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Harry Teague: People are as important as the buildings
Local architect has had big influence on RFV’s built environment
Harry Teague
Architect Harry Teague stands before the Roaring Fork Conservancy building he designed in downtown Basalt. - photo by Jordan Curet

“Understanding the way that humans interact has always been important to me in my work, and we use architecture to encourage this kind of humanism,” says Harry Teague, one of Colorado's most influential architect designers, in his Basalt office.

You could say that architecture is in Harry’s blood. Both his grandfather and his father were noted industrial designers. His grandfather designed Art Deco cameras for Kodak in the 1920s and 1930s and served on the design board of the 1939 New York World’s Fair, while his father designed cars. He and Harry restored a Type 37 Grand Prix Bugatti in the northern New Jersey family garage. 

A ski racer at Dartmouth College, Teague was very familiar with Aspen and its mountains when he graduated. A friend suggested that he move to Aspen in the early seventies and work for Herbert Bayer, but Bayer didn’t have any work at the time so he ended up working for Fritz Benedict.

“Fritz was a Frank Lloyd Wright disciple,” Teague explains, “and the lesson Fritz got from Wright was that architecture should be responsive to the climate in our valley and the place. He was absolutely wonderful at siting a building into the natural topography and vegetation.”

In his 40-plus years as an architectural designer, Teague has guided the creation of award-winning residential and public buildings in the Roaring Fork Valley and around the country. After a brief stint working with Benedict, Teague returned to the East coast and Yale University, before coming back to Aspen to design the Aspen Community School, which became his Master's thesis at Yale. 

Other local buildings include the Bucksbaum Campus, the home of the Aspen Music School and Country Day; the Bayer-Benedict Music Tent; the new community building in Snowmass Base Village; the Aspen Center for Physics; and the new Roaring Fork Conservancy building along Two Rivers Road in Basalt.

From the beginning, Teague has held firm to a belief that the way something is designed can truly nurture people and help them thrive.

With regards to the Aspen Community School, Teague was creating a building for a new kind of educational facility so he and his clients studied the ways young children perceive architecture and the perception of space. In the end, they created a great central area with classrooms that opened into that space. This fostered the idea of older kids interacting with younger kids and helping them grow.

Bringing people together in the buildings he has designed also creates a catalyst for a community building, something he believes the Mid-Valley and Basalt sorely lack.

Teague cites the old Clark’s Market space as a location for creating such a catalyst in Basalt.

“That site has immense potential to be a catalyst in downtown Basalt,” Teague says. “It’s a hugely under-utilized resource. It could be all sorts of things that really augment the community. Let’s all look at the different possibilities and figure out how we can make them work.”

The much-debated park area along the river next to Rocky Mountain Institute is another location that Teague feels could be a catalyst, as he points out how a hotel like the small, uniquely designed Surf Hotel in Buena Vista could enhance downtown Basalt’s vitality.

Teague and the Roaring Fork Conservancy thought about the design for 17 years before the funding for the new building was available, and the time came to break ground. 

What went into the design of that building?

“It does a lot of things,” Teague explains. “It needed to be interactive with the river, and the shape of the building is to protect the pond from the edge of the road. It has that arm that comes out that will have plants from the building out to the gazebo. We’ll have vines all over one of the walls when they mature.

“As you enter town on Two Rivers Road, that’s the first building of Basalt, so intentionally the building starts low and ramps up,” he continues. “It has to be intriguing enough to lure people in, so it has a big storefront window for the lobby. The idea of the building takes its concept from water currents. You’re walking down the sidewalk, then the current sucks you in, and you eddy out into the building.”

The Roaring Fork Conservancy building houses its administrative offices on the upper floors, while downstairs there is a lab for water and biologic testing and a classroom where children can observe the nonprofit’s river and water work. Eventually, the building will house exhibits tied to the Roaring Fork Conservancy’s work with water and the river outside its doors. Right now, it functions as a nature interpretive center where people can find places to fish and hike.

Creating architecture that can work in a social context, as well as a physical context, has made Harry Teague well known internationally and secured his place in the American Institute of Architects’ Hall of Fame.