INFLUENCES ON ARCHITECTURAL CHARACTER
LANDSCAPE AND ECOLOGICAL
The Rocky Mountain Province is generally sunny,
dry, cool, and windy with long, sweeping vistas.
In addition, the broad valleys, parks, and high
plateaus of the mountains feature prairie-like
qualities, such as flat land, grasslands instead
of forests, and long views.
Geology is varied. It changes from exposed
sedimentary sandstone in the foothills to granite
outcrops in alpine glacier fields. Buildings may be
enclosed by vegetation and landforms, with more
limited vistas than in other provinces. Vegetation
is more abundant and large scaled, including
coniferous and deciduous forests with juniper,
pinon, fir, spruce, lodgepole pine, willows, aspens,
scrub oak, and cottonwoods.
The Rocky Mountain Province can be divided into
foothills, broad mountain valleys, narrow valleys
and canyons, alpine, and high plateaus.
The glaciated terrain of northern Idaho, western
Montana, and eastern Washington encompasses
some 38,100 square miles which includes rugged
mountains, steppes, coniferous forests, and
alpine meadows. Winters are harsh and skies are
more gray than blue. Greater precipitation
(compared to the rest of the province) makes
possible stands of trees, such as giant western
The middle and southern Rocky Mountains
encompass a 102,300-square-mile area.
Vegetation occurs in zones from the foothills
(where grasslands and ponderosa pine dominate),
to the subalpine spruce-fir forests, to the tundra
of alpine areas above 14,000 feet. The mountains
are punctuated by broad, flat valleys called “parks.”
The coniferous Black Hills area in South Dakota,
Nebraska, and Wyoming, springs from a core of
Precambrian rock rising between 1,000 and 5,000
feet from the Plains Province. Trees range from
white spruce, to eastern broadleaf species, such
as ash and oak, to ponderosa pine and aspen.
There are no alpine zones in these low mountains.
This province contains some of the oldest
structures in the United States, dating to the
cliff dwellings and pueblo villages constructed by
the Anasazi peoples. Yet we consider it a “new”
province in America’s history because it was
settled by Europeans well after the East Coast
or the Southwest.
Cultural influences include:
Farming and Ranching: Isolated in windswept,
sun-beaten settings, the traditional farms and
ranches of the Rocky Mountain Province provide
excellent examples of architectural response to
climate. They were built from materials available
nearby. Their orientation and rooflines were
carefully planned to withstand snow loads, high
winds, and hot sun. They were often clustered in
sheltering, village-like complexes making them
flexible for changing uses and adaptations.
Mining: Mining structures, such as headframes,
are among the province’s industrial landmarks.
They are unadorned, muscular structures,
frequently built on the steepest and most
sensitive natural landscapes. Although the
mining legacy is sometimes that of environmental
destruction, the simple and powerful structural
forms continue to inspire new designs. Mining
towns were built quickly with log cabins and
shacks. After the railroads arrived, the more
prosperous towns evolved, grew, and created
sophisticated urban architecture derived from
the towns and cities of the East. Cities such
as Aspen, Colorado, and Park City, Utah, built
fine hotels and opera houses that endure today
Railroads: They not only shaped the landscape
and influenced settlement patterns, they also
allowed building materials and prefabricated
building parts, such as cast-iron façades, to
be shipped from other provinces.
Immigration: The first European settlers imported
their own building traditions, styles, and techniques.
The mountain town of Crested Butte,
Colorado, contains numerous examples of wooden
Gothic buildings that Croatian carpenters
constructed using Central European styles.
Other important influences include Spanish,
Mexican, and Mormon styles.
Rustic Style: In the first half of this century,
the National Park Service and the Forest Service
adapted the rustic style, which had been developed
from models such as Swiss chalets and 19th
century Adirondack lodges. Influential examples
include the Old Faithful Inn at Yellowstone (1904)
and the Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood (1937).
Rustic-style buildings, often built by the CCC,
are highly crafted structures featuring native
stone and unhewn logs. The scale of details can
be massive, even in the cases of kiosks or cabins.
The rustic style was popularized in the 1900
to 1940 era by resort developers like Averill
Harriman, who called Sun Valley, Idaho, the
St. Moritz of America. In the Rocky Mountain
Province, the public associates images of rustic style
lodges with recreation.
Solar-oriented and Sustainable Design: For three
decades, the Rocky Mountain Province has been
a leader in this area. This is in part because ever-present
sunshine can be harnessed for heat and
power. Institutions such as the Rocky Mountain
Institute in Snowmass, Colorado, have provided
leadership in “green” building and design.