Aspen Times Weekly: Modern-Day Designers | AspenTimes.com

Aspen Times Weekly: Modern-Day Designers

by Scott Condon

THE LIIST

Cottle Carr and Yaw Architects has designed many of the buildings that help define modern Aspen and its mountain playgrounds. They include:

• Little Nell Hotel and the Silver Queen Gondola Plaza. The major redevelopment occurred in the mid-1980s in conjunction with Aspen Mountain ski area’s leap into the modern era with the gondola. The plaza creates a “grand entry to Aspen Mountain via a public pedestrian mall and expanded skier services,” according to the firm’s description of the project. The plaza marks the end of the town fabric and gateway to the mountain. It’s also the focal point for many community activities. “The challenge of this redevelopment project was to maintain and enhance the public spaces, creating a lively central place while also providing the required private spaces for the hotel guests and mountain operations,” CCY says.

• Obermeyer Place in Aspen. CCY designed a hybrid project that features 230,000 square feet of mixed uses, from affordable housing to high-end, free market residences, commercial space and light industrial uses. Aspen icon and property owner Klaus Obermeyer’s “affinity for curves made rounded forms a design given,” the architectural firm said.

• Limelight Hotel in Aspen. The redevelopment of the Limelight featured 128 hotel rooms and 17 for-sale condominiums that have access to hotel services. The interior design features a comfortable lounge connected to a bar with an easy flow from the lobby and front desk. “The lodge design takes it cue from historic Aspen buildings while establishing its own colorful character,” CCY’s material said.

• Elk Camp Restaurant at Snowmass Ski Area. CCY was hired by Aspen Skiing Co. to design a restaurant worthy of serving as the focal point for winter and summer operations on the mountain while complementing the stunning environment. It boasts a great room that holds up to 250 guests, an indoor fireplace that warms an intimate bar and small gathering areas, a lower level that accommodates ski school kids and outdoor decks that seat up to 150 people. “Taking full advantage of its surroundings, the building’s orientation, with its sloping roof gives way to expansive windows focusing up mountain,” CCY materials say.

• Sundeck Restaurant on Aspen Mountain. Aspen Skiing Co. hired CCY for perhaps one of the most sensitive projects in modern Aspen when it decided the worn but historically cherished Sundeck Restaurant needed to be replaced. “A number of structural, environmental, philosophic and political requirements would have to be met to satisfy owners, guests and locals,” CCY said in its project description. “Strong political influences were pressuring the company to minimize expansion impacts on the surrounding remote areas.” The 22,000-square-foot building — the highest visibility structure on Aspen Mountain — recreated the large circular stone fireplace from the original structure and retained large south-facing windows that provide stunning view of the Elk Mountains.

• Aspen-Pitkin County Airport commercial terminal. While the building itself escapes attention, CCY is proud of the terminal for being the largest public passive-heated structure in the United States. In addition to handling the commercial airline traffic of its era, county officials also wanted a structure that would capitalize on passive solar energy and reduce consumption of resources.

Aspen’s silver-mining heyday produced many of the town’s most iconic structures: the Pitkin County Courthouse, the former armory turned City Hall, the regal Wheeler Opera House and the crown jewel — the Hotel Jerome.

It’s too soon to tell how the test of time will regard some of the more modern structures. But one thing is certain, longtime Aspen-area firm Cottle Carr and Yaw Architects has put its stamp on the modern era by designing some of the more high-visibility structures over the last 30 years.

CCY, as the firm is now known, was selected to build what could arguably be called Aspen’s three most important — and sensitive — projects undertaken since the mid-1980s. It was selected by Aspen Skiing Co. to reinvent the base area of Aspen Mountain with the Silver Queen Gondola plaza in 1987 and Little Nell Hotel in 1989. It undertook the addition to the Hotel Jerome in 1987. It was the company under pressure for coming up with a design appropriate for the replacement of the Sundeck Restaurant atop Aspen Mountain in 1999.

In each case, the firm was playing with fire. The base area project would define Aspen Mountain for decades to come. The Hotel Jerome addition had to blend with what is the most revered building in town for many people. The demolition of the old Sundeck was met with significant skepticism; CCY’s design had to relieve the angst.

Larry Yaw, one of the three partners in the firm with John Cottle and Rich Carr, shrugged off the pressure of working on the Sundeck. “It was no more than usual,” he said. Every time you work on something purposeful, it reduces the stress, he said.

