History: Modern Homes in Boulder

 Haertling's Brenton House

Boulder has been heavily influenced by the modern era of architecture that thrived from the 1930s through the 1970s and had its roots in Germany, originating from the Bauhaus Industrial Arts College. Local pioneering architects Glen Huntington, James Hunter, Hobart Wagener, Charles Haertling, Roger Easton and Harvey Hine have all designed buildings and homes within the city that have married the look of industrial, mass-produced material with an artistic flair.

After World War II, modern architecture took hold in the United States and especially in Colorado. Creative and even iconoclastic expression became paramount, resulting in national attention for Colorado buildings and complexes like the Air Force Academy and the National Center for Atmospheric Research. Residential design underwent a parallel change. Historical or vernacular styles fell out of fashion. Ornament and parlor lifestyles gave way to clean lines and open floor plans. Entire Boulder neighborhoods were developed with single- and split-level ranch-style houses.

Amazing Remodel.jpg

In the 1970s, modernism waned. Critics and the public came to view some of these designs as austere or out-of-scale with their settings. Manufactured materials used in modern homes proved less durable than traditional brick and stone. Realtors claimed that modernist homes were hard to sell or did not hold their value. The rise of historic preservation fueled a new taste for historical styles. Post-modern architecture reintroduced historical references, ornament and buildings designed to fit their context. With nostalgia or whimsy playing big roles, custom residential design moved backward to English Tudor, French country, Georgian, classical or combinations. In the foothills and fast-growing towns of the Mountain West, new homes recalled the genteel log-and-stone lodges of the early 20th century, rather than our own early 21st century.


Now we are again making room for more contemporary expressions. Architects, builders and homeowners recognize it isn't easy to capture historic character and craftsmanship using today's construction techniques and materials. The era of high-tech communications and industrial chic has revived our taste for crisp, forward-looking modern designs. As the radically angular geometries of these designs suggests, modernism is back. New modern homes are appearing in New Urbanist communities like Holiday and Prospect New Town in Longmont as well as in the soft-loft explosion of Downtown Boulder.  

The success of these lofts has created a domestic demand for large expanses of windows, metal surfaces, exposed steel beams and even concrete floors. Improved construction materials have boosted the move toward modern styles. Exterior materials including metal, stucco and cement-fiber board, and tougher paints are proving durable even in our high-altitude environment. Sustainable "passive" solar design is a natural and standard part of a modern Colorado design. Window and glass technology can capture solar heat in winter while rejecting it in summer. Homeowners can enjoy both energy savings and beautiful views.

The first wave of modernism faced criticism that it swept away the past. Today's architects, working within the design vocabulary of enriched modernism, have become skilled at complementing rather than disrupting older and even historic neighborhoods. People seem to enjoy the contrast and diversity that result when the old and the new peacefully co-exist.


Source: Jim Bershof, Denver Business Journal