Riverbend

Summary

On the banks of the Roaring Fork River, the landscape architecture of Riverbend sets a tone appropriate for its extraordinary natural setting. Using the surrounding environment as the impetus for design, the landscape architect’s sensitive site planning reflects a deference to the nuances of seasonal change and the whims of its riverside environment. A healthy montane forest ecosystem teems with a rich palette of native grasses, forbs, and wildflowers, setting the stage for an environmentally sensitive design, one that proffers both a sense of adventure and peace to the owners and their guests.

A collaborative effort combining the creative talents of the landscape architect and architect, Riverbend presents a refreshing vision of holistic mountain design, one that draws inspiration from its setting by dissolving the barrier between interior and exterior. Exemplifying a silent, yet compelling design hand, outdoor living spaces merge almost imperceptibly with forest and meadow, imbuing the home with a sense of peace, permanence, and resilience.

Narrative

Context

The property rests within the Roaring Fork Valley of Western Colorado, a bucolic landscape valued for its scenic and recreational resources. Located within an established golf course community, the two-acre property includes over 500 linear feet of river frontage, standing as one of few that possess direct river access. Here, the land gently rises from the shallow cobble shoreline to a broad meadow resting mere feet above the Roaring Fork River. Constrained on two sides by steep slopes that rise to the next topographic shelf, the property conveys a sense of privacy and shelter from its larger neighborhood.

As one of the last remaining parcels to be developed, the natural state of the land led many within the community to assume it had been planned as communal open space. For other residents who reside on the adjacent topographic bench and look over this property, these owners express heightened concerns as any development future rests within their view planes. Recognizing and listening to these concerns, a thoughtful planning exercise realized an approach appropriate for the property’s riverside setting, considerate of views from both within the community, but recreationalists along the river.

Clients and Vision

After decades of building dream homes for his clients, the husband – a local general contractor – and wife decided it was time to build for themselves. The husband’s career had exposed the couple to the philosophies, approaches, and works of many designers. Drawn to homes and landscapes that emphasize and connect with the traditional vernacular, natural materials, and native ecologies of the region, the couple turned to an architect and landscape architect who possessed a lineage of successful collaboratons, and for whom they admired for their ability to craft thoughtful, yet unassuming homes that celebrate the natural setting.

Non-Traditional Design Process

To understand the nuances of the setting, the genesis of design was not derived within the walls of an office, but rather from multiple trips to the site. Over the course of many seasons and during different times of the day, the design team and client set up make-shift workspaces under the sublime context of dappled cottonwood shade, cooling winds and the sound of rushing water. This elemental, hands-on approach not only allowed the team to connect physically and emotionally with the land, but the time spent on property revealed several items – including prevailing breezes, light and shadow, and the relationship between water and terrain – that would not have been fully understood otherwise.

Site Planning

The design considered the home’s presence from not only within the property, but from the purview of recreationalists on the river. Organized parallel to the water, the home is an ensemble of one-story, stone and wood pavilions, designed in traditional agricultural vernacular. Each pavilion maximizes the home’s ability to open both physically and visually to the landscape, whereas connecting glass breezeways add porosity from various vantage points, allowing the home to “breath.” In lieu of most riverfront homes that artificially lift the grade to capture more views of the water, the design sought the opposite, setting the home’s finished floor grade just inches above the floodplain datum. The effect heightens the relationship between home and landscape – a result that exemplifies designing “with the land” instead of “on the land.”

Challenging Norms

The design notably challenged the norms and expectations of the neighborhood’s established design guidelines and previously built homes. The vision of the owners for the landscape was clear and distinct – expansive lawns, asphalt drives, and ornate, curvilinear garden beds that defined most properties within the community – had no place on this special piece of land. Instead, the design process examined a more casual “less is more” approach that emphasized the native ecologies of the river. Timeless materials of the past – native stone terraces, dry-stacked stone walls, tallgrass meadows, and two-track gravel drives, – became the foundational tools for intervention, enabling the residence to rest in harmony with its bucolic setting.

Site Design

The entry drive – a simple two-track drive – runs tight against the toe of a forested slope, inviting the visitor to feel embraced by the site’s adjacent topography to the right, with unimpeded views across a broad meadow to the left. Here, an artful collection of low stone walls rises and falls above the heads of native grasses, appearing as relics in the landscape. Upon reaching a specimen willow tree, the drive turns to center itself upon the architecture, breaking through a wall and into a hand-laid cobblestone court. Organized plantings of aspen and maple trees frame views, create rhythm against architectural facades, and offer shade throughout the garden. Working in close collaboration with the architect, the landscape architect crafted an entry experience that offers glimpses of the river, but deliberately withholds primary views until within the home.

The design seeks opportunities to enjoy the view of the river and listen to the sounds of nature. Off the family room, a covered porch includes an intimate outdoor living space, anchored by a stone fireplace and swinging daybed. Textural firebrick, laid in a herringbone fashion, celebrates timeless materials and craft. Harkening to the development patterns of historic farms within the valley, the planting design assumes an organized formality around the home through windbreak patterns. Beyond the immediate perimeter, tree plantings loosen to create more naturalistic transitions and restored meadows transition into undisturbed lands, blurring the boundary between intervention and conservation.

Significance

Drought conditions emphasize the need for landscape architects to lead the effort in embracing resilient residential landscapes that address water conservation in the region’s shifting climate conditions. As one of few undeveloped parcels in its neighborhood, the project could have assumed the anonymity of many of its neighbors, turning its back on natural systems in favor of a conventional bluegrass lawn. Instead, the design celebrates the natural splendor of the land as well as indoor-outdoor mountain living.

Riverbend serves as a sustainable case model for water conservation in western communities. The restored native meadow – including western, bunchgrass, and bluebunch wheatgrass, blue grama and Indian ricegrass – provides a vegetative buffer before runoff enters the water. Requiring 40% less irrigation than traditional bluegrass, these meadows are designed to be self-sufficient, once established. As our profession looks to the future, it is critical that a message of conservation and stewardship of our shared resources permeate the general public’s perception of the idealized landscape.

Plant List

  • Aspen
  • Red Maple
  • Colorado Blue Spruce
  • Native Grass

Documents and Media

Planning Docs (if applicable):