Back to the future in the Rocky Mountain West
I have an abiding interest in the work of Charles Haertling, Boulder’s most well-known architect from the 1960’s and 70’s. His organic designs have been extremely influential and are much more finely resolved than the better known works of other organic architects like Bruce Goff.
One of his most interesting buildings appears briefly in Woody Allen’s film Sleeper from 1973. It is really only an establishing shot and I am pretty sure none of the interiors from the film are of the actual house.
Sleeper is an odd, slapstick Allen movie set in 2173 starring Allen and Diane Keaton. To depict a future society, Allen used a number of buildings in the Denver/Boulder area, most notably the house in Genesse often referred to as the Sleeper House. Not yet completed at the time of filming the building sat unfinished and deteriorating for many years until recently a new owner completed it and added a large and fairly sympathetic addition.
Also prominently featured in the film is the Mesa Lab of NCAR in Boulder. Allen, captured and brainwashed here, eventually escapes and returns to sabotage the place. There are a few establishing shots and a couple of Allen rappelling down one of the towers.
There are a couple of other local buildings in the movie. Briefly seen in the very beginning is the main building of the Denver Botanic Gardens.
And as a humorous sight-gag, the Mile Hi church in Denver is rendered as a McDonalds.
What may be of note here is that Allen’s future is a city-less one filled with modern, space-age buildings and for that he left his precious NYC to film in Colorado. The houses depicted in the movie, the Sleeper house and the Brenton house, are displayed as modern and although a bit alienating, not entirely evil. NCAR on the other hand is the embodiment of the tyrannical, hero-worship technological society. Maybe both of those portraits are appropriate for the programs of the buildings and maybe as well for the architectural background of I.M. Pei, NCAR’s architect. Schooled in the heady days of unabashed hero-worship, the building has all the hallmarks of the Mies/Gropius/Rudolph scaleless, dehumanized placelessness. By contrast, the houses by Haertling and Deaton were self-conscious antipodes to harsh geometries and materials of late Modernism and attempted to incorporate new spatial concepts while still holding on to Modernism’s liberating ideologies. Does this difference represent a slightly different generation of architect, is it reflective of the radical shift in attitudes of the 1960’s, or is it a reflection of two architects born and educated west of the Mississippi (Deaton and Haertling) as opposed to the Modernist orthodoxy of the East Coast (Pei)?
(all images from the movie Sleeper, by Woody Allen)