Buildings are art for architect Charles Cunniffe
ASPEN While buildings are Cunniffes predominate palette, the 30-year Aspen resident also sculpts, paints, draws and takes photographs in his spare time. He graduated in 1974 from the Rhode Island School of Design with a bachelor of architecture and a bachelor of fine art in architecture with a minor in sculpture.After working in Boston and Rhode Island, Cunniffe moved west in 1979 to work on the renovation and addition at Aspens landmark Hotel Jerome. Hes been an Aspen resident ever since.I think theres a magic in this place, he said. Theres something about the air and light and scale in this valley thats rare.In addition to creating his own art through the usual media and in the homes he designs Cunniffe is also a collector, a passion he shares with most of his clients.In my own house, every piece of art is either by me or someone I know or someone Ive met, he says. I like to be connected to the art in some way.Cunniffe and his staff at Charles Cunniffe Architects are always searching for ways to incorporate the contemporary with the historic a mandate in a town that values its past the way Aspen does.Cunniffe points to one house with a contemporary design in Aspens historic West End. Despite his use of modern shapes, Cunniffe says the overall massing of the house mimics the miners cabins of Colorados Old West.When you look at it, you dont know why it fits, he said. But when you break it down into its forms, intellectually, you understand.Cunniffes firm designs houses around the world, and he travels extensively himself, bringing back ideas from exotic locales such as Dubai, Shanghai and Beijing, though the connection in his designs is not always direct.What I bring back from my travels is not so much obvious as subliminal, he explained.Studying the pyramids of Egypt, for instance, doesnt translate to pyramidal homes. Rather, its the massiveness or how its rooted on the ground, Cunniffe said. Its visceral. You get it.Cunniffe is influenced by buildings and landscapes both near and far when he designs a home. In each of his designs, he seeks to create a building that blends naturally in its surroundings, be it a commercial building in the heart of town or a home on a 1,000-acre ranch.In one home built in the desolate, rocky bluffs near Telluride, Cunniffe sought to exact life from the earth itself. He calls the home a found ruin, and despite the contradiction, it does have the rugged feel of an urban Anasazi dwelling.Theres something sacred about the site, and you wanted the house to feel like it had a history to it, Cunniffe explained. The house was built from its own environment.Ultimately, though, even if he never left Aspen, Cunniffe says the world would still leave its mark on his work.The whole world comes to Aspen, so I feel like when youre in Aspen, youre in touch with the world.