Plans ramping up at former Given Institute site in Aspen

Karl Herchenroeder
The Aspen Times
Construction of a single-family home and a guest house located on the West End lot formerly occupied by the Given Institute is expected to start in late 2015.
Karl Herchenroeder/The Aspen Times |

Three years after the Given Institute was demolished, plans are ramping up to build a single-family home and a guest house on the 2.25-acre West End lot it occupied for nearly four decades.

With construction expected to begin in late 2015, plans submitted to Aspen’s Building Department call for a 6,000-square-foot home at the south end of the property, accompanied by a 1,000-square-foot, single-level guest house at the north end.

Heading the project for owners Adam and Melony Lewis is Jeffrey Berkus, an architect credited with building such modern structures as the Doerr-Hosier Center at the Aspen Institute. Berkus said his firm has met with the city at least 20 times over the course of two and a half years. He called the single-family home contemporary and site specific and said the process has been delicate, as his team must be sensitive to the trees that surround the lot, which sits on a bluff overlooking Hallam Lake.

Berkus’ firm recently completed a residential project on Hallam Street, which he said has a sensibility toward the West End. He said the Lewis home, to be located at 100 E. Francis St., will be more contemporary.

“It isn’t a mountain-style home, that’s for sure,” he said. “It is definitely more contemporary. It’s a house designed around courtyards, very sensitive to the site, pulled away from the bluff.”

The University of Colorado purchased the property from Aspen philanthropist Elizabeth Paepcke in the early 1970s at half of its assessed value. After the Given Institute was designed and completed by famed modernist architect Harry Weese in 1972, the property became the frequent site of conferences and seminars serving the University of Colorado’s medical school.

In 2010, the school initiated plans to sell the property because it no longer wanted to manage its $200,000-a-year upkeep and also to shore up its sagging finances. In 2011, Colorado Preservation Inc. placed the building on the state’s Most Endangered Places List for that year and a local effort was made to preserve the structure.

The city negotiated with one developer, CS Acquisitions, which had an option on the property. However, a vast majority of Aspen City Council and Planning and Zoning Commission members didn’t like the developer’s plans, which initially included construction of three luxury residences and a one-year deadline for the city to find a buyer for the Given building at a cost of $3.75 million.

After those negotiations broke down and CS Acquisitions’ option on the property expired, the Lewis family stepped in and secured an option on the property, which stipulated that the building be demolished. Discussions with city officials over the issue of saving the building resulted in no agreement.

CU, as a state entity, was legally allowed do what it wanted with the building, and the Lewises’ development concepts apparently were not financially viable with the structure on the site.

Berkus estimates that construction will take two and a half years to complete.