Modern History: The Story of Casper Hegner • July 1st, 2014

The Story of Casper Hegner

In an era when much of the architecture we see is driven by the image, presented here is an artifact of originality in Denver. This is the story of Denver’s first modern house. Casper Hegner (1909-1991) is a hero of the modern era in Denver and his story is at once cautionary and revelatory.

 

Act 1

“One cannot remember the future.” John Hejduk, after reading Metamorphosis

Imagine: You are a recent architectural school graduate ready to make your mark in the city you have chosen to put down your roots.

“The site is a hill top, located at the intersection of two main avenues. The traffic, combined with the building restrictions, dictated the placing of the house far back on the lot. Brick and timber were selected as the cheapest most suitable local materials, the plan developed naturally from the site requirements and the budget; the largest and fewest rooms possible were designed to reduce both upkeep and housekeeping.

Our family is small and will require at most one servant, but provision is made for adding an additional bedroom and bath over the garage. We felt the plan should be kept long and narrow to ensure cross ventilation and maximum sunlight. The best exposure is southeast and corner windows were a natural result. Because of traffic dangers, as much ground area as possible was preserved by the erection of a retaining wall, thus eliminating useless slopes. More privacy and safety were secured by a deck on the second floor. It commands a view of the Rockies, and because of the desirability as an outdoor living room in this dry climate, the deck was made accessible to the hall, no private rooms being a thoroughfare to it. “ Casper Hegner, Architectural Record, April 1937

The house is simple in plan with elongated rooms filled with light. The structural framing allows light to flood in through corner ribbon windows. Simple rectilinear masses of natural stucco were set on a red brick base. There is some speculation that Hegner’s western roots and awareness of Frank Lloyd Wright led to the use of natural materials evolving from the site.

Relationship to site is an inversion of the typical image-oriented landscape of the day. The site perimeter is bounded by a landscape retaining wall leveling the site for use by the house. As a child, Hegner’s son remembers how large their yard seemed in contrast with their friend’s yards. (They did have to keep away from the formidable edge and five-foot drop to the sidewalk.) This simple device gives the house a sense of grandeur and aloofness. The wall as perimeter, as an architectural device, gives strength at the sidewalk edge.

One is drawn, via a slot in the wall, up flights of stairs, turning at right angles and back again to center on the sculpted forms of the house. There is a clear sense of procession. The landscape rather than being tucked up close to the house to frame or soften the architecture is rather at the perimeter of the site atop the wall. With the mature landscape the house feels miles away from the adjacent busy street. As one ascends to the entry there is a distinct sense of retreat from the everyday world.

The sculpted recess of the entry porch receives visitors into a small entry hall with direct connection to the living room. The living room is a pleasantly-scaled generous volume exuding purity and simplicity of line.  The light coming through the ribbon windows at the corner provides contrast to the strong form of the room.  Dappled light and view into the now mature landscaping give an illusion of being in an aerie at the top of the trees.

The current owners have renovated the interiors and found traces of the original green paint in the living room. The suspicion is that Hegner may have been attempting to subdue the strong Colorado sunlight prior to the shade of mature landscaping. Flush-mounted glass plate ceiling light fixtures are found through out the house and were made by the architect in his garage. Rough sheet metal boxes were lined with eight to ten, 25-watt bulbs. The etched glass cover plates were mounted directly to the ceiling. Hegner wanted no projecting impurities within the rectilinear volumes of the house.

This house is without doubt a modernist castle-on-the-hill, abutments and all, including one of the very first electronic drawbridges. The residence looks large at only 2800 square feet and this was clearly the architect’s intent. The house as originally designed had two bedrooms. In the early 40’s Hegner added another two rooms to the north to accommodate his growing family of three sons.

The architectural issues of transparency and light, anchoring in the land, simplicity of form, and use of industrial product windows are hallmarks of the residence.  It is ordered by visual image and procession, with a bit of posturing. As the current owner suggests: “Casper Hegner’s ego is hovering about somewhere…” This is the work of a 26-year-old architect setting out to claim the high ground in pursuit of becoming THE avant garde architect in Denver.

