Aspen Meadows gets a Bauhaus makeover

Kelly J. Hayes
Special to Aspen Times Weekly

On the planet, few places, if any, combine as much historical significance, cultural commotion and natural beauty as the 40 acres in the West End that make up the campus of the Aspen Institute.

Stroll from one side to the other on any given summer afternoon and you will hear the Aspen Music Festival orchestra tuning up for an evening performance in the Music Tent, bear witness to visiting intellects and dignitaries as they deliver presentations or provide protestations to the world’s media, or bask in the beauty of Bauhaus designer Herbert Bayer’s signature outdoor landscapes. Then, at the end of your stroll, you’ll find yourself at the reception center of the Aspen Meadows Resort, a master work of Bauhaus influences.

This June, the Meadows quietly reopened its signature building after a 10-month renovation that expanded its size and scope while remaining true to the style and ethos of its original design. Rechristened as the Walter Isaacson Center, the building today stands in tribute to the biographer and media executive who helmed the Aspen Institute as president and CEO from 2003 until this past spring.

The June opening was just in time for a packed summer lineup at the Aspen Institute Campus, which included the Aspen Ideas Festival, the Fortune Brainstorm Conference, the internationally covered Aspen Security Forum and the Resnick Aspen Action Forum. The response from visitors and guests to the new construction was overwhelmingly positive with many fawning over an expansion that provided much needed spaces for events, meetings and presentations. Not to mention a showcase patio for dining, discussion and summer sips.

The Institute has always been connected to nature and we needed to maintain that connection.” -Jeffrey Berkus

Jud Hawk, general manager of the Aspen Meadows, said the result of the renovation met expectations.

“It’s one thing to see our wishes laid out on an architectural rendering and quite something else to see that rendering become a reality that not only remains true to our Bauhaus beginnings and historic aesthetic, but also offers guests major new amenities to enjoy,” he said.

The Aspen Meadows, and in fact the entire Aspen Institute campus, is one of the great living examples of the Bauhaus school of design. Next year, in 2019, Bauhaus design will celebrate its 100th anniversary and the buildings that make up the Aspen Meadows will be at the forefront.


For insiders and those who are tuned into modern art and the history of contemporary Aspen, the Aspen Meadows occupies sacred ground. Its West End location was ground zero for the first significant cultural event of the post-war Aspen Renaissance.

In 1949, Walter and Elizabeth Paepcke, founders of the Aspen Institute and the Aspen Music Festival, hosted a gathering of writers, musicians, designers, business leaders and intellectuals to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of the German philosopher Goethe. They commissioned Finnish architect Eero Saarinen (designer of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis and Dulles Airport in Washington, D.C.) to construct a tent to host the soiree, the precursor to today’s Music Tent, and proceeded to have a ball.

The event so inspired Paepcke that he soon founded the Aspen Institute for Humanistic Studies and centered it on 40 acres, which were once home to the old Aspen Race Track. He authorized Herbert Bayer, an Austrian immigrant who had been an influential designer in pre-war Germany’s Bauhaus School, to design a campus where the Paepckes’ concept of a utopian Mind-Body-Spirit gathering place could thrive.

Bayer, working closely with Fritz Benedict, an architect who studied under Frank Lloyd Wright, spent 20 years, from 1953 through 1973, creating the buildings and the landscapes that make up the Aspen Institute’s Main Campus. Bayer also produced an astonishing collection of art, from paintings to sculptures and tapestries to landscape art, that are the focal points of both the Institute and the Meadows buildings.

The Bauhaus design tenets, which heavily influenced the buildings, promoted the use of spare, clean, transparent spaces that were unencumbered by decoration, or what was considered to be bourgeois elements. Flat roofs, large windows, metal and brick were the favored components of the design movement. In addition, a color pallet based on three primary colors — red, yellow and blue — on white, gray or black backgrounds was a significant part of the Bauhaus practice.

These colors can be seen on the balconies of the six buildings that house the lodging component of today’s Aspen Meadows. Facing East on each deck, the walls are painted yellow to greet the rising sun. Facing west, they are red to reflect the sunset. The large glass windows in each guest room offer not just transparency but also vistas of the mountains on either side of the campus.

