Denver’s Paul Andersen of Independent Architecture has been making waves in the national architectural discourse, but has retained a comparably low profile in his hometown of Denver. The inclusion of his work in the preliminary Chicago Architecture Biennial—a kiosk produced in collaboration with Paul Preissner and University of Illinois-Chicago—is an important moment, as is the pending completion of Andersen’s first building-scale project.
The recently completed Catamount Center cluster housing/field station project is the firm’s first full-scale building to be realized. The project is a small dormitory serving a field station and ecological research center located outside of Colorado Springs, Colorado. Located on a sloping and somewhat remote site featuring views of Pike’s Peak and the Front Range, the project must confront many of the more challenging aspects of building in the Rocky Mountain region. Independent Architecture’s handling of the considerable site topography and limitations, environmental considerations and program generates an innovative architecture. Andersen described the process of designing the project, “There are a few things we slowly realized we could take advantage of. Views to the south are of Pike’s Peak. The client also wanted some space that was protected from the wind, so we chose a courtyard scheme from the earliest models. The scheme started as a spiral, which was a way we could opportunistically solve the issue of a slope that faces east with a view to the south… We try to identify opportunities to simplify things by making them more integrated.”
This approach to design is carried through to the material and formal expression of the building. The spiraling form is visually reinforced with gently radiused corners that project an air of Pop-Art sensibility along with an organicism that befits an ecological research institute. The building mass is buffered from the site by an equally curvaceous concrete apron, popping the building out of its surroundings and providing a functional walkway encircling the building. The exterior of the project is finished with a playfully deployed standing-seam metal skin.
Here, Andersen takes advantage of the corrugated construction to seamlessly wrap the curving walls of the project in a seemingly endless ribbon. The rugged metal skin plays perfectly against the curvilinear forms, speaking at once to the local vernacular and the nature of the work done at the site. Simple glazing oriented toward the views and looking into the courtyard completes the exterior of the project, offering a simplicity and diagrammatic clarity that belies the rigorous thought and planning behind this building. Andersen reiterates, “We are trying to do things that are really quite complex but which look simple in the end.”
With Denver and the Mountain West undergoing sustained growth and immigration, the demand for exceptional design from avant-garde architects will only increase. It is the thinking and practice of young firms in the city that will take these opportunities and turn them into projects that push international architectural discourse forward, while simultaneously elevating design in the region—a winning situation for all involved.