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In Aspen, Wrecking Ball to Swing on Given Institute by Modernist Harry Weese

April 8, 2011

By David Hill

Given Institute
Given Institute
Images courtesy Given Institute

Built in 1972, the 12,000-square-foot Given Institute is owned by the University of Colorado School of Medicine.

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Demolition appears imminent for the Given Institute, a 1972 concrete-block building in Aspen, Colorado, designed by the late Chicago architect Harry Weese. Despite rescue efforts by city officials and preservationists, the Given’s owner, the University of Colorado School of Medicine, plans to bulldoze the building on April 15 and sell the 2.25-acre property to a next-door neighbor for $13.8 million.

It’s a bitter loss for preservationists, including Amy Guthrie, Aspen’s historic preservation officer. “It’s a significant building,” she says, “but there was a certain indifference to it. Not everyone appreciates the design of modern buildings.”

The 12,000-square-feet structure sits on a bucolic lot in Aspen’s pricey West End residential neighborhood. For years, the medical school used the institute for summer conferences and retreats, but in 2009, facing budget cuts, it announced plans to close the Given and sell the property.

There were several failed attempts to save the building. Last fall, Aspen city council members rejected a proposal that would have allowed voters to decide whether the city should buy the Given for $15 million. Around the same time, an anonymous developer proposed building three spec homes on the property and selling the Given building to the city for $3.75 million. But the developer backed out after city officials rejected the plan in part because it would have destroyed too many trees on the property.

That’s when neighbor Jonathan Lewis came forward with an offer. Initially, he proposed dismantling sections of the Given building, keeping the façade while turning other portions into apartments and a studio. “We weren’t happy with that,” Guthrie says. “It wasn’t really historic preservation.”

Lewis came back with a revised plan that would have kept more of the building intact for reuse as a residence, but after failing to reach an agreement with the city, he decided to demolish the Given. Despite this outcome, Lewis still sees himself as a good neighbor who was able “to step in and protect the property from overdevelopment.” His brother may build a new home on the site, he says.

Weese, who died in 1998, designed the Washington, D.C., Metro system and that city’s Arena Stage, which recently underwent a major renovation. He bought a house in Aspen in 1968 and lived there part-time.

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