Speaking the Same Language

January 25th, 2017

People are a product of their environment, as the saying goes, but this idea of being influenced by one’s environment is not exclusive to people, vernacular architecture is also a part of its environment, as it is informed by many factors including available materials, settling people’s cultures and traditions, but most often environmental considerations. As the growth of Colorado continues, questions of architectural vernacular have become prevalent and figures to remain a prominent topic of discussion moving forward. But what is the Colorado vernacular? What about our architecture makes people know that they have landed in Colorado? It starts with the diverse geography of the state. Generally speaking, Colorado has four regions that provide distinctive contexts to local architecture. The Four Corners, Front Range, Mountains and Plains regions provide Colorado’s architectural landscape the basis for discovering our own set of vernacular architectural styles.

Montezuma County Combined Courts, Cortez, CO

Four Corners

The four corners region of the state is a mixture of high desert and rugged mountain terrain most recognizable from Hollywood films of the Wild West. This arid region was initially settled by Native American tribes that used earthen walls and adobe as primary building materials with deep punctured window and door openings. The Montezuma County Courthouse embraces the influence of the native architecture and combines it with the cliff dwellings in a uniquely modern way. The heavy, grounded form of the main structure that echoes the deep overhangs of the cliff dwellings combined with a traditional kiva structure repurposed for contemporary use makes this building truly belong to the Four Corners region.

BACB Headquarters, Littleton, CO

Front Range

The Front Range region is, and has historically been, a confluence of settlers and travelers between the mid-west and west coast and the many regional influences and ideas from which they came.  The railroad brought people from all corners of the nation into typical rail road towns along the Front Range, but as the population grew, the architectural landscape changed. The Front Range is a largely urban region with the breath taking backdrop of the Rocky Mountains, so naturally, the ability to experience the views provided by the unique geography has informed much of Front Range architecture and remains one of the top priorities of projects in the area. The BACB building in Littleton, CO perfectly frames the stunning views of the Hogback Mountains and serves as a bridge between the gap of the Urban Corridor and foothills that identifies the region, with a playful ode to the aspen groves of the region in the form of the white angled columns that filter the mountain view.

Paonia Public Library, Paonia, CO


The Mountain region is the most recognizable of all Colorado regions and serves as the rugged, forest covered heart of the state. This region is somewhat inhospitable to human inhabitants due to the extremely cold and snowy winters, so settlers in this area did all they could to shed snow and hold warmth with the readily available materials of the area. The Paonia Public Library pays close attention to both the utility and form of a sloping roof that sheds snow while perfectly complementing the stunning mountain vista in its background.

CDOT Region 4 Headquarters, Greeley, CO


The Plains region is much different from the other regions of the state, as it has virtually no mountain influence and is primarily farm land, but the prairie has many characteristics that lend themselves well to architectural form. With vast horizontal expanses and endless skies, the characteristics of the open prairie manifest themselves architecturally through lower and longer building forms and ribbon windows that allow one to experience the vastness of the prairie virtually uninterrupted. The CDOT Region 4 Headquarters building in Greeley, CO provides a contemporary interpretation of prairie architecture through the traditional use of ribbon windows and a low profile to emphasize its connection to the land, making this building feel like it truly belongs out on the plains.


Written by Drew Allen and Chris Whitenhill