Modern Homes in Boulder Work Naturally with Energy Efficiency and Sustainable Design

Will Boulder’s energy efficiency trend lead to the construction of more “modern” homes in Boulder?

By Arn Rasker

What defines a “Modern” home? This is the type of question that will keep a room full of architects and designers busy discussing for hours, with no agreement in the end.   There are probably as many definitions of “Modern” as there are people with opinions about the word.  Many of the differences relate to differential experiences and exposure to “modern”.

Flagstaff Boulder

If you are european, you probably relate “modern” architecture to BauHaus or the International Style.  If you grew up in latin America, like I did, you might correlate “Modern” with works by architects such as Barragan and Legorreta, which have been influenced by pre-columbian structures in Mexico.  Many Americans correlate “modern” with Franklin L. Wright and his works, and some would argue that much of his work is based on traditional Japanese  and Chinese structures.

Easier than defining the word “Modern”itself, may be to define some of the underlying guidelines behind the modern architecture movement. A few of these guidelines are:


  • Form-Follows-Function: A design philosophy taht allows the design to flow from the intent of the design. For example: Is the function of a window to allow you to appreciate the views? Or is the function of the window to allow fresh air into the room? Depending on what the function of a particular window is, the size, placement, and characteristics of the window might be quite different. Modern architecture also allows the window to be placed optimally in reference to it’s function, and does not use traditional placement guidelines or rules to dictate the placement.


  • Truth in Materials. Materials are what they are and in Modern Architecture these characteristics are enjoyed for what they are, and not masked or hidden.  For example, plastic is OK or even desirable when it looks like plastic, but is not as appreciated when it tries to look like granite or wood.


  • Exposed and/or Celebrated “Structure”: Exposing the real physical structure which supports the home or building is not only allowed in Modern Architecture, but is typically appreciated for what it is.


  • Simplicity of Design:  Accomplishing the attachments, connections, and intersections of materials in clean and simple ways, without embellishments.


  • Innovative and Creative Uses of Materials: Using new materials and/or using old materials in new ways, in order to achieve a particular design objective.


  • Incorporate the use of Light: Both natural and artificial, as an integral part of the design.


In today’s world, the concepts of energy efficiency, reduction of greenhouse gasses, and eco-minded living are often in conflict with many design styles. This is not the case with modern architecture and modern design. In fact, compared to other architectural styles, it is modern architecture that truly embraces energy efficiency and sustainable design.

The Form-Follows-Function concept allows the incorporation of energy efficiency and sustainability into the design as an integral design element. For example: Solar panels do not have to be hidden or masked. They can be elegantly integrated into the design as design features. Rooftop gardens can be integrated into the modern home design as design-features, can be left exposed, and can be celebrated as part of the design rather than hiding them.


As Boulder thrives and struggles to be a responsible community, and to be compliant to its own self-imposed energy and greenhouse emissions goals, I believe the net effect will be more designs that will be “Modern”.

The pressures on a home to be energy efficient, green, and responsible in its design, and in its performance, will inevitably result in more creative and integrative designs. And like any movement, there will be those who oppose change. However, it is important to realize that many architectural styles that many consider “traditional” were pretty revolutionary and controversial when they were first introduced. For example, Victorian architecture, as we see it throughout the older neighborhoods, was a revolutionary form of architectural expression 120 to 130 years ago. And of course, Boulder will always have an eclectic mix of architectural styles, just as it has a varied and interesting mix of Boulderites.