Gustfason: Scaffolding our future |

Gustfason: Scaffolding our future

“We shape our buildings; thereafter, our buildings shape us.” – Winston Churchill

What will Snowmass Village look like one day? Will we gaze upon the new bricks and mortar that are rising up with admiration or disdain? Will our efforts to amplify our built history connect us with our past or erase our memories? Will we miss the mark and obstruct the landscape, or settle in harmony within the vast natural beauty that surrounds us?

We only have context for the then and the now, and now is the only time to avoid acting with haste. Shortsighted goals often prevent us from the patience it may require to act with the best interests of long-term, sustainable goals and for future generations.

Historic preservation clearly does more than protect our physical spaces. It allows us to celebrate the history of our built environment and maintain the places that connect us in tangible, concrete ways to our past while providing meaning to the places we frequent today. It fuses the need for a modern approach with traditional authenticity, helping to protect our heritage and color the context of our community. I wonder, what will we want to preserve 50 years from now?

It was truly an honor to be invited to speak along with Julie Ann Woods, the Town of Snowmas’ Community Development Director, at this year’s Colorado Preservation Inc.’s annual “Power of Preserving Places” conference in Denver this week. We contemplated these subjects during our hot topic: “When historic preservation comes of age: Can history be found in a 1960s resort community?”

During our presentation, we considered and received feedback about what we should preserve while recognizing the efforts that already have been taken to identify and maintain some of our more iconic structures and institutions from a much earlier era, including our beloved Little Red School House, Anderson Ranch, the Hoaglund Barn and even the Burlingame Cabin among others. More recently Gywn’s High Alpine, the Tower and some of the flavor of the Old Mall have been looked at for preservation, as well.

We acknowledged the rickety little Sheepherder’s cabin, currently resting near Town Hall, which seems to embody the unstable and indecisive way we have previously approached our past. We mused over the fact that Snowmass has prehistoric relevance and that our mastodon discovery may outlive the rest of our current ventures.

William Murtagh, first keeper of the National Register of Historic Places, said “At it’s best, preservation engages the past in a conversation with the present over a mutual concern for the future.”

And I believe that with each step forward we are propelled by the foundations laying the groundwork for our pathway. One might say that we must know where we have been in order to know where we are going.

The first attempt at a version of a Snowmass Village Comprehensive Plan was the 1966 Janss Master Plan. It was simple, and I feel it was a model upon which all iterations should reflect. Here it is in its entirety:

• Nature should be the dominant feature on the landscape.

• The rural character of the Brush Creek Valley should be preserved.

• Villages should be small, distinct and quaint.

• A regional transit system should minimize car traffic and link to Aspen, which would remain “the dominant center” for business and commerce.

Within these very simple guidelines, the original planners and architects set up strict guidelines in an effort to minimize sprawl to keep our structures from overwhelming the landscape. The simple designs were intentionally straight-lined and of similar height and density, clustered together where no one building would dominate, blending harmoniously and visually becoming one unit of human habitat. By highlighting the contrast, the natural, rugged curves of the mountainside landscape were accentuated.

Ed Janss reached out to Sam Francis, a contemporary and quite famous pop artist, to come to Snowmass and give his thoughts on what the company should do. After spending a month in Snowmass, he sent Janss a very substantial bill for a month’s time and gave a one-sentence recommendation: to do “as little as possible.” Janss later said the advice was “priceless.”

I tend to agree. Yes, we have a more complex, less environmentally egalitarian perspective in this era of development, but our current comp plan must hang its hat on the notion of “just big enough.” If that phrase is overshadowed, lost or buried in nomenclature, I believe there is much at stake.

I’m not advocating to freeze ourselves in a museum of the past, but it is interesting and valuable to find contextual elements to hold on to as we move mindfully forward. Lest we become so hyper eclectic that we lose any sense of cohesion.

Because Base Village and other developments are moving forward, and because they will be built, my thought is that we progress slowly and consciously, cautiously eyeing our roots as we look forward. I hope we will remain progressively aware of the scale and character of our small town village.

“How will we know it’s us without our past?” – John Steinbeck, “Grapes of Wrath”

Let’s exchange a piece of my mind for a little peace of mind; after all, if we always agree what will we talk about? Britta Gustafson appreciates an open mind; share yours and email her at


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