As an architect in Boulder, people often ask me “why are new buildings in Boulder are so ugly?” For the most part I agree and the reasons are a direct response to the culture of Boulder.
The citizens and government of Boulder are more concerned with what should not be done rather than envisioning what should be done. Beauty in architecture is not discussed when evaluating projects. This was evident at a recent Planning Board discussion regarding building height when Leonard May stated, “It’s height for the sake of height. It doesn’t give density. It doesn’t give affordability.” Adding building height costs money — it is never proposed without a reason.
Boulder’s 35-foot height limit is an arbitrary number that has resulted in scores of ugly buildings. It is important to note that in the city, height is measured from the lowest point, 20 feet away from the building. Since most sites are sloped, the actual building height allowed is less than 35 feet. When the city posts that a building seeking approval is 35 feet tall, it could in fact, be only 30 feet tall. This gives a false representation to the public.
Beautiful, old buildings had design elements that new buildings are lacking due to these height restrictions. Historically, buildings were constructed a few feet above the street, giving them presence. There were additional steps to the front door creating a process of arrival. The tall floor-to-floor heights gave a sense of space and beauty. The buildings had significant roofs or parapets to provide them with stature.
If you look at new buildings in Boulder you will notice these elements are lacking. The buildings look lackluster and uninspired. As one architect to another, I can assure Leonard May that nobody proposes “height for the sake of height.”