “Frannie” Ronshausen Dittmer and Harley Baldwin to Barbara Berger and Phillip Supino.
“These are really complex issues, so it’s going to take many heads coming together to really figure out a sustainable future for Aspen. Life doesn’t have a stop button, right? Doing these emergency moratoriums, to me, it’s reactionary, but I understand what’s at the root of it,” Broughton added. “We are extremely passionate about historic preservation and sustainability — we’re working every day to address how we can honor the legacy in our built environment and maintain the energy that is already living within (such) storied walls. This desire is what really drives us to responsibly propel Aspen into the next century.”
In celebration of Rowland+Broughton’s commitment to saving the soul of Aspen, Alpine Aesthetic goes behind the design of three recent restoration projects that exemplify conscientious construction.
Built in 1888, the Mesa Store is registered with HPC and has long enjoyed a distinct vantage point at the top of Main Street (“the mesa”). Together with our team, we set forward to preserve the building, poring over historic photos and from this research, we came up with our plan. As a result, the historic double-hung windows (were) placed in their original location; the front porch that has always been an emblem to the building was painstakingly restored down to the original wood dentil detailing. We found the original wood studs in the walls, replaced charred wood roof trusses that had suffered from several fires and restored three of the original brick chimneys. Over the years, the building had been yellow, red and, most recently, blue. We felt strongly that the building should remain a bright color and retained the blue — also the color of our company logo. Taking advantage of Aspen’s clever historic incentives, we were also able to ask for a historic lot split, which allowed us to create two lots. It was a stretch, for sure, but it worked out perfectly.
Set along a ridgeline with significant mountain views, Ridge House was Stein Erikson’s former home in Starwood — originally designed by Aspen’s first female architect, Ellie Brickham. This thoughtful restoration and renovation blends old and new with sets of staggered, remnant stone walls that run in a single direction, allowing light and landscape to slip past. Oriented along a central defining spine, metal walls meet stone and evolve into glass as movement through the house progresses from public to private spaces. Modern architecture mixed with curated details allows for a layering of history and a connection to the ranch-like character of the site.”
1973 saw the construction of the final building by Bauhaus architect Herbert Bayer in Aspen (designed alongside Frtiz Benedict). This structure, known officially as the Boettcher Seminar Building, drew on an architectural language Bayer had been developing on the Aspen Institute grounds for over two decades, and was a culmination of sorts of the logic and democratic organization of spaces and experiences central to Bauhaus thought. Sadly, four decades of use took its toll on the interior and exterior and the building no longer lived up to its potential as a space to foster and facilitate ideas and relationships that could change the world. Particular attention was paid to refreshing the original design concept of two octagonal shaped pod buildings — intended to allow seminar participants equal status within the space. Materials selected for the exterior work respect the simple, readily available materials used for the original construction with the existing open-to-the-elements space enclosed with a new roof, feature skylight and a new glass vestibule to link the structures.
Project details provided by Sarah Broughton, AIA, NCIDQ and team.