Letter: We should do better

In response to the letter by Nicholas Jacobson, I would like add a different thought to some of the very same architectural concepts that are the basis of his thinking.

Regarding “Aspen’s obsession with its architectural past,” this fact is not something to demean, but to cherish. It’s early history, which included great examples of “turn of the century Victorian architecture” in the form of significant buildings such as the Hotel Jerome, Wheeler Opera House, Elks Building, Independence Square, County Court House, and the Catholic Church, to name a few, should not be mocked, but honored and respected. Historic preservation is so important that it comes with some constraint over what architectural concepts are appropriate for inclusion in the mix of old and new.

This obsession, as you characterize it, does not imply foregoing the opportunity to be able to “make a statement of our time” with new architecture, and new developments. What is important is to be willing to “honor existing conditions,” a concept that has been sorely ignored by the majority of new developments in the past 5-10 years. The best example of ignoring existing conditions in a micro neighborhood of Aspen is the infamous Art Museum. That is beyond contemporary, it is modern to a degree that it failed to honor the community where it was built. We could, and should, do better. The museum could have been designed in a manner that would have honored Aspen’s past and, at the same time, “made a statement of our time.” It is a statement of someone else’s time and place, but not ours. We should have demanded much better for our previously wonderful town. Of course it is “too late now to turn back.”

Nicholas’s suggestion to include “modern” for a style of architecture that would represent the mood and history of our community is totally wrong and inappropriate. He is, however, correct to suggest that there is a place in Aspen for new “innovation and technology” without by necessity disrupting the character of Aspen.

Nicholas is also correct in stating that we should be able to “create some of the best and most thoughtful buildings anywhere.” However, what you characterize as “modern” would not be at all appropriate, for example, for the Pitkin County Building next to the Courthouse. The design for the building can “express the sum of our design and construction potential” without compromising our responsibility to honor both historic architecture, and existing conditions in the neighborhood where it is to be built.

Nicholas’s concern for “missed opportunity” is valid, however we have already missed many opportunities with recent developments that were an attempt at “modern” architecture but, as a result, woefully compromised our community in the process.

Donald J. Fleisher