Colorado’s intense drought conditions emphasize the need for landscape architects to lead the effort in embracing resilient residential landscapes that address water conservation in the American West’s shifting climate conditions. Prospect House stands as a regional case study for innovation.
The client – a local real estate developer – approach the landscape architect with a vision of crafting a modest home and setting that would challenge the conventional norms of a speculative single-family residence by embracing its sublime natural setting. Seeking to attract potential buyers, developers build projects they believe will be financially successful in the marketplace. However, when innovative design and the advancement of environmental benefits becomes secondary to fiscal return, landscape architecture often resorts to prescribed formulas – consumptive lawns, maintenance intensive plantings, and excessive programming – resulting in projects that turn their back on local ecology. Perpetual drought conditions facing the West emphasize the need for landscape architects to lead the effort in embracing resilient residential landscapes that address water conservation.
With shared values for our natural lands, the developer and landscape architects embarked upon a creative design process where native ecology infuses indoor-outdoor living environments in effortless ways. In doing so, Prospect House brings forth a refreshing perspective on the mountain and resort residential real estate trends, and sets a high benchmark for sustainable development in the region.
Dwindling snowpack, when combined with warmer spring temperatures, results in drier soils, earlier runoff and decreased flows later in the season. These circumstances affect communities and ecologies from the headwaters of Colorado to the terminus in California. As one of few undeveloped parcels in its neighborhood, Prospect House could have assumed the anonymity of many of its neighbors and turned its back on the natural systems of the surrounding natural environment in favor of a plane of blue grass floating in a sea of boulders and non-native perennials. The landscape architect opted to consider instead what it means to take a drought-tolerant approach, appropriate to the high-altitude Rocky Mountain environment.
In 2019, the City of Aspen adopted Water Efficient Landscape Standards (WELS), a community-based program that promotes the values and benefits of healthy landscapes while recognizing the need to invest water and other resources as efficiently as possible. The program set an annual Maximum Applied Water Budget of 7.5 gallons/season/sq-ft of irrigated landscape area. Marginal increases to this budget can be achieved through features that incentivize healthy landscapes, such as non-irrigated protected native vegetation areas, ecological restoration areas, and stormwater conveyance infrastructure such as vegetative swales. Prospect House precedes, yet exceeds, the program’s adoption. Furthermore, of the 8,820 square feet of initially irrigated area, only 33% of the site requires permanent irrigation post establishment. When considered across a 25-year outlook, the design for Prospect House saves 2.9 million gallons of water over conventional designs.
Collectively, the design communicates the benefits of a drought-resilient landscape, both as a sustainable residential landscape and as a salable commodity in a competitive real estate marketplace. 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.
Landscape Architect: Design Workshop, Inc. – Aspen, Colorado
Design Workshop Team Members:
Principal in Charge: Mike Albert, ASLA
Project Manager: John Spiess
Awards Submission Assistance: Erin Cox, Feras Abdullah, Brittany Blicharz, Sarah Shaw
Structural Engineering: KL&A
Civil Engineering: Roaring Fork Engineering
General Contractor: Brikor Associates Inc.
Landscape Contractor: Columbine Landscape
Developer: Good Property
Real Estate: Carrie Wells, Coldwell Banker
Image Credit: Brandon Huttenlocher/Design Workshop, Inc.