 

Act 2

Accolades

The residence of Casper Hegner built in 1935 is as avant garde as anything one can find of that year. The Hegner Residence was published in Architectural Forum in April 1937. It was one of only five modernist residences presented out of more than 50 houses in that issue. The other modern houses in the article are by such architects as Richard Neutra and R.M. Schindler.

Current architectural theorists ask once again for: “A re-conception of architecture as a moral undertaking based on the problems of the day…unsullied by nostalgia and traditional form falsely re-enlivened through picturesqueness debilitated by longing.” Stanley Tigerman

The Hegner House was well on the way toward this goal almost 80 years ago.

The house generated a good deal of controversy in its day. Many of the leaders of the Modern Movement visited the house while in Denver. Sigfried Giedion, author of the seminal work Space, Time and Architecture, visited and thought that it should be painted all white. When Hegner completed an addition to the house in the 1950’s he would accede to this idea, perhaps out of a sense of artistic insecurity regarding the appropriateness of the distinctive brick base-form. Having trained as a Modernist at Princeton, Hegner would clearly have wanted the house to be in the International Style of the era.

Alvar Aalto, the renowned Finnish architect, toured the house as well.  More traditional Denver architects who visited the house were aghast. In an interview with Michael Paglia Hegner admitted that when Jaques Benedict toured the house he feigned collapse on the stair and quoted him as saying: “ How could you?”  Whether this was due to the minimalist chrome detailing or the lack of a landing is not known.

Lay people of the day were somewhat puzzled by this brash building. Contemporaries of Hegner insist that the house was “a subject of great merriment” for the general public. University Boulevard running east of the property was, in 1935, a simple two-lane road. There was not much else there; horse pastures to the east and only 4-5 houses around at the beginning of the neighborhood. People would drive by and try to imagine “What was that man thinking?”

The nearby neighborhood is now going through the scrape-off / pop-top syndrome typical of many Denver neighborhoods. The house was in jeopardy of being irretrievably altered or destroyed just a few short years ago. It is still regarded with skepticism by those who do not appreciate this particular aesthetic.

 

Act 3

“It is the Acropolis that made a rebel of me. One clear image will stand in my mind forever: The Parthenon. Stark, stripped, economical, violent; a clamorous outcry against a landscape of grace and terror. All strength and purity.” Le Corbusier, Fourth meeting of the CIAM, 1933

Hegner was a structural authoritarian and a functionalist. He studied architecture at Princeton with Jean Labatut from 1926-1930. Labatut was one of a handful of ivy league professors who took up the torch of modernism educating the next generation. Hegner was later a friend of Eero Saarinen while at Yale sharing numerous discussions on theory and issues facing architecture of the era.

Influences also include study at the Ecoles des Beaux Arts, Fontainebleau in 1930. Hegner was likely to have seen Gropius’ Werkbund Exhibit and visited many modernist icons during his Grand Tour. The Paris Exhibit of the Bauhaus work was on display while he was at the Ecole. Gropius’ semi-detached faculty quarters at the Bauhaus Dessau were completed in 1925, Le Corbusier’s Villa La Roche Paris in 1925, and Villa Savoye under construction from 1929-31. No information is available about how Hegner spent his time that summer. The ideas planted by Labatut and a student of modern architecture would have been drawn to the modernist icons.

Modernism in Europe was a reaction to class order and structure after World War 1. It was an antidote to formal style and tradition. Europe was a continent attempting to lose its past.

“The Bauhaus was not an institution with a clear program – it was an idea, and Gropius formulated this idea with great precision. He said: Art and technology – the new unity.“ Mies van der Rohe, 1953

“The fact that it was an idea, I think, is the cause of the enormous influence the Bauhaus had on any progressive school around the globe. You cannot do that with organization, you cannot do that with propaganda. Only an idea spreads so far.” Sigfried Gideon

By contrast America had open spaces waiting to be filled with middle class dreams. A sentimental desire for a cozy craftsman bungalow was as adventurous as one could expect in the outlands of that era. We were a country trying to invent a past. American dreams were unable to embrace the idea of living in a laboratory; we did not want our houses mistaken for dental clinics. Hollywood may have had us yearning for the Art Moderne house of Carol Lombard and Clark Gable. (Frank Sinatra’s modern Palm Springs house was still decades away.) We wondered: “How can I play a love scene next to a fireplace that looks like an autoclave?” The International Style contained images too stark and cold to be accepted wholeheartedly by a country invested in inventing itself.

