banned by Boulder County

Given the Boulder County’s Site Plan Review process, both the explicit and implicit rules within, there are a number of really great buildings that would never be allowed to be built in Boulder County.

banned houses

starting at the top left, clockwise:

house at Riva San Vitale, Ticino, Switzerland, by Mario Botta :  clearly violates  the height rule.  This house sits on the steeply sloping mountainside above a lake.  The design is meant to minimize the footprint of the house and, as a “tower”, presence the experience of the slope, the lake and the mountains beyond.  It is actually not that tall, but from the lowest point on the downhill slope, the upper part would have to conform to the angle of the slope.

Villa Malcontenta, Italy, by Palladio:  is not “compatible with surround topography”.  Like most of Palladio’s villas, this design is set off against the flatness of the land.  It is a mark of occupation, like a stick in the ground, taking in the landscape but clearly not merging with it.  Traditional villas occupy the land and maybe even dominate it.  But they also give scale and proportion to the land.

Villa Savoye, France, by LeCorbusier:  color not acceptable.  This house is a bit restless, looking to possibly move across the landscape.  But, by doing so, it makes the connection between the land and sky, it establishes this place of occupation in the sun and on the land.  It is not a ‘natural’ element of the landscape, but white, and sufficiently abstract to draw attention to the beauty of the landscape.

Gugalun House, Switzerland, by Peter Zumthor: incompatible with Wildfire Resistant materials and construction.  The is a forest house, extending a vernacular building built of the products of the place, wood boards and planks, logs and panels.  It is as flammable as the surround forest, as fragile, but also as timeless.

Don’t get me wrong, I am all for protecting Boulder County’s magnificent wilderness views.  But sometimes the landscape is actually improved by a building, brought into focus, given a scale.


Boulder County is not a wilderness.  It is occupied.  It has been mined, traversed, settled, abandoned, and re-inhabited all over the county.  If we had more respect for the land, for a sense of a common occupation of the land, we may not need the burdensome regulations.

However, so many people’s desire to build the biggest possible house on the tallest possible peak or ridge has corrupted the entire prospect of making meaningful architecture.  Maybe we do need to keep the regulations in place until there are enough good architects and responsible owners and builders.

In the meantime, since there is a process that requires individual, site-specific review of every new building, maybe the reviews could do the same – close, individual consideration of overall impact, location and siting, not generic rules applied without consideration to locale.

Regulations of this sort are always difficult to administer, even worse to create.  The ultimate authority on these sits with our elected County Commissioners – to approve or not all projects.  Is the will of the people clear on these issues?  Try coming to an approval meeting and see the range of comments from the public on any given project.

photo credit:  Gugalun House by Marloes Faber, Swiss alps photo from Wayfaring travel guide


One thought on “banned by Boulder County

  1. A good post. Having been through site plan review with Boulder County for a house in the mountains, this is something that I care about. Even though the regulations are described as guidelines, the planners and commissioners are not given enough freedom to treat those guidelines as anything other than rules. I think that neighbor input should be a key (though not necessarily binding) part of the process. It is the neighbors and immediate community that are most likely going to be affected by any building project. And unfortunately, there is no way to regulate personal preference and taste in design. The planners/commissioners could be a moderators/mediator for conflicts in taste. It’s tricky, for sure, but if we all just respected each other and the land a bit more, it wouldn’t be such a big problem.

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