Loss & Opportunity: Four Homes Rising from the Ashes

by David Barrett, AIA

The idea that design can be a part of the healing process has been termed “restorative” or “regenerative” design. The cycle of life, death, and rebirth is one that nature models for us in homeostasis, and cultures celebrate in seasonal rituals that remind us of the spiritual message found in impermanence and even of death itself.  When the Four Mile Fire raged through the foothills west of Boulder last Labor Day, 6,000 acres of mountain landscape were suddenly and drastically transformed.  In its wake, 169 homes were destroyed and those who had lived in them were left with the challenge of reconstructing their lives, their dreams, their homes, and the precious landscapes they had inhabited.  Each individual has a unique experience of loss.  Each has a story that includes, in one way or another, the states of processing death: shock, anger, moments of fear & despair, glimmers of hope, tough decisions & setbacks, and then in its own time, acceptance and rebirth.

Over this past year, as Architects, we have been invited into four projects that are engaged in this process.  With each, we have the opportunity to touch the essence of restorative design in both human and ecological terms.  Over the next several weeks, we’ll be sharing the story of each of these homes, families, and individuals: their experience, the co-creative process, and the unfolding of the built form as a tool for creating positive energy, opportunity, and with it, a quality of healing.


Part One: The First Responder

Rod Moraga is a man who knows fire.  His professional expertise is in the analysis of fire potential in our urban/wild interface.  His work as co-founder of Anchor Point Group establishes and executes fire mitigation strategies.  His wife Shari has a long standing love for modernist architecture,  and Barrett Studio was hired to design a new home for their family in Boulder proper; one that would be a model of fire resistance, efficiency and climatic delight.  The family planned to sell their home in Four Mile Canyon and relocate to the new home in North Boulder.  With construction having just begun, Rod, a volunteer firefighter in the Four Mile Fire Department, answered a call to respond to a fire west of Wall Street.  From his nearby home in Four Mile Canyon, Rod became the first responder to a fire the soon exploded, being fed by mounting winds.  During the battle against this blaze, Rod’s own home was consumed by the inferno.  That construction was underway on his family’s new home in Boulder, using a material system & specifically designed for fire resistance was ironic at best.

Now, seven months later, Rod & his family have moved into their new home, built by Renove Construction using Aerated Autoclaved Concrete (AAC).  Nicole Delmage, an Associate at Barrett Studio, worked with me, Rod & Shari, to maximize the inherent potentials of this thick wall, high mass, highly insulative building system while expressing a decidedly modernist aesthetic.  More about the how the design was informed by the material’s unique properties can be found on the Barrett Studio website.

Rendering & AAC Construction



Along with the loss of their former home’s structure was the loss of the contents, including several heirloom pieces.  New furnishings that will become heirlooms in their own right share the home with special places for art which Shari, the artist, both produces and collects.  Embedded in the polished concrete floors are keys salvaged from the home they lost in Four Mile.  The colors that were so much a part of their hand-painted mountain house return in bursts of aqua, orange, and magenta.  The art, music, play, and exuberance of life are alive and being passionately recreated.  These reminders of the past incarnation of “home” infuse the space with a sense of history, while the new memories created here will deepen the family’s bond.

The architecture that originally grew out of values of sustainable, fire-resistant design, has been infused with the personal sense of loss and gain.  It is a home that literally holds and expresses these emotional experiences while it celebrates the expressive use of a promising new material.

As the Moragas settle into their new home and our other “fiery” clients are either in construction or in the dreaming phase of design, we hope that these opportunities for exploration will serve others in the future as we seek together more appropriate and sustainable ways to build in our arid mountain climate.

Join us in the next few weeks for Part Two: Phoenix Rising…and here’s a quick teaser of the series!Four Mile Series Preview

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  1. […] with fire and emerged out the other side, check out our series on Loss & Opportunity: Part I: First Responder & AAC | Part II: The Phoenix Rising | Part III: Resilience in […]

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