The Hegner Residence seems driven by different aspirations than the production/manufactured-based housing of Europe. His house is grounded, anchored in its western setting. In contrast to that, the ribbon of window corner opens up the volume providing lightness and airiness. Decidedly these windows were not a characteristic of Denver’s typical post-Victorian architecture.

The Bauhaus “attempted to bridge the gulf between the world of spirit and the world of the everyday.”

Hegner was a person driven by idea and the quest for spirit in the everyday.

To have transplanted the ideas of the modern movement to Denver in 1935 took a great deal of courage.

 

A great epoch has begun.

There exists a new spirit.

There exists a mass of work conceived in the new spirit; it is to be met with particularly in industrial production.

Architecture is stifled by custom.

The “styles” are a lie.

Style is a unity of principle animating all the work of an epoch, the result of state of mind which has it’s own special character.

Our own epoch is determining, day by day, its own style!

Our eyes, unhappily, are unable to discern it.

Le Corbusier in Towards a New Architecture,1931

 

Act 4

Every Man for Himself and God Against All (with thanks to our friend Werner Herzog)

It’s interesting that Hegner began to abandon the purity of the modern as he got further into his career. Part of the reason, as described by his son, was that he was “just trying to sell some houses.” During this period he served as Chair of the Planning and Zoning Commission and as President of the Colorado AIA. In 1955 President Lyndon Johnson appointed him as National Commissioner of Public Buildings for the General Services Administration.

Ultimately, having a modernist architectural office in a city that did not have the clientele to support such an enterprise lead to financial pressures. Denver’s desire to be more national and international lead to projects being awarded to firms having national prominence. As with many artful endeavors, “the genius is not necessarily appreciated in his home town.” His service in the Marines during World War 2 and later the Korean War lead Hegner late in his career to be appointed Chief of Design for the Veterans Administration in Washington, D.C. completing hospitals and care facilities across the country.

“The engineer and the architect have to work with other people’s money. They must consider their clients and, like politicians, cannot be too far ahead of the moment.”

Frederick Etchells, Introduction to Towards a New  Architecture, 1931

Hegner’s son admitted to me that his father’s decision to leave Denver was a “great sacrifice.” It is true to this man’s character that he should want his three sons to have the same start in life his father had given him. He put all of his sons through Princeton. It’s a cautionary tale that he was unable to provide for his family in the way he wanted as a modern architect in Denver.

 

Epilogue

Hegner’s iconic house stirs memories for me. The peculiar relationship between visual memory and primal modern forms has me recalling a modern house in my childhood neighborhood. The strong clean lines, raw aluminum, porthole windows and the certain aloofness are clear to me even now. Many have shared similar memories. Perhaps these minimalist forms call up vivid memories out of the visual cortex.  This should not surprise: great orators used memory palaces to keep thoughts ordered prior to the invention of written language. Recent research has discovered that memory is intimately tied with our awareness of space.

“Nothing truly innovative, nothing that has advanced art, business, design, or humanity, was ever created in the face of genuine certainty or perfect information. Because the only way to be certain before you begin is if the thing you seek to do has already been done.” Jonathan Fields

We get one chance to make artifacts for the future.

Good work should be honored and respected.

It is our good fortune that the owners of this house elected to restore it.

As an owner, builder or designer don’t we all want this of the projects we build?

One hundred years from today someone may say:

“Let’s save that old building from 2014, it has good bones.”

“If there weren’t so much style, maybe there would be time for more content.”

Tibor Kalman and Karrie Jacobs, The Edge of the Millennium, 1993

 

For the Arch11 Blog

Summer Solstice 2014

Kimble Hobbs

 

Thank you to:

Michael Paglia, Art and Architecture Critic

John Woodward MD, “Defender of Modernism”

Don D. Etter, Denver Going Modern, 1977

Robert Alan Bowlby, Preservation Architect

Bill Bessesen, Landscape Architect

The Amys

 

Aerial Photographers • May 22nd, 2014

The practice of architecture requires understanding of the landscape and the region that the work belongs to.  Sun angles, prevailing winds, site access, views, and terrain are among the factors to be pieced together to truly understand the project and how it fits in the surroundings.  Satellite images, surveys, and “plan views” can often give an anesthetic yet pragmatic understanding of the site.  These photographers give us a new way of seeing, understanding, and appreciating those “plan views”.

