The 40-acre site on the northwestern edge of Aspen is home to the modernist Bauhaus buildings of The Aspen Institute. In 1994, we devoted a story, called “A Landmark Rescued” by Mildred F. Scmertz, to the renovation and rebirth of a one-of-a-kind place.
Excerpted from Midsummer 1994. An often-overlooked architectural gem, the Meadows campus is an icon of the most important architectural movement of this century, the Bauhaus-inspired international style. A renovation designed by the San Francisco-based firm of Backen Arrigoni & Ross rescued the buildings from the state of disrepair they fell into during the 1970s and 1980s.
The renovation deserved praise not only because it preserved the spirit of the Bauhaus, but also because it jolted our awareness of this important modernism and Aspen landmark. The great value of landmarks is that they bring people in touch with the past, and Aspen’s modernist past is as important as its Victorian, mining camp and ranching eras.
The campus, located on the crest of a bluff overlooking the confluence of the Roaring Fork River and Castle Creek, is a landscape of gently rolling meadows interrupted by clusters of spruce and full-grown aspen. It includes Anderson Park, a serene, evocative setting completed in 1974 by Herbert Bayer, who called it “a spiritual world alongside nature.” His most original contribution to the Aspen Meadows, it reveals his immense talent as a sculptor of landscape. The park lies between the seminar facilities, the Benedict Music Tent and the Harris Concert Hall cluster to the east, and the collection of residential, health and reception buildings to the west. A meandering path winds through the soft, low, grass-covered Earth mounds and bridges over narrow channels of flowing water that link together a series of small, irregularly shaped ponds.
Bayer’s first Earth sculpture at Aspen Meadows, complete in 1955, predated Anderson Park by almost 20 years. Some 40 feet in diameter and centered in the residential complex, the sculpture made from soil, grass and rock was created at least 10 years before any other artists began to do earthworks. Still intact and well-maintained, it consists of a low, grassy ridge surrounding a circular lawn in which Bayer carefully juxtaposed a little mound of Earth, the shallow hole from whence the Earth came, and a small, erect stone. Bayer never suggested that his Earth sculptures might have mythic meanings; he simply hoped that the mounds might inspire meditation and give visual pleasure. Unlike later vast earthworks devised for aesthetic contemplation from low-flying planes, Bayer intended his sculptures to be enjoyed on foot, as a man-made, human-scaled response to the majestic silhouettes of the surrounding Rockies. Reportedly, Elizabeth Paepcke once said, with a smile, that she called these mammary mounds “Joella’s breasts” after Bayer’s wife.