Is it possible for an architectural ethos to be so powerful that its influence is capable of transmuting a dormant mining town into a bustling cultural epicenter and think tank?
Entirely. Aspen is living, breathing proof, and the Bauhaus mentality is largely responsible. The linkages and associations from 1920s Germany to modern-day Aspen are so improbable and far-fetched that it almost makes perfect sense.
Architecture is like anchovies on pizza — the people who like anchovies, love anchovies. Those who don’t throw up a little bit in their mouth at the mere mention of the smelly smelts. Bauhaus is the anchovies of architecture to some; our valley floor is littered with its physical graffiti.
My experience with Bauhaus architecture started at an early age. My formative years as a rebellious young hoodlum prowling the alleys, construction sites, mine tunnels and tailings of Aspen inevitably ended up back in the West End, where the stoic linear pod structures of grey and white seemed almost space-age by comparison.
As far as I’m concerned, Herbert Bayer was an urban skate park and BMX terrain park designer way ahead of his time. I say this because my friends and I spent countless hours skateboarding and riding BMX bikes in, on, over and around his ballyhooed buildings. Flow trails and manmade gap jumps be damned.
The architectural feat that provided the most adventure by far was the old Bayer Music tent. Eight months of the year, it was all ours. You used to be able to ride your bike or skateboard right into the bare bones of it: wooden benches, cement aisles, a tiered-flanged stage made of wood and concrete that acted as a series of high consequence drop-offs for the more advanced riders.
But the pièce de résistance was the backstage area roof of the Bayer Music tent. Herbert Bayer, bless his soul, unbeknownst to him, had unintentionally, perhaps even subconsciously, designed Aspen’s very first halfpipe. All you had to do was go around to the back of the music tent, throw your skateboard up on the roof, step onto a railing, and climb up onto an aluminum vent to gain access. Our footprints smeared the route like raucous raccoons gaining entry to an attic.
Once you were up there, it was like being on the top of the world. No one could really see you, but you could see everybody. The halfpipe was as smooth as a baby’s bottom: gleaming white roof paint that almost had a spongy give to it. We came off of that roof sunburned beyond recognition. I’ll never forget that “Fwap-fwap” sound you made when hitting the transition at the V-shaped bottom with our Kryptonic wheels. It was all fun and games until the mere sight of King Woodward closing quickly down Music Tent Road in his immaculate fire-engine-red Cherokee sent us scurrying through the fields like cockroaches.
At one point we even had a motocross track adjacent to the music tent. That went over like a lead balloon when the musicians started practicing and playing. There’s something about the incessant whining sounds of a two-stroke Yamaha 80cc engine versus a screeching Stradivarius that inevitably gets the police involved.
It’s hard to forget the old swimming pool over at the Aspen Meadows. There used to be a geodesic dome directly over it. When the hotel was closed, the pool was empty and we skateboarded in it. As soon as the hotel opened, we crashed the swimming hole at night; the Holy Grail was climbing to the top and jumping in naked.
I credit the ultimate impact of Bauhaus architecture on my psyche to hallucinogens. Lurking around the Aspen Institute campus while under the influence was less opening the doors of perception; it was more like a bare-chested Bruce Lee doing a flying front-kick, busting them down into piles of kindling. The angles, the mounds and the brightly colored tapestry rugs — the stark isolation of the campus with our ski mountains as a backdrop — all that stuff left a smoking crater where my fragile eggshell mind once was.
As it turned out, I would end up getting my first real paycheck from the Aspen Institute at age 16, working conference crew with the likes of Mortimer Adler’s sons Phil and Doug. Even today as a middle-aged man, it’s tough for me to stay on the path when traveling through the Bayer-designed campus. There’s a constant tractor beam force drawing me back to the roofs and mounds of my delinquent youth.