Whether the partners want to admit it or not, the pressure probably couldn’t have been greater then when the firm worked on the Little Nell Hotel and gondola plaza. Skico envisioned a five-star hotel and it required a design for the public plaza that tied the town and mountain together.

“We put a porch on the town to the mountain. We knit them together with that design. That’s fantastic,” Cottle said, sounding much more like a proud papa than a boastful architect.

The firm’s employees are “absolutely” aware that they are working on some of the projects that will help define Aspen and its ski areas, according Cottle.

Statistically, he said he is uncertain if CCY has designed the most projects downtown, but he’s proud of the legacy the firm is creating. “I always thought we had the most robust history and forward-looking projects in downtown,” he said.

The partners said they want their designs to reflect the current era and the traditions of the community, but also be forward-looking.

Roots back to early 1970s

The roots of the firm go back to 1971 when Yaw was teamed with three different partners. They expanded from a small office in the Elk’s Building in Aspen to an entire floor of it. Changes in the lineup came over time. Cottle joined the firm in 1980 and became a partner. Carr joined in 1989, “strayed” and rejoined in 1997. He became a partner two years later.

“We’ve never had an objective to grow a large office,” Cottle said. Having a good time and producing quality work is the priority, he said.

The firm employs about 30 people, enough so that it has a healthy mix of residential and commercial projects underway at any given time.

“Compared to most Aspen house architects, we have a tremendous depth and diversity to the projects we like to do,” Carr said. The mixture is roughly split between residential and commercial, though not through an effort to keep it even, Cottle said.

Carr said the firm is often competing for jobs with architects from New York, Los Angles and San Francisco. It also undertakes a substantial amount of international work.

Yaw said it is “sort of fun” to be a small fish in a big pond, putting their work up against some bigger firms.

“We’re just sitting here having fun in Aspen and doing our best and we’ve had this extraordinary string, I guess, of opportunity, that we’ve certainly seized upon,” Yaw said. “It’s kind of a neat place to be. You’re not up there in a star architect caliber, if you want to use that term. You’re just real people in the real world and you’re creative.”

Relocated for employees

Ironically, the firm that made a name for itself working on many high-profile projects in Aspen determined in the late 1990s that it had to move out of the town for the long-term well being of the business.

As house prices continued to soar in Aspen and many working families couldn’t establish a toehold, Yaw said the firm was losing good workers. They didn’t want to continue making the commute from Basalt, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs to Aspen.

“So we made an almost risky decision to do this, build this building for our employees,” Yaw said. They bought property at 228 Midland Avenue in Basalt, the town’s main street, and designed a building to showcase their talents.

“It’s a good representation of who we are,” Yaw said.

They made the move in 1998. Yaw said he has no regrets leaving high-profile Aspen for lower profile Basalt. He is unaware of it having any detrimental consequence on the firm’s attractiveness with potential clients.

The effects on employee morale were immense.

“The people are our juice,” Yaw said. “The three of us aren’t the only juice here. We’re not better than they are in a way, so we built this. It has been so positive from employee attitudes to longevity of employees. Being together in a neat place creates juice, it just does.”

The office features an open floor plan with no private rooms, not even for the partners. It’s intended to encourage interaction and make collaboration easier. Plans, drawings and images of project are tacked on the walls, within a swivel of workers’ chairs. There’s one small conference room and a medium-sized conference room. Otherwise, there are no doors in the office, Yaw pointed out.

Carr said the firm is working on 10 to 15 projects in various stages at any given time. Most workers are involved in two or three projects. Senior members have more on their plates.

“People get to throw darts” at one another’s work to help coax out the best work, Yaw said. “You’re part of something.”

It’s all about the design

There is lots of youth and energy in the firm, Cottle said. Yaw said the partners are proud of providing workers with a chance to advance. They are grooming the next leaders.

“We are hell-bent on bringing the next generation up,” he said.

The firm and its workers have reaped numerous architecture awards over the years. One that stands out for them is having two of the partners recognized as a Fellow by the American Institute of Architects. Yaw earned the distinction in 1993; Cottle was made a Fellow this year. Both were recognized for their contributions in design.

Cottle said it is meaningful to him because it is rare. Only about 20 architects in the U.S. are selected annually as a Fellow for their design achievements, he said.

CCY is the only firm on the Western Slope of Colorado to have two Fellows.

Awards aside, the partners in the firm said what really makes them tick is working with clients on designs that match the environment.

“It’s always been about, ‘How do you get the most out of the site, the place?” Cottle said. “Where’s the magic?”

scondon@aspentimes.com


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