Boulder has fallen behind when it comes to modern design. Its built environment in recent years suffers from a lack of imagination, a strain of exclusion, a failure to lead on green principles and a tolerance of mediocrity. But the moment is ripe for the city to do better.
That was the view expressed — and enthusiastically received — by a capacity crowd during “Ignite,” the kickoff event of the annual Month of Modern at eTown Hall in Boulder this week. The event, a panel discussion on Tuesday, featured 10 presenters whom organizers challenged to talk about what would make Boulder “a great city.” The presenters included designers, architects and others from related professions, and they seemed to concur that Boulder had lost its edge but innovative planning could sharpen it again.
“Our imagination has not matched our environment,” said Rick Epstein, the panel moderator and former Boulder architect who’s now with Studio Completiva in Denver.
This is the second year for MoM, a series of events meant to promote and showcase modern design in Colorado (by “modern,” organizers mean “contemporary,” or a spirit of simplicity and innovation, not the century-old art movement). It was founded by Kate Bailey, owner of Annabel Media, a media-strategy company in Denver.
Colorado usually isn’t perceived as having world-class designers and architects, she said. But with its recent rapid growth has come a deepening of its talent pool and more opportunities to make a splash. America’s most cosmopolitan cities have a heritage of great architecture and design, and many residents of those cities are relocating to Colorado.
“A lot of them were bringing architects from L.A. and New York when we have the talent here,” Bailey said. “It’s just not really well-known.”
One problem, however, is that homegrown projects too often fail to inspire. The unprecedented building boom in Denver and other parts of the Front Range is exciting on one hand but worrisome on the other.
“There’s all this building going on, but the reality is that it’s not very good,” Bailey said. She calls the raft of bulky, slapdash buildings rising throughout Denver “commodity architecture.”
This isn’t just a matter of aesthetics or a concern limited to people who can afford high-priced architects. It has a community-wide effect on quality-of-life, and affordable-housing projects present some of the biggest challenges, and opportunities for innovation, for architects and designers.
“Design creates a good lifestyle for everybody,” Bailey said.