Just a few weeks before publication by W. W. Norton of a major retrospective on the work of modernist Harry Weese, the Regents of the University of Colorado School of Medicine are seeking to demolish his 1972 Given Institute in Aspen.
Educated at MIT and Cranbrook, Weese is well-known as the architect of Arena Stage in Washington D.C and its outstanding Metro system, as well as the Time-Life building in Chicago. His work in Aspen is less recognized, but significant within context nonetheless.
Aspen’s history of modernism stretches back to 1945 when the Paepcke family there recruited Walter Gropius to discuss the town’s future. The Paepckes were responsible for setting the course for the future of the city, and established the area as a ski resort, along with initiating its music festival and the Aspen Institute.
According to an August 9 article in the Aspen Times, the late philanthropist Elizabeth Paepcke donated the Given property, which overlooks Hallam Lake, to the university about 40 years ago. Since then it has been used as a venue for medical forums, in accordance with her wishes.
However, the Given Institute has been operating at a loss of as much as $200,000 for a number of years.
“Its future is uncertain. The regents have applied for a demolition permit,” said Amy Guthrie, historic preservation officer at the City of Aspen. “It’s in terrible financial condition, and they need the money more than the facility.”
According to a memorandum she sent to Aspen’s mayor and city council, the regents intend “to demolish all of the existing buildings on the site, which includes the primary building and two Victorian era structures.”
“From the beginning,” she wrote, “representatives of The University of Colorado have very clearly indicated that no incentives, negotiation, or other development options are of interest, and that their goal is sale of the property.”
According to an application to the National Register of Historic Places, the main building is 12,800 square feet and comprised of a series of geometric volumes loosely configured in a square plan, 90 feet by 90 feet. Both in plan and façade, geometries of circles, squares, and triangles are deliberately interwoven, juxtaposed, and pushed beyond the boundary of the square.
When it was completed, architecture critic Janet Bloom noted: “The basic square of the plan is maintained by brick terracing. But the dominance of the full circle can be enjoyed from at least three sides. As Harry Weese puts it, they ‘extracted as much from the three-dimensional possibilities’ as they could, especially by nudging the circle a little beyond the boundaries of the square. The porthole windows are reminders of the circle where it is least apparent.”
To save it, the Times reported last week, The Aspen Historic Preservation Commission late last month formed a grass-roots group of residents who have a stake in the matter; the goal is to gather support to save the building and convince voters that it is an essential community benefit.
The preservation commission plans to partner financially with public and private entities, the Times said, including The Aspen Institute and the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, in exchange for services.
For more on the Given Institute, go to http://www.aspentimes.com/article/20100809/NEWS/100809823&parentprofile=search
For more on Harry Weese, go to http://www.wwnorton.com/books/The -Architecture-of-Harry-Weese/