a house lost to fire

A weekend of working through a lot of drawings has put me hopelessly behind on the Reverb 10 project.  Catching up may not be possible, but in the midst of many studio hours logged over the last few days, I have been thinking about Friday’s prompt:

Pick one moment during which you felt most alive this year

I am working on a design for a house for a couple who lost their house in the recent Fourmile Fire west of Boulder.  The first time I was going to meet them at their burned-out house, in that devastated landscape, I went up a bit early to give myself some time to react to the aftereffects of the fire without embarassing myself, without letting the sadness of the scene overwhelm me.

Looking at these now, I can still vividly recall the dry, blowing ash, the snow-crunch under foot of glass, embers and debris.  And of course the somber black of the trees and landscape and the desiccated whiteness of hard-baked drywall.  But most of all, the smell of smoke that lingered in my car for week.  I have a small piece of broken, melted glass from the fire in my office and just looking at it recalls that smoke, acrid and merciless.


new project – Sunshine Canyon house

I am very excited to be working on a new house project for a couple who lost their house in the recent Fourmile Canyon fire just west of Boulder.  I feel deeply for their loss – years of mementos, photos, etc. all lost, not to mention the house itself, the repository of years of memories and events.  So it is kind of odd for me to be happy working on a project that stems, to some extent, from a great sadness.  But I can’t help it, I love to make buildings, to sit down with folks, listen to their stories, their dreams and thoughts and try to give form to those explicit and implicit desires.

The design we are working on tries to balance the centrifugal forces that are directed toward magnificent mountain panoramic views with the centripetal forces that focus on a courtyard and the internal landscape of the house.

These are some relatively early views of SketchUp model of the project.  SketchUp is a great tool and its integration with Google Earth allows us to upload the model and place it in the actual topography and verify view corridors to specific sites – in this case, a distant view east to Denver and extensive views west and south to the mountains.

While I would probably never give up the tools of physical models, sketches, plans, etc., the use of SketchUp is a powerful tool that might tempt one away from such traditional design methods.  It can in fact be a bit difficult to remember that even though we can make a fully rendered model of the project that we can walk through, view furniture and the light streaming in, that we have not completed the design of the project.  We may have crafted the space and maybe even captured some of the touch and feel of the building, but we hardly even touched the larger and more difficult task of detailing the structure.  Every eave, every handrail, every window mutin has yet to be drawn and studied.  As my friend David Leary says, it’s a marathon, not a sprint.


barn, Sunshine Canyon

Along with 170 or so houses, there was at least one barn lost in the recent Fourmile Fire.  It was not remarkable or even functional, with walls falling apart and a partial roof.  It stood by its self in a little field right along Sunshine Canyon Drive, a visible and much loved signpost along the road.

The fire burned up from Fourmile Canyon to the north and east, over the ridge that is Sunshine Canyon Drive and partially down the other side.  There was a very controlled line just west of the Bald Mountain parking area but this barn was lost on the east side of that.  I don’t know exactly how it happened but the burn immediately around barn indicates that a few embers probably caught the old, dry wood of the barn and the flames were contained.

This barn marked the turnoff from Sunshine Canyon Drive that was the access road to a project I designed and that I visited frequently during construction.  A couple times a week for about three years, I watched this barn slowly, almost imperceptibly, fall down while our project was building up.  And, like many architects, the barn held a fascination for me that took me into the falling structure to poke around and take dozens of photos.  The beautiful, simply structure housed a couple of old rotten-stuffing upholstered chairs, a stove, and a whole army of rusty cans and pails.

And now, the site holds only the memory of that old barn.  No one will rebuild it, or ever could recreate the strange and intriguing air that floats around inside abandoned buildings.


after the fire – rebuilding restrictions for Boulder County

Even though the fire is really just barely out and maybe not even so, I have been asked about the problems of rebuilding in Boulder County after the tragedy.  Here is the info I have found and confirmed with the Boulder County Land Use staff:

Good news for all the homeowners who are considering rebuilding after the devastating Fourmile wildfire here in Boulder County.  Many people have a very wary view of the County’s restrictions when it comes to new building and rightly so.  There are a lot of rules and regulations that must be complied with in the required Site Plan Review process.  However, staff has confirmed that for fire-destroyed properties, you will have 6 months before you will need a Site Plan Review:

“3. Restoration of a structure that has been damaged or destroyed by causes outside the control of the property owner or their agent provided the restoration involves the original location, floor area, and height. Must comply with the current provisions of the Boulder County Land Use Code other than 4-800 (also see Nonconforming Structures & Uses, Article 4-1002(D) and 4-1003(F)).

a. Such  be commenced within six months after the date  the structure was damaged or destroyed, or a latent defect discovered and completed within one year after the date on which the restoration commenced. This limitation may be extended in the case of extenuating circumstances as determined by the Director.

b. The provisions of this Section 4-802(B)(3) shall not apply to substantial improvements to structures in the Floodplain Overlay District as provided for in Section 4-400 of this Code.”