Kacper Kowalski was a practicing architect in Poland before he took up to flying and photographing full time.  His images show us the astounding colors of the Polish landscape in fall , along with the “toxic beauty” (as he calls it) of industrial landscapes.

Bernhard Lang is a German photographer based out of Munich whose images also oscillate between the natural and manmade landscapes.  The rigidity of containers, cranes and ships at port are balanced with the childlike colors of the objects and the playfulness that the lack of scale provides.

The images of the landscape blanketed in white force one to reorient and appreciate the shapes and subtlety of a monochromatic landscape where shadows and the incursion of man become the focus of the photos.

Whether a natural landscape or the scar of human actuality, these photographs remind us that there are always new ways to see and approach the world around us.

- Hans Osheim

Architecture and Fragrance • March 24th, 2014


What would Mies van Der Rohe’s Farnsworth House smell like? How about Corbusier’s Villa Savoye?

If the work of Architects Bjarke Ingels or Richard Meier were a fragrance what would they smell like?

A recent exhibition at the California College of the Arts in San Francisco entitled “An Olfactory Archive: 1738-1969” explored these questions.

The exhibit brought together several Architects, Historians and Perfumers to “recreate” smells specific to particular eras and buildings in history. One of the most intriguing was by a New York Architect Jorge Otero-Pailos who created an “Olfactory Reproduction of the Phillip Johnson House.” Otero-Pailos created three scents which encapsulated an olfactory history of the house from its initial completion in 1949 smelling of new leather, wood lacquer, cement and fresh plaster to the late 1960’s when its porous ceiling had become impregnated with the smell of cigarettes, tobacco aged leather and burnt logs.

It’s a powerful idea that we can recreate a space through scent… or that the scent provides us with some missing dimension of experience that a photograph could never reproduce. Scent is one of the essential experiential senses and one that is not overtly designed for Architectural space.

Can you remember the smell of your first primary school… your grandparents’ house? What does the work of Arch11 smell like? How should it smell?

- Jeremy Ehly

Arch11 Receives AIA and Builder’s Choice Awards • December 16th, 2013

Denver, Colorado – November 20, 2013 –Boulder/Denver architecture firm Arch11 has won a pair of 2013 awards from the Denver chapter of AIA Colorado. Arch11 received a Merit Award for its 6th Street Residence in Boulder and a Citation Award for its 303 Canyon project in a recent awards ceremony at the History Colorado Center. Additional honors for the 303 Canyon project – a low-maintenance, energy-efficient townhome design that makes the most of space and views on a 9,800-square-foot Boulder lot – include a 2013 Citation Award from the AIA Colorado North Chapter and a 2013 Builder’s Choice Award from Custom Home and Builder magazines.

“We are grateful for the multiple honors from AIA Colorado Denver and AIA Colorado North, as well as the Builder’s Choice Awards, especially for the attention to 303 Canyon, which works with Boulder zoning, low-maintenance materials and green-build efforts to provide a successful and comfortable home for its multi-family residents,” says Arch11 Principal E.J. Meade. “We also want to congratulate our team member Ken Andrews for once more receiving special AIA recognition for his commitment to educating the next generation of architects.”

Ken Andrews, an Arch11 principal, received the prestigious 2013 Mentor of the Year Award, also at the AIA Colorado North Design Awards ceremony, which was held at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art in November. The Mentor of the Year award recognizes an architect’s “exceptional efforts to promote the professional growth of emerging design professionals.” Andrews is an instructor in the College of Architecture and Planning at the University of Colorado and was nominated for the award by the award jury, his students and Arch11 colleagues. In 2011, Andrews received the Young Architect of the Year award from AIA Western Mountain Region.

Arch11’s 303 Canyon townhomes, dubbed “Tres Casitas,” received the highly prized 2013 Builder’s Choice “Grand” award from Hanley Woods’ Custom Home and Builder magazines. The townhome project, a design/build collaboration between Arch11 and Boulder construction firm Hammerwell Inc., was a demonstration in artfully maximizing a diminutive site. Three townhomes gracefully occupy land formerly zoned for light industrial use near downtown Boulder. The Builder’s Choice jury praised the project for its “super-dramatic interiors,” open corners, and indoor-outdoor flow. The 2013 Builder’s Choice award winners are showcased in Builder Magazine’s October issue and the story runs online with slideshows of the winning projects.

