Aspens, Elevations, and Inspiration

Design Synthesis Workshop by Katie Gilbertson

It wasn’t until after the site, common house, and private homes were designed by the community members that I began to look seriously into Bozeman Cohousing. Although I don’t shy away from giant, spontaneous leaps in life (that may be an understatement), something about having these elements planned made it more tangible and safe for me to consider. Or maybe it was the beautiful property near town and non-astronomically-priced-homes that told me to step forward? The members had already brainstormed how to make this neighborhood fulfill everyone’s need for privacy, community, and sustainability. When I read through all the plans and reviewed the videos of how it came to be, I admit feeling a bit saddened to not be a part of this significant process.  Because as a documentary editor, I enjoy the back and forth of collaborative art. Luckily, just after I joined Bozeman Cohousing, the Design Synthesis Workshop happened. I may not have had a hand in the first part, but I was thrilled to join in the process. 

Before the workshop, we were sent a series of videos to watch about the next unfolding of the designs so that we didn’t spend valuable discussion time with presentations. These videos from our architectural team took the flat images of the plans and turned them into “elevations”.  In cohousing the members don the hat of developer and must think of the plan as a developer would, not just about our personal needs. In being thrust into that role, I get Developing Property 101 for Dummies. For me this also means learning the stages and lingo. So, “elevations” are kind of in between 2D and 3D. They’re not 3D, but we get to see the fronts and sides of the buildings rendered out, like we’re looking at a picture straight on, not just a top down view. This was so exciting to see it grow – to witness this flat surface beginning to sprout. 

The main objective of the workshop was to discuss what worked vs. what didn’t, to clear up confusions, and to make sure nothing was overlooked. We accomplished this by breaking into smaller Zoom breakout groups to achieve greater breadth of ideas. Different groups iterate in different directions vs. one large group getting bogged down. In the small groups we began sharing what we liked and didn’t want to lose, and then progressed to questions or concerns about what we were seeing. After an hour we all returned to the main meeting to share our insights with the others. For example: the door into the common kitchen from the mail room will knock into someone at the refrigerator. Flip directions. 

So our crash course in development continues as we learn what elevations show and don’t show, and how we have a hard time seeing past the flat. Many of us had a misunderstanding of the designs because we were still only seeing them in 2D and without life growing on and around them. People felt concerned with the austere feeling of the black and white palette across the buildings and requested more color and warmth. During the second night of our workshop the architects showed us how the color wraps around the buildings and that the lack of depth in the elevations makes buildings appear stark. When they showed us a mock 3D, I could see the warmth of the wood and new geometric shapes emerging. I breathed a sigh of relief. Their inspiration of an aspen tree palate balanced with brilliant color will make a peaceful and vibrant frame for our lives. I must say: at this point I’m thrilled to get to live in such a beautifully and thoughtfully designed home and neighborhood. 

Enjoying a community dinner on a lovely summer evening on the southern terrace outside the common house
Enjoying the sunny atrium on a winter’s day. The atrium connects the common house to several of the homes.