Rocky Mountain Classicism

“We go eastward to realize history and study the works of art and literature, retracing the steps of the race; we go westward as into the future, with a spirit of enterprise and adventure.”  Henry David Thoreau[i]

At dawn I jogged up the granite steps of the Colorado State Capitol in Denver. Reaching the top and turning to face Civic Center Park and its dramatic backdrop of the Rocky Mountains, I succumbed to the awe any Easterner feels in the vast American West. Below me lay a graceful tableau of Beaux-Arts city planning painted in green grass and trees and white marble, purple mountains and Colorado-blue sky. It hardly seemed to contain the uncontainable space and energy of the West.

Figure 1 – My early morning view of Civic Center Park from the steps of the Colorado State Capitol.

Figure 1 – My early morning view of Civic Center Park from the steps of the Colorado State Capitol.

 

The American spirit is palpable here and it seems to be fueling one of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art’s newest dynamic chapters: The Rocky Mountain Chapter. Years ago Tom Matthews, an architect in Denver and ICAA Fellow, approached me at a Traditional Building Exhibition and Conference and asked about starting a chapter in Denver. I thought to myself, “is there classical architecture in Denver?” Yes, I have come to discover, there is!

Fast forward a few years and here I was in Denver joining ICAA Chairman Peter Pennoyer and Mark Gelernter, Dean of the College of Architecture and Planning at the University of Colorado, to jury the chapter’s inaugural Robert and Judi Newman Awards for Excellence in Classical & Traditional Design. With dedicated trustees including chapter President Don Ruggles, Vice-president Eric Mandil, Secretary Tom Matthews and Treasurer Melissa Mabe-Sabanosh the chapter has quickly become an important part of Denver’s architectural scene.

Figure 2 – A new classical home in Denver by DHR Architecture.

Figure 2 – A new classical home in Denver by DHR Architecture.

Most notably they have supported the University of Colorado at Denver’s College of Architecture and Planning’s new Certificate in Classical Architecture. Dean Mark Gelernter, Associate Professor Taisto Makela and lecturer Cameron Kruger worked with ICAA President Paul Gunther and instructors Richard Cameron, Marvin Clawson, Michael Djordjevitch, Michael Mesko and Andy Taylor to develop this offering.

While in Denver I toured the college with Dean Gelernter and was thrilled to see a new generation learning classical architecture. The vitality I felt everywhere in Denver was present here too. The college has just launched a four year Bachelor of Science in Architecture, is renovating its studios, and has an enviable downtown location at the heart of Denver’s history.

Figure 3 – A view down Larimer Street from the College’s newly renovated studios.

Figure 3 – A view down Larimer Street from the College’s newly renovated studios.

The synergy between the college, chapter and local professionals is enlivening an already vibrant architectural community in Denver. Our jury weekend began with a sociable lunch hosted by John Carlen of Xssentials where I enjoyed meeting Denver faculty members and lecturers Ann Komara, Cameron Kruger, Taisto Makela and visiting with longtime friends – ICAA instructor Marvin Clawson and architect Rene Clawson, who were in town for the AIA Convention.

After a tour of the college with Dean Gelernter, Tom Matthews and Don Ruggles whisked me away for a whirlwind tour of Denver’s architectural treasures. We began downtown and spent the afternoon seeing a range of houses in the Belcaro and Denver Country Club neighborhoods, including many projects from architect Jacques Benedict (1879-1948) who settled to work in Denver after studying at the École des Beaux-Arts and working with Carrére & Hastings.

Figure 4 – Don Ruggles and I in front of the Phipps House in the historic Belcaro neighborhood discussing the work of Charles Platt. (Photography by Tom Matthews).

Figure 4 – Don Ruggles and I in front of the Phipps House in the historic Belcaro neighborhood discussing the work of Charles Platt. (Photography by Tom Matthews).

Rounding off our day was a delightfully urbane rooftop party at the home and office of Eric Mandil of Mandil, Inc. The following day, Don Ruggles graciously hosted the jury in his office with chapter trustee Bill Miller of Waterworks facilitating our deliberations and intern Dakota Walters observing. It was exciting to review so many good projects, including some impressive student work. Winners will be announced in the near future.

Recalling my jog around Denver’s Civic Center Park the morning of our jury deliberations, I remember pausing on the step marking Denver’s mile high elevation and catching my breath. Gazing out at the wondrous sight of Beaux-Arts classicism at the foot of the Rockies, I reflected upon the growth of the ICAA as manifest in the Rocky Mountain Chapter. The American spirit is enduringly optimistic, confident and forward thinking. I see its presence equally in Denver, in the ICAA Rocky Mountain Chapter and in this moment of the ICAA’s history.

Figure 5 – From left to right, jury facilitator and ICAA RMC trustee Bill Miller, juror and ICAA Chairman Peter Pennoyer, jury observer and intern Dakota Walters, juror and College of Architecture and Planning Dean Mark Gelernter, juror and designer Christine G. H. Franck, and architect and ICAA RMC President Don Ruggles after the jury at DHR Architecture.

Figure 5 – From left to right, jury facilitator and ICAA RMC trustee Bill Miller, juror and ICAA Chairman Peter Pennoyer, jury observer and intern Dakota Walters, juror and College of Architecture and Planning Dean Mark Gelernter, juror and designer Christine G. H. Franck, and architect and ICAA RMC President Don Ruggles after the jury at DHR Architecture.


[i] Henry David Thoreau. “Walking” (1862), in The Writings of Henry David Thoreau, vol. 5, p. 218, Houghton Mifflin (1906).

(Essay originally published in The Classicist blog: http://blog.classicist.org/?p=6765)

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