Arch11 Semester Internship Program • November 20th, 2013

Award winning firm with offices in Boulder and Denver, CO seeks highly motivated intern(s) to join our firm for the semester. Arch11 is a small practice with offices in Denver and Boulder that values collaboration and the ability to realize a strong idea. The studio seeks provocative, innovative solutions to a wide range of scales and building types.

We are looking for exceptional candidate(s) with strong design skills who are well organized, detail-oriented, and relentlessly critical. Applicants must possess articulate technical, graphic and oral communication skills, be self-motivated and play well with others. The office size demands that candidates must be as enthusiastic about the small everyday tasks as they would be about the more nuanced and challenging design duties that they will be assigned. The position is paid and 18-24 hours per week. Fluency in Revit, Adobe Creative Suite and Rhino with rendering skills are required, capability to build flawless models a plus.

Interns accepted into our program will be exposed to the workings of the office, engaged in a wide array of activities that support the operation of the firm ranging from new business development, design, construction documentation, construction administration and office administration as needed throughout the semester. It is highly preferable that interns be capable of working in either the Boulder or Denver office as required based on projects and work load of the firm. It is expected that intern(s) share their academic work and engage in a dialogue within office. Interns that are still enrolled in the university will have regular access to the three principals of the firm and staff for critique of their academic work and at least twice during the semester an office pinup of work for Arch11 studio review will be coordinated.

Application requirements for this internship program are a PDF organized as follows:
• Articulate, one page introduction letter addressing why you want to intern with Arch11 and how you see the experience benefiting you,
• Concise, well-organized resume,
• Portfolio of clear images showing evidence of production, design and graphic skills. Images should be annotated to accurately describe your role in the projects shown,
• Three letters of recommendation. (1) of personal reference, (1) of academic reference, and (1) of professional reference. If a professional reference is unavailable, then (2) academic references may be used in lieu.

Application deadline is January 3, 2014 and shortlisted applicants will be notified for interviews by January 10, 2014 with the position starting on January 20, 2014 and going through the end of May 2014.

Submit completed applications to internship@arch11.com no later than 6:00 PM on January 3, 2014.

Download the pdf

Arch11 is Seeking Applicants for a Summer Intern Position • April 1st, 2013

Arch11 is currently accepting applications for a summer intern position. Candidates should be students or recent graduates in a professional architecture program (B.Arch or M.Arch). We are seeking a highly motivated individual at the top of their program. Candidates should have exceptional graphic, communication and modeling skills with fluency in Rhino, Revit and Adobe suite. This paid position runs from June 1 through Sept 1. Please send a resume and pdf portfolio or web link to info@arch11.com

2290 Wins AIA Colorado Citation Award • November 27th, 2012

November 8, 2012 – Arch11 received a Citation Award in the Built Architecture Category from the American Institute of Archiects Colorado for its “2290” Boulder residential project.

The awards were presented at the AIA Colorado 2012 Design Awards Gala, on Saturday, November 3, as part of the AIA Colorado Design Conference in Keystone, Colo. A panel of jurors was chaired by J. Windom Kimsey, FAIA, in selecting the top Colorado projects for honors. “We were drawn immediately to the bold exterior,” the jury wrote of Arch11’s 2290 residence. “It sits lurking in the landscape, dark walls and clean lines merging into the shadows.”

The 2,000-square-foot 2290 house was built by a Boulder couple as a guesthouse to accommodate both of their mothers as they age. Sited in a park-like setting next to the main home, 2290 includes a central public living space book ended by two master suites, and incorporates age-in-place features like curbless showers and modularized cabinetry to allow wheelchair access while suggesting nothing more to the eye than clean modern design.

“We are honored to receive this design recognition from our AIA peers, especially for the 2290 project, which combines great efficiency and age-in-place features,” says Meade. “No home we’ve ever done has gotten as many comments as this one. We’re getting queries from that leading edge of baby boomers telling us they want to downsize into a home like this one – compact enough that every square inch was thought through and that will be accessible as they age, even if they need care later in life.”

