Hagman Architects Helps Make Aspen Center for Environmental Studies What it is Today

Aspen Center for Environmental Studies’ (ACES) was founded by Elizabeth Paepcke in 1968, birthing her vision for a place that provides a bridge to nature for an increasingly urbanized society and a sanctuary for wildlife in the heart of Aspen. By donating 26-acres of her personal property in the West End – the ACES Hallam Lake site was created.

At the time, some fifty years ago, the site was as wild as the creatures that inhabited it. There was a large barn-like building on the property, constructed around the turn of the century, which served as the organizational headquarters. By the late 80’s it was downtrodden and desperately needed repair. Paepcke stated, “Now it is time to replace an inadequate building and to make much needed improvements to the sanctuary.” Tim Hagman, principal of Hagman Architects, environmentalist and pioneer of green building in the Roaring Fork Valley was brought in by Tom Cardamone (the chief executive officer at the time) to spearhead the project. He donated his time to create initial sketches for a log building to replace the barn as well as a structure to house the raptors. With the help of an incredibly successful capital fundraising campaign let by the board of directors, a booming economy and ACES’s impeccable reputation, the pending project continued to balloon. Hagman completely reworked the design to be a sizable, dynamic building that mirrored the nature and shape of the original barn. As expected, it was largely sustainable by design with natural, locally available materials and an efficient use of heat and energy. Capital campaign materials from 1988 state, “The building will function as a blind, opening up the outdoors to people while hiding them so wildlife can comfortably approach the structure. Unlike their experience in the current facility, visitors will be able to quietly view wildlife and Hallam Lake.” The final architecture was completed in approximately 1990 with the help of expert fine-home builder Jack Wilkie. It included a public visitor’s center, field laboratory, meeting/class room and staff offices. A truly fascinating detail is an aquarium, fed by diverted ground water, which runs through the building and is home to trout and invertebrate organisms. The project won the Colorado West Chapter AIA Special Mention award in the early 90’s.

“It was a pleasure to contribute to the development and growth of ACES – an organization whose mission I value deeply. I thoroughly enjoyed applying my design skills to this historic project that serves the public and the ACES community,” states Tim Hagman.

According to ACES chief executive officer Chris Lane, “Programmatically the building has functioned well from day one and still functions well today. From a natural standpoint, it couldn’t be better in terms of integrating into the environment and providing a venue for wildlife observation. Structurally, I wish it was literally twice as big.  Our organizational growth trajectory has far exceeded anything anticipated in the 80’s when the building was being proposed. The truth is we have literally outgrown the space.” ACES has no immediate plans to expand, but there are intentions for interior renovations in the near future. Aesthetically it will remain the same for the nature center’s timeless, cozy vibe is key to ACES’s organizational character.

Since 1990, ACES has expanded to have three other locations - Rock Bottom Ranch, The Catto Center at Toklat, and Spring Creek. Visit www.aspennature.orgfor more information.