Image: Ross Kribbs

In Aspen, even the natural world merits first-rate architecture. Last May, the Aspen Center for Environ­mental Studies at Hallam Lake debuted a new wildlife-viewing platform designed pro bono by Charles Cun­niffe Architects—better known for custom luxury homes and high-profile commercial buildings—from which to observe the flora and fauna of the 25-acre nature preserve. The two-story, treehouse-like structure allows you to spy on resident and migrating birds and animals without scaring them away.

Nestled in a stand of cottonwood trees that overlooks the Roaring Fork River, the platform, designed by CCA Senior Project Architect Marina Skiles, was inspired by the vertical elements of tree bark, with marine-grade plywood fins that undulate in three dimen­sions. Providing elegance plus functionality, these fins beckon one to enter yet also camouflage the structure within the sur­rounding vegetation.

“Under the platform, the fins offer views of the riparian area through a screen, almost like a bird blind,” explains Skiles. “On top, there’s an unimpeded view of the trees, perfect for raptor or warbler spotting.”

An ACES' class on the viewing platform

Image: Ross Kribbs

In a true community effort, Hansen Construc­tion and Valley Lumber donated the project’s labor, materials, and wood (beyond what was reclaimed). And like all good architecture, the platform elicits height­ened interest. Says Cun­niffe, “It’s a playful space that makes you smile and want to explore.”


Most Frequently Asked Question of naturalists at the platform, according to Naturalist Program Director Jim Kravitz:
What is that beau­tiful black, white, and iridescent blue bird with the long tail? (Answer: the common magpie)

Critters Spotted so Far
Belted kingfishers, western tanagers, American dippers, elk, coyotes, foxes, and a pine marten

Best Time of Day to Visit
Dawn, when migrating birds settle in and sing to claim their territory and woo mates




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