At Home With Christopher Herr

If you haven’t heard of Christopher Herr, you just aren’t paying attention. Between the awards he’s been racking up and the media attention he’s getting because of them, he’s poised to become a household name. And for good reason: Herr is a brilliant, forward-thinking architect. At 41, he’s been in the biz for less than 10 years, and this month he will travel to New Orleans with his wife Tina to accept a 2011 Young Architect Award from the American Institute of Architects—one of only 11 recipients in the country and the only Coloradan. How does it all feel?

“Wonderful,” Herr says. “The business has grown organically, based in a passion for design, and the awards have just come.” He pauses and adds, “We’ve submitted our projects, of course. You can’t win if you don’t play.”

The business he’s referring to is Boulder-based Studio H:T, which Herr co-founded with fellow architect Brad Tomecek in 2002. “We blindly leapt into starting our own firm without a whole lot of consideration of where it would go.”

For a relative newcomer to the profession, the architect has some bold ideas about design. For starters, Herr lives in a minimalist “box house” in Boulder, his firm’s first award-winning project, with his wife and two small children. Then you have his passion for not only sustainable design, but what he calls “restorative” architecture.

“Before the Industrial Revolution, all homes were built sustainably because there was no  ; we used passive strategies and natural materials.” Then, Herr explains, plastics and other “dead-end” materials (that don’t decompose) came along, leading to homes with large carbon footprints. “Now, it’s time to stop the depletion…and we can’t just stop—sustainable is ‘stop’—we need to build in a restorative way, a way that is carbon-positive. We need to construct buildings that produce  more energy than they use.” Forward thinking indeed.

Herr holds a master’s degree in architecture with a specialty in acoustics; an interest that evolved from a background in music. Go to the Longmont Symphony Orchestra on a Saturday evening, and you’ll see the architect, also an accomplished musician, playing the French horn.

He also finds the time to give back to the community, teaching architecture at the University of Colorado, working with Habitat for Humanity and serving as a member of Architects and Planners of Boulder.

For this talented up-and-comer, design isn’t just limited to the studio or the site he’s currently working on. “Design is everywhere. When it’s accidental, it’s not very good. But when it’s purposeful and done well it makes a difference to people.”


What are some of your favorite buildings in Boulder?
The Boulder Courthouse is a sweet Art Deco building; I also love the CU campus. The buildings are a subtle background to the space. It’s a great way to do a campus. 

Let’s go beyond Colorado.
Rudolph Schindler’s Kings Road House in Los Angeles. Walking into it had the most visceral impact on me. He built it in 1920 and used tilt-up concrete, which is common now. He was way ahead of his time. 

What other architects have made an impression on you?
Louis Kahn. He had a gift of integrating building systems in a way that served the building. We should aspire to that level of integration; to make design as pure and clean as we can. 

What do you do for fun?
The classic ‘outdoorsy’ stuff: we telemark ski, we bike—we did the 24 Hours of Moab [mountain bike race]. Not so much now with the kids, but we look forward to raising them into that lifestyle.

Who are your favorite composers… and what music do you love to play?
My favorite composer is Gustav Mahler; he’s also my favorite to perform. He writes fantastic horn parts and his music is passionate and moving. I’d throw in some David Byrne (Talking Heads) as well. Did you know he trained as an architect and recently turned a building into a musical instrument?

Categories: Stylemakers