DBX Ranch: A Transformation Brings Forth a New Livable Landscape

AWARD OF EXCELLENCE

Residential Design

Pitkin County, CO, USA | Design Workshop, Inc.

PROJECT STATEMENT

Until recently, this 3.5-acre property was the maintenance boneyard for a nearby working ranch. Piles of wood and debris, covered with a layer of fill, had created an artificial landform, resulting in a site that was both ecologically lifeless and unsightly. A collaborative effort combining the creative talents of the landscape architect, architect and interior designer resulted in a new vision for the property, one that reimagines the disturbed site as a livable landscape, emblematic of the heritage of the surrounding pastoral setting.

The residence – a compound of structures designed in the modern ranch vernacular – is unified by the careful placement of layered and interconnected outdoor gathering spaces and curated native plant communities. A singular palette of stone and wood seamlessly connects indoor and outdoor space through simple and compelling expressions. Context-sensitive and sustainable strategies address water quality, reforestation and visual character, restoring ecological integrity to this once-derelict site.

PROJECT NARRATIVE

History and Challenges
Since the late 19th century, the 3.5 acre site upon which this home is located was the boneyard for a working ranch. Decades of depositing debris – dead vegetation, organic material, cobble and trash – resulted in the creation of a 12’ man-made landform adjacent to an active hay meadow. When the land use changed from working ranch to residential development, the dumpsite was capped and the site was divided into two building envelopes, both of which were located on top of this abrupt and artificial landform. The landscape architect was challenged to address the settlement issues that were bound to occur with construction on a fill site in a winter climate. In addition, unregulated disturbance of the barren soils and noxious weeds that made up the dump site held potentially disastrous results for the ranch and its’ existing irrigation ditches.

A New Vision
The property’s two building envelopes are separated by a 40’ landscape zone. Original development guidelines outlined the need for significant plantings and earthwork between architectural structures a concept which, when implemented, would have divided and isolated uses. Instead, the owners sought an alternative vision - to create a family retreat that would celebrate the idea of seamless indoor-outdoor living. Leveraging and combining the independent building envelopes, the design team created a modern farmstead inspired by regional agricultural development patterns. One envelope includes the primary residence with living spaces, bedrooms, and a semi-detached garage. The second envelope incorporates a guest house with a bunk room, recreational room, and a small detached barn. A synergistic dialogue between landscape and architecture utilizes natural openings, axial connections and distant vistas to create a modern interpretation of a Western homestead. Analysis
Located at an elevation of 7,800 feet, the property commands panoramic views to the east, south and west, encompassing agrarian lands, geologic outcroppings, vernal pools, and 13,000’ mountain peaks. Intense solar exposure, prevailing winds, temperature fluctuations and heavy winter snow informed critical design decisions related to outdoor living, plant species selection and the scale of special features. The home extends across the site from east to west, its primary axis capturing views to the south. Secondary wings rotate toward eastern and western views. The low profile and dynamic simplicity of the one-story home, combined with floor to ceiling windows and doors, allows for a seamless and entirely accessible integration of indoor and outdoor space.

Entry
A choreographed arrival sequence extends the visual character of the agrarian setting into the domesticated landscape. Ascending the re-sculpted landform, the entry drive, built of recycled asphalt, meanders through a restored meadow interspersed with statuesque Ponderosa pines, terminating in a walled courtyard. From inside the courtyard, one is immediately aware of the dynamic simplicity that is derived from the seamless and unfolding relationship between architecture and landscape where ordinary agricultural forms are reinterpreted with a sophisticated, regional palette of stone, water, and plants. Set upon architectural focal points, two perpendicular paths descend toward a hand-carved granite cube at the center of the space. Surrounded by groups of aspen, the cube is a sculptural focal point in the courtyard, framed from various perspectives by select groupings of aspen. The sound of water as it flows over the smooth surface of the cube, echoes within the enclosed space.

Central Courtyard
In lieu of following development guidelines that suggested the implementation of berms and dense coniferous plantings between structures, the design team utilized the space as the home’s primary gathering space. The result is a unified setting that erases any notion of underlying jurisdictional boundaries. Although designed to accommodate large gatherings of friends and family, the courtyard maintains a sense of intimacy within the expansive environment. Set upon the primary architectural axis and resting beneath a dappled canopy of aspen trees, the family’s dining table serves as a ceremonial centerpiece. To the north, a tightly spaced windrow, a familiar element found in historic ranch compounds, provides protection from the harsh western winds, and creates a vegetative screen between buildings and the autocourt. To the south, split-faced stone stairs descend onto a rectilinear segment of lawn, punctuated by a carved granite fire pit. A shallow dipping pool with an infinity edge reflects a panoramic vista of mountains and sky. A designed granite escarpment provides an informal seating ledge.

Extension of Living
Inherent in the design is the cultivation of a very simple yet sophisticated indoor-outdoor living experience for the owners and their guests. Movable and invisible walls facilitate a seamless connection between buildings, validating the relationship between the fundamental and compelling elements of landscape and architecture. Along the southern façade, a wall of floor-to-ceiling windows retreats into the structure, framing borrowed views to the agrarian mountain valley setting. A stone veranda, enclosed by a low stone seating wall and shaded by a steel trellis, expands the kitchen, living, and dining rooms into the physical landscape, offering a promontory from which to view the meadow. The connection between home and pasture is further unified by the subtle sculpting of a previously untenable topography into a gently rolling landform.

