Open design debate again
The common wisdom on new buildings in Ketchum is that they
are too big and too ugly. Name practically any building constructed in the last 10 years
and theres a legion of critics who hate it.
Some critics seem to believe that if the town is somehow frozen in time,
it will retain the things they like about itthe sense of clinging to the edge of
wild lands, the sense of slowing the rush of time, the friendliness of people and the
sense that they have discovered a special place.
Traffic on the highway and the sprawl of new subdivisions tells us that
the secrets out. Whats left to do is to figure out how to retain the feel
residents and visitors love in the face of certain cold facts including:
Nothing short of a national recession or depression will reduce or
freeze land prices.
Commercial landlords are not in business to lose money.
Nothing short of martial law will dictate whether someone may take up
residence here or may start a business.
Forced reduction of the size of new downtown buildings will bankrupt
local small businesses by creating impossibly high rents.
Satisfying building design can soften the hard edges of growth and make
the facts a little easier to face.
No one wants the city to become a sea of cheap buildings. No one wants
concern for maximizing financial returns to overshadow satisfying design or destroy the
feel of the town.
Its time for the city to re-visit the idea of defining design
throughout town. The standards now in place are very general and simply call for design
appropriate for mountain environs.
What that means is anyones guess.
It leaves the design and the character of the whole downtown to the
sensibilities of the Design Review Board, which sensibilities change as its members
The lack of definitive standards leaves review board members and
architects grasping at straws. One year stucco is good, the next stucco is bad. Brick is
in, then brick is out.
Local residents and visitors can do little but complain after the fact if
a building emerges as a wart on the landscape.
The issue was debated more than 20 years ago. Ketchum decided to leave the
design of commercial buildings in the city very open. The city hoped this decision would
lead to an interesting mix of building styles.
Unfortunately, the decision also left the town susceptible to becoming
populated by buildings that maximize space and give short shrift to satisfying design.
Its time to revisit the debate. Its time for residents and
visitors to weigh in again on what the city should look like as it grows. Wild West?
Contemporary? Mountain log? Modern? Bavarian? Victorian? Southwestern? All of the above?
The city again could decide to leave itself as a blank canvas for
designers. On the other hand, theres a chance that for the first time, the city may
find agreement on what it should look like. Either way, the critics will have had their