Renée del Gaudio Builds Architecture That Belongs




Love can inspire beautiful architecture. Just ask Renée del Gaudio. When the Boulder architect first arrived in Colorado in her early 20s, she fell head over heels. “I was so in awe,” she says. “I grew up in Michigan, and I just couldn’t believe all of this existed.”


The drama of the mountains resonated with del Gaudio. After a few years in Seattle completing her graduate studies at the University of Washington, she returned to Colorado intent on practicing the sort of place-based architecture she had come to appreciate in the Pacific Northwest. Since founding her own firm, Renée del Gaudio Architecture, in 2011, she’s developed a multi-award-winning reputation for designing homes that forge strong connections with their natural surroundings.


From her Sunshine Canyon studio, Renée del Gaudio shared a few insights on the deep relationship between architecture and place.


Courtesy of David Lauer Photography

How did you decide to become an architect?


Growing up outside of Detroit, maybe not consciously at the time, I was bothered by the architecture that I was seeing in the suburbs. When I traveled, I noticed architecture that had a connection to place that I wasn’t seeing. I think I picked up on that and I felt that architecture could be a creative career that I could really make a difference in.

What does place-based architecture mean?


Architecture that connects to the landscape, the climate, the culture, the geography and the history of a place. Let’s say in your microclimate you have intense sun and you have high winds. So, you connect to that sun by using it to heat a home. You connect to the wind by using it to cool a home. Connecting to the topography means a house that’s integrated into a site in a way that could not be anywhere else because it connects so deeply to the shape of the land. Connecting to the history means understanding what vernacular architecture was in a certain place before architects came along. Responding to a culture means you know what the tradespeople are good at here. Like, in Mexico, you build typically with brick because culturally that’s what all the tradespeople are really talented at doing. Connecting specifically to place—in all of those terms: climate, history, culture, landscape topography—just means you’re building architecture that belongs.


Courtesy of David Lauer Photography

Does that tie in with sustainability?


It does, directly. When you’re connecting to your specific microclimate, you’re building architecture that works with the climate, not against it. In Colorado, we have intense, direct sun—especially at a lot of the high altitudes that I build at—and capturing that sun in the winter, or using it for renewable energy with photovoltaic panels, or capturing winds with cross ventilation, with floor to ceiling windows on opposing sides of a structure, can often be enough to cool a house and not need air conditioning. Designing overhangs at certain lengths to keep out the sun in the summer, but let it in in the winter, can naturally heat a home and not have to use mechanical heating. What I’m doing currently, with all my projects, is geothermal heating. I removed all gas. Everything’s electric-run, sourced with geothermal heat pumps.

You’ve said that you “create a maximum experience with a minimum footprint.” Can you explain?


Scale is very important to me, and I work really hard to use as few resources as possible. With a lot of hard work, you can make a 1,500-square-foot house feel huge. If you thoughtfully connect to the views, if you thoughtfully design a floor plan that flows, if you design floor-to-ceiling windows that engage people with the outdoors—there are ways to make small spaces feel bigger. I try to build as efficiently as possible.


Courtesy of David Lauer Photography

Do you go through any process to learn about a piece of land before you design a house that will be built on it?


I camp there. On most projects, it’s just raw land, so I’ll camp for at least a night. And that’s critical—you’ve got to understand sunrise, and sunset, and wind direction, and views, and that’s really the only way to do it. You can’t design a house when you haven’t seen what it’s like at every time of the day.

How do you hope people feel when they walk into a home you’ve designed?


I hope they feel like they’re a positive part of the landscape, and—if you can even say this is possible—that their house is making the landscape a better experience. At its best, architecture can heighten an experience of a landscape and even be like a device through which you better understand the landscape, in a way that maybe you didn’t before that house existed. There may be part of a piece of architecture that focuses on a forest and you see it in a way that you’ve never seen it before, or a part of a home that connects you with a massive, granite rock outcropping in a way you never really felt that experience before. Or part of the home could focus to really far, distant views and make you feel like you are a small person in a huge universe. Architecture has the power to make you feel very small in a landscape or it also has the power to make you feel very sheltered in a big landscape.


Courtesy of David Lauer Photography

What kind of feedback have you gotten from people who live in your homes?


More often than not, they are surprised by how calm the house makes them feel. I think that’s a connection to the landscape that people don’t expect. Even if you’re capturing a really dramatic view, it’s not that you feel this drama all the time. It’s simply that you’re connected to your landscape and that makes people feel calm and grounded., 303-619-1375




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