Arch11 Honored by AIA Colorado North • September 12th, 2012

Arch11 received five out of eight awards given by the American Institute of Architects Colorado North Chapter recognizing 2012 Achievements in Architecture. The awards, for projects ranging from entire designs of residences to a commercial interior to a single residential sink, were given as follows:
• Honor Award for Residential: Large – Project: 2290
• Honor Award for Residential: Large – Project: Dihedral House
• Citation Award for Interiors – Project: Ignite!
• Citation Award for Residential: Large – Project: Lake House
• Citation Award for Single Architectural Detail – Project: Syncline House Sink

The awards were presented at the 2012 Design Awards Gala, September 7 at the Dairy Center for the Arts in Boulder. Honor awards represent the highest achievement followed by merit and then citation awards. A total of eight architectural design awards were selected from among 30 entries submitted by members of AIA Colorado North. The jury was chaired by Stephen Dynia, AIA, of Stephen Dynia Architects (Jackson Hole, Wyo.).

With nearly 300 state and local chapters, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) has been the leading professional membership association for licensed architects, emerging professionals and allied partners since 1857. The AIA Colorado North Chapter is one of four chapters within the AIA Colorado Component and represents members from nine counties in northeastern Colorado, including Boulder, Larimer, Weld, Morgan, Logan, Washington, Yuma, Phillips and Sedgwick.

Other recent awards bestowed to Arch11 include 2009 Firm of the Year Award from the Colorado AIA and four 2011 Builder’s Magazine Watermark Awards, including Project of the Year. Arch 11’s Ken Andrews also was named 2011 Young Architect of the Year by both the AIA Colorado Chapter and AIA Western Mountain Region.

John Clarey Joins Arch11 as Project Architect • February 23rd, 2012

Colorado architecture firm expands Boulder office

John Clarey has joined Arch11 as a project architect in its Boulder office, announced Arch11 Principal E.J. Meade. Clarey has worked in custom residential architecture at small distinguished firms in Boulder since 2004, acquiring a diverse set of architectural skills. A native of the Twin Cities, Clarey is a graduate of the University of Minnesota’s College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture.

“John is a good fit for Arch11,” says Meade. “He excels at managing complex projects with a high level of detail.”

Founded in 1993, Arch11 has gained recognition for projects ranging from exceptional residences to institutional planning, mixed-use development and product design. Recent awards include 2009 Firm of the Year Award from the Colorado AIA and four 2011 Builder’s Magazine Watermark Awards, including Project of the Year. Arch 11’s Ken Andrews also was named 2011 Young Architect of the Year by Colorado AIA.

With offices in Boulder and Denver, Colo., Arch11 has 30 combined years of green building technology leadership. The staff’s unusual level of hands-on experience ranges from boat building to furniture making, contributing to its reputation for commitment to craft, detailing and design integrity. For additional information visit www.arch11.com.

Ken Andrews Receives WMR AIA Young Architect Award • October 18th, 2011

Ken Andrews, partner and architect at Arch 11 and instructor at the University of Colorado’s College of Architecture received the AIA Western Mountain Region (WMR) Young Architect Award at a ceremony in Las Vegas.

“We are impressed with quality of design work for someone near the beginning of their career,” says Randy Levine, AIA, WMR Executive Director. “Ken’s ability to engage and create a chemistry with his students is very evident. And even better, he is practicing the same techniques he is educating. Students cheer for him.  Clients thank him.  Contractors respect him.”

The WMR Young Architect Award recognizes those individuals, who, at an early stage of their architectural career, have shown exceptional leadership in design, education and service to the profession.

Andrews came to architecture with a decade of experience in the construction industry, working extensively in residential and commercial markets as a carpenter and project manager. Upon completion of his Bachelor of Environmental Design at the University of Colorado he received his Master of Architecture from Rice University in Houston, Texas. His graduate research focused on developing innovative building systems and project delivery methods.  At Rice, he had the opportunity to work as a project designer with Interloop Architecture, whose projects include the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas Texas, for several years before returning to Colorado.

Ken Andrews is a registered architect in the State of Colorado, a certificate holder with the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards and an active member of the American Institute of Architects.

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