The process began with a chance meeting at the 2006 Solar Decathlon in Washington, D.C., an international competition that challenges collegiate teams to build solar-powered homes. Architecture student Adam Rude, who helped design the University of Colorado (CU-Boulder) house, ended up giving the last tour of the day to Robert Freling, executive director of the D.C.-based nonprofit Solar Electric Light Fund. Freling was taken right away with Rude’s design philosophy, and by the end of the tour told him, ”I have a friend in Colorado who is looking for an architect. I think you two should meet.”
Weeks later, back in Boulder, Rude sat down for his first meeting with Freling’s friend, Kitty Brigham, a retired nonprofit administrator who wanted to build a net-zero energy home. “I liked him instantly. I just took the leap and said, ‘Why don’t you design a house for me?’” Brigham recalls. “I told him that I liked angles and trilevels, and he took it from there.”
Rude, who graduated shortly after that initial meeting, didn’t have the resources to take on the project on his own, so he turned to his mentor and design advisor from the Solar Decathlon—Mark Sofield, a local architect who ran his own shop. The two partnered on the project, with Rude taking the lead on the schematic design, under Sofield’s direction as architect of record. Two additional members of the CU-Boulder Decathlon team—engineer Chad Corbin and lighting designer Todd Gibson—signed on for the project as well.
Every architect’s dream, Brigham gave the design team few constraints, with only one real demand: “Performance first, then form.” Driving the design was her pursuit of LEED Platinum certification, the highest ranking awarded by the U.S. Green Building Council. “I knew building to platinum standards could be a costly venture, but I wanted to showcase what’s possible and hopefully inspire people to walk the talk,” Brigham says.
From the start, Brigham envisioned the home as a space she would “share” with the nonprofits and committees that she works with. SELF, for one, plans to use the space to host retreats for its board members. “The central living space had to be very open—a place where I could host meetings,” says Brigham, who holds volunteer leadership roles for several nonprofit organizations, including SELF, Boulder County Audubon Society, and Oregon Shores Conservation Coalition. “And I wanted a rooftop living space,” she adds.
Rude scoured the foothill communities near Boulder looking for land in the mountains, but for one reason or another, none of them worked. The design team ended up finding an ideal site farther east in Longmont, literally in Sofield’s backyard.
Brigham purchased two lots along the street that makes up the southern boundary of Prospect New Town, a new urbanist housing community that transformed an 80-acre tree farm into a walkable, multiuse neighborhood. With a horse pasture and farm fields to the south, the site—a little less than 0.25 acres—offers views of Boulder’s Flatirons rock formations and the foothills in the distance. And, with any luck, Brigham says, new building restrictions imposed by the city should keep the views intact for many years to come.
Not only does Sofield live in Prospect with his family, he also wrote the architectural guidelines for the community and designed several of the homes and buildings there. Prospect—which won a Governor’s Smart Growth Award in 1996 for its innovative alternative to suburban sprawl—boasts a mix of businesses, detached homes, row houses, live/work lofts, and apartments, all in a broad range of traditional and modern architectural styles in a rich spectrum of colors. Even with its strikingly angled and geometric form, Brigham’s home fits right in.