This is clearly dependent on keeping the house the same size as before but not necessarily the same shape, etc.  I will try to get some clarification from the County to verify if you can build smaller than before under these provisions.  I will also verify with staff that this means that a building permit must be either applied for or obtained within 6 months, nothing else.

Word is that they are going to be flexible on this deadline because of the circumstances.

This is very good news for homeowners whose houses were located on the tops of ridges.  The current interpretation of the Land Use regulations generally does not allow any new construction to be taller than surrounding trees.  On a ridge-top sites this is almost impossible so the maxim “thou shall not build on ridges” has been a bit of an unwritten rule in the County for a while now.  The code listed above will clearly allow people to rebuild on their existing sites (if existing foundations, septic systems, etc. can be re-used is a complex issue).  Keep in mind that significant re-grading of any portion of your property, and that includes both cut and fill, may require an additional permit and/or Site Plan Review or Limited Impact Special Review.  If you want to re-do that steep driveway, please remember this.

If you do not have information regarding the size of your existing home, the County typically uses the County tax assessor information.  We all know this is often not very accurate so there may be some interpretation allowed.

In any case, if you are rebuilding you will have to meet all the current building codes and that includes the County’s Ignition Resistant Construction and Wildfire Mitigation procedures.  Presumably this will also include the County’s relatively new energy codes as well.  If you are not considering rebuilding then the County’s Transferable Development Right may apply to your property and you may be able to benefit from your property.

I will keep updating blog posts with more information as I dig through the codes and their applicability in this situation. The Boulder County Land Use staff will be able to answer any questions you have and please, PLEASE, schedule a Pre-Application with them prior to doing ANYTHING. This is free and simple – you don’t need any drawings or plans – just sit down with staff and review what was there, what you can and can not do and how to do it.


Sunshine Canyon house, construction progress


we are about a week away from the completion of construction on the house up Sunshine Canyon.


a punchlist and a final hard push of work by the contractor and subcontractors should have the owners moving in by May 1st.


last Saturday, the owners, Summer and Robert, held a party for all the folks who have worked on the project – all the masons, carpenters, suppliers, supervisors, electricians, etc.  This was a really great way to say thank you to a large group of people who have put so much into the house, working in terrible weather, over the course of 2 1/2 years.


Sunshine Canyon house, architecture and interior design, Boulder, progress


another of ongoing posts on the progress of the house up on Sunshine Canyon designed by Mark Gerwing at Arcadea.  Mark has been overseeing the construction since M. Gerwing Architects was started, over a year and a half ago.

Today the massive stone lintels spanning between the rough stone piers were swung and lifted into place.  This is the last part of the major construction on house with plenty of months of trim, cabinetry, etc. yet to go.  Supervised by Scott Reardon of Cottonwood Custom Builders, the house is coming into shape quite nicely and we are finally getting to see the efforts of many hands work especially the Owners, Robert and Summer Andresakis.  They have worked tirelessly and patiently to see this all happen.

Their Team:

Project Architect: Mark Gerwing as Principal at Arcadea, then M. Gerwing Architects

Design Team (Arcadea):  David Biek, Brian Nelson, Stacey Root

Structural Engineer: Nicols Associates, Leslie Tyson and Eric Schmidt

Builder: Cottonwood Custom Builders: Jeff Hindman, Scott Reardon

and more subcontractors than you can count…


Sunshine Canyon stone house, architecture and design, Boulder

Yet another post on the progress of the house up on Sunshine Canyon.  Designed by Mark Gerwing, with David Biek, Stacey Root and Brian Nelson at Arcadea, the house is being built by Cottonwood Custom Builders.

We are well past the half-way mark and the pace of finishes is picking up with most of the exterior stone already installed.  This is a photo from down the steeply sloping site looking back up at the east face of the building.

Sunshine Canyon house, architecture and design, Boulder

These are photos of a house just finishing construction up on Sunshine Canyon, a companion to the large stone house that I have posted previously.  Designed by Stacey Root and David Biek at my former office, Arcadea, it was built by Cottonwood Custom Builders.  I have been helping with construction oversight including choosing finishes, colors, etc.  Congratulations to Cottonwood for a nicely executed project – Scott Reardon, Matt Fitzrandolph, Jeff Hindman, Tom Roberts, Kim Neil, and all the others.

Sunshine Canyon house, ongoing


The house up Sunshine Canyon is proceeding along.  This is yet another construction photo of the progress.  The wood panels below the windows have yet to be stained and the final roofing material, corrugated weathering steel, has yet to be installed.  More in a couple of weeks.