The Role of Water
In spite of its degraded condition, the property possessed abundant water resources including an irrigation ditch that delineated the edge of the agricultural meadow. The existence of this resource allowed the landscape architect to skillfully and responsibly integrate water as an aesthetic, ecological, and functional element in the overall design. Roof and terrace runoff is captured and directed to planting areas, resulting in a zero net increase in site run-off. Plantings are organized into zones based on water requirements, with many requiring little to no irrigation after establishment.

Set between the meadow and central courtyard, a new 7,200 square foot pond consolidates the property’s accompanying water rights. The pond’s healthy riparian habitat is highly attractive to migrating birds and other wildlife, and supplies 75 percent of the property’s necessary irrigation. Excavated material from the pond’s construction was retained onsite to help soften the abrupt landform. Leveraging the topographic relief, the view of the pond from the shallow infinity-edge dipping pool above successfully achieves the illusion of a much larger water feature.

Restoring Ecologies
The landscape reflects its high altitude environment with context-sensitive and sustainable strategies that re-establish indigenous plant communities and enhanced wildlife habitats. Together, with a significant reforestation of Ponderosa pine, over 67,000 square feet of previously disturbed landscape is restored into a native meadow. Naturalized groupings of spruce trees and woody shrubs, along with cattails, sedges and other aquatic plant materials are interspersed along the pond’s edge, cooling the water and creating fish habitat in the shadows of the overhanging vegetation. To increase dissolved oxygen in the pond and ensure a healthy aquatic environment, a water treatment system, including aeration, ozone and bacterial injection, was constructed.

Technical Challenges
The structural instability of the soils required that the landscape architect incorporate a highly technical and complex sub-surface structural system. Facing concerns identified in an initial geotechnical report that suggested the buildings were sitting on top of 12’ of imported fill dirt, the landscape architect installed a grid of structural micro-piles to provide the necessary foundation for the construction of terraces and site walls. This solution enabled the crisp detailing and design resolution of the architectural structures to seamlessly connect with the horizontal landscape.

“This project was not, ‘Hey, look at how much money I have.’ Instead, there was a much more human scale. The setting is already beautiful, and they worked with this. The hand sketches are a nice touch.”

- 2016 Awards Jury

PROJECT CREDITS

Design Workshop – Aspen, Colorado

  • Richard Shaw, FASLA – Principal-in-Charge, Lead Designer
  • Michael Albert, ASLA – Project Manager (Schematic Design – Construction Documentation)
  • Michael Tunte, ASLA – Project Manager (Construction Observation)

Architecture

  • Backen Gillam Kroeger Architects – St. Helena, California

Interior Design

  • Kerry Joyce Associates – Los Angeles, California

Structural Engineering

  • KL&A Structural Engineers – Basalt, Colorado

Civil Engineering

  • Sopris Engineering – Carbondale, Colorado

Mechanical Engineering

  • Beaudin Ganze – Avon, Colorado

Water Feature Specialist

  • Water Design, Inc. – Salt Lake City, Utah

Lighting Design

  • Eric Johnson Lighting – San Rafael, California

Pond Consultant

  • Aqua Sierra, Inc. – Morrison, Colorado

Irrigation Specialist

  • Hines Irrigation – Fort Collins, Colorado

Planner

  • Glenn Horn – Aspen, Colorado

Water Rights

  • Resource Engineering, Inc. – Glenwood Springs, Colorado

Owner’s Representative

  • Jim Turnipseed – Vail, Colorado

General Contractor

  • Hansen Construction – Aspen, Colorado

Landscape Contractor

  • Landscape Workshop, Inc. – Carbondale, Colorado

Masonry Contractor

  • JD Masonry – Avon, Colorado

Craftsman of Pool Boulders

  • Michael Boffy

PRODUCTS

Planting Zone 1 | Indigenous Ranch

  • Ponderosa Pine
  • Colorado Spruce
  • Quaking Aspen
  • Redtwig Dogwood
  • Bitterbrush
  • Wood’s Rose
  • Mountain Mahogany
  • Western Wheatgrass
  • Slender Wheatgrass
  • Bluebunch Wheatgrass
  • Green Needlegrass
  • Blue Grama
  • Indiana Ricegrass

Planting Zone 2 | Irrigation Ditch

  • Narrowleaf Cottonwood
  • Redtwig Dogwood
  • Western Wheatgrass
  • Slender Wheatgrass
  • Bluebunch Wheatgrass
  • Green Needlegrass
  • Blue Grama
  • Indiana Ricegrass

Planting Zone 3 | Pond

  • Colorado Spruce
  • Quaking Aspen
  • Redtwig Dogwood
  • Bebb’s Willow
  • Geyer’s Willow
  • Fowl Bluegrass
  • Tufted Hairgrass
  • Streambank Wheatgrass
  • Western Wheatgrass
  • Arctic/Baltic Rush

Planting Zone 4 | Domestic Garden

  • Quaking Aspen
  • Swedish Aspen
  • Rock Cotoneaster
  • Creeping Colorado Holly
  • Dwarf Mountain Ninebark
  • Shrubby Potentilla
  • Dwarf Fragrant Sumac
  • Thimbleberry
  • Froebel Spirea
  • Mountain Snowberry
  • Kinnikinnick
  • Variegated Bishop’s Weed
  • Sweet William
  • Purple Coneflower
  • Royal Hosta
  • Blue Oat Grass
  • Red Coral Bells
  • Johnson’s Blue Geranium
  • Black-Eyed Susan
  • ‘Blue Queen’ Salvia
  • Kentucky Bluegrass
  • Native Tall Fescue