These rooms are completely unique in mountain-based lodging. From the photos, all taken by local Aspen legend Ferenc Berko, that hang on the walls to the modern designs of the spare furnishings, to the muted color pallet, they provide an immersion in Bauhaus sensibilities.


Owned by the Aspen Institute and operated by Dolce Hotels and Resorts, a brand of Wyndham Hotels, the Aspen Meadows is a star in the Aspen hotel galaxy. Its 98 rooms, all of which celebrate the Bauhaus style of Bayer and Benedict, are perched above the Roaring Fork River and provide a link to the natural environment.

The Isaacson Center renovation was designed by local architectural firm Jeffrey Berkus Architects and constructed by Shaw Construction, the team that worked together on the Aspen Institute’s lauded Doerr-Hosier Building in the mid-2000s.

“This was by far the most challenging project we have ever been a part of,” said Berkus about the Meadows remodel. “We had a nine-month time frame and working with a building that dated back to the 1950s (Bayer’s original construction was in 1954), we had to basically take everything down to the studs. Billy Sallee and Shaw did an amazing job with a really difficult timeline.”

The overarching feature of the new space is the ever-present and vibrant art of Herbert Bayer that hangs everywhere on the clean white walls, lending a museum-like quality to the space. In fact, the Bayer collection, owned by the Institute, is celebrated throughout, along with the natural beauty of the mountains.

“Perhaps the most gratifying element was being able to add life and longevity to this structure and give Bayer’s art a home,” Berkus said.

The renovation and expansion has brought a stunning extended, elevated patio, the Bren and Mel Simon Terrace, beyond the reception area. The open patio, covered by a hyper-modern umbrella system for, hopefully, rainy days, features 270-degree views of Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk to the south and provides epic sunsets to the west behind Red Butte.

“Leonard Lauder (chairman emeritus of the Aspen Institute) challenged us to make sure we maintained the integrity of the Merrill Ford patio,” Berkus said, “so it was important to us to keep the patio consistent, even though it was to be much larger.”

Below the patio sits a new, multi–seasonal meeting space, dubbed the Madeleine K. Albright Pavilion in honor of the first female secretary of state, who is also an Aspen Institute trustee and a member of the Aspen Strategy Group. The simple room opens on three sides to the natural surroundings, while the burbling waters of Castle Creek provided a calming symphony of sound.

“The Institute has always been connected to nature,” said Berkus, “and we needed to maintain that connection.”

The Albright Pavilion is highlighted by a pyramid-shaped skylight that sits above the main room and serves as both an architectural feature and a connection to the rest of the campus.

“There is a glass pyramid in the entrance to the Paepcke Building and one in Doerr-Hosier, as well,” Berkus explained. “We wanted to tie the energy, the light of the three buildings together. When you walk in under the skylights in each building you should get the same energy from the pyramid, the same kind of light.”

Another artistic element that harkens back to Bayer was the inclusion of a “Fibonacci Wall.”

“Bayer always put outdoor art pieces adjacent to his buildings,” Berkus said. “With Doerr-Hosier we installed the Andy Goldsworthy wall. For this building we put in the curving wall with the Fibonacci sequence (a mathematical scale that occurs frequently in nature) notched into the concrete.”

In addition, the main reception area has been expanded, the bar renovated and a much larger and more functional kitchen was built to accommodate a staff that, in addition to providing cuisine for signature Plato’s restaurant and the newly rechristened Limeslicers bar, is responsible for innumerable large events (see box).

This week, the Aspen Institute board of trustees will meet on campus and many will get their first look at the recent changes to the six-decade-old building.

At the Walter Isaacson Center in the Aspen Meadows, everything old is new again.

“It’s all new and exciting, of course,” the Meadows’ general manager Hawk said. “From the additional meeting space below that can be rented out for events or dinners to the amazing sunset views that guests can watch while relaxing on the couches, this new space is quickly becoming a favorite destination for both guests and locals.”