Get to Know: Charles Cunniffe

On the occasion of his eponymous firm’s 30th anniversary, we sat down with one of the West’s top architects to talk art, Aspen and everything in between

Who are the architects whose work most inspires you? The Swiss architect Le Corbusier (particularly the chapel of Notre Dame du Haut in Ronchamp, France, pictured below), Richard Neutra and Santiago Calatrava. Each was quite innovative for his time.

Name one building in the West that really speaks to you. Grand Canyon Skywalk (pictured below), a glass-bottomed walkway that’s cantilevered out over the canyon, is especially intriguing.

Tell us about the artwork you love. I love Romantic landscape paintings, and sculptures by Alberto Giacometti (pictured below), which are simple yet striking. I also love Richard Serra’s sculptures and of course, the work of my friend Dale Chihuly.

What books would we find on your coffee table? Calatrava: Complete Works, 1979-2007, edited by Philip Jodidio; Alan Fletcher’s The Art of Looking Sideways; Global Faces by Michael Clinton; and Africa by Leni Riefenstahl.

If you could build yourself a home anywhere at all, where would it be? Red Mountain in Aspen. That’s where I live and there’s no better place. My home is tucked away and very private, and yet it has incredible views and all-day sun.

What are some other hot areas to build in Aspen right now? If you’re looking for a location with views and that’s close to town, Red Mountain is the best. It takes four minutes to get from home to town. But if you want more land in addition to great views, it’s Starwood, McLain Flats and
Star Mesa. Those places hold their value and have all-day sun, which I think is essential.

Do you have any can’t-live-without tools of your trade? My camera. I carry it in my pocket everywhere I go, and I’ll take a quick shot of anything that strikes me: a vista, a book, a plant. I have a pretty photographic memory, but I use the camera to record these things so I can convey them to others.

Can you remember the last photo you took? Today I snapped one of the waterfalls on my property, frozen with ice and snow, in the first light of the morning. The play of light and shadow really struck me.

Tell us about the biggest change you’ve seen in high-country architecture over the past 30 years. Thirty years ago, there weren’t many examples of contemporary architecture that were suitable for the mountains. We suffered too long from the preconceived notion that logs were the way to build in Colorado. While they can be romantic, log buildings tend to be heavy, oppressive and more about logs than views.

Today, clients are asking for more contemporary homes with lots of glass and a materials palette that incorporates warm woods, stone and even concrete. They want a sense of connection to the outdoors, which is really important for the human spirit.

Categories: Architects