Capitol Valley Ranch
Landscape Performance Benefits
- Reduces atmospheric carbon by more than 8.7 tons annually through 137 trees planted on the property, approximately the same amount of CO2 released by burning 884 gallons of gasoline.
- Saves over 1,000,000 gallons of irrigation water and 400 lb of fertilizer annually by limiting lawn area to 5,440 sf, 7% of the total planted area on the entire 35-acre site.
- Generates an estimated 1,820 kilowatt hours of electricity monthly, saving $150 dollars in monthly energy costs through 8 solar panels installed in the landscape.
- Produces an estimated 141 lb of organic vegetables each year, which have an approximate value of $400.
- Provides pleasant outdoor spaces with 77% of outdoor recreational areas in the human comfort zone in the morning, 42% in the afternoon, and 48% in the evening during the summer. Landscape design techniques such as building orientation, thermal massing, and tree placement were used to modify the microclimates of the outdoor spaces.
- Maintains the area’s pastoral setting by reducing visibility of the house from the nearby ranch road by nearly 100%.
At a Glance
Design Workshop, Inc.
Former Land Use
Pitkin County, Colorado
1 acre within 35-acre working ranch
Capitol Valley Ranch, a one-acre home site situated on a larger working cattle ranch, is nestled into a rural high-altitude Colorado landscape. The design for the property required an integration of functions. A working ranch with horses, stables, and a barn coexists with a residence, thereby retaining traditional practices that preserve regional culture and open space values. The intimate and social spaces conducive to outdoor living and entertaining assimilate with the architecture and echo the site’s naturalistic setting at 8,000 ft above sea level. In order to preserve the agricultural heritage of the valley, the design limited site disturbance, adhered to historical stormwater drainage patterns and ditch locations, and utilized native vegetation. Through careful site planning, the home makes use of passive solar energy to heat the swimming pool with solar panels. Bioclimatic design strategies, such as the use of vegetation to mitigate wind and sun exposure, produce comfortable outdoor spaces for three-season use.
- This one-acre home site contains a small vegetable garden, perennial plantings, outdoor living room, extensive patio spaces, and a system of irrigation ditches and pond, all surrounded by ranch pastures.
- Over 8,000 sf of usable outdoor space is created with flagstone hardscape in sheltered areas around the home, including a 1,400-sf sun terrace, a 3,500-sf outdoor living room, a 2,500-sf pool deck and a 600-sf guest wing patio.
- Over 70,000 sf of native vegetation was planted on the property, including over 30 perennial species such as blue lupine, redosier dogwood, and western wheatgrass, and trees such as aspen, long-leaf cottonwood, and Colorado spruce.
- The autocourt, constructed of 18-in deep, crushed gravel, is permeable, allowing for groundwater infiltration. The decision to use this material resulted in considerable construction cost savings.
- Two-foot-high stone walls provide visual limits to the outdoor living spaces immediate to the residence, buffer the surrounding agricultural lands and, provide visual screening of the neighboring property from the autocourt.
- A 120-sf edible garden protected by occlusive fencing enables the homeowners to grow fresh vegetables, such as spinach, lettuce, potatoes and onions.
- Eight photovoltaic cells oriented east-southeast catch the early morning light and midday sun to heat the outdoor pool and assist with the home’s hot water needs.
- Over 600 ft of agricultural irrigation ditches on the site were created and planted with species similar to those historically found on the property. These irrigation ditches provide non-potable water to all plantings on-site.
- A three-railed fence designed to match the pastoral setting allows wildlife movement while containing domestic horses on the property.
The multitude of requirements of the home and its surrounding landscape called for innovative and considered design. The site is a high-altitude, working cattle ranch located in a valley where elk and many other species of wildlife live and migrate. The designers were faced with integrating a residential landscape with a traditional vegetable garden into an active ranch that required barns, stables, agricultural equipment, and other facilities. To create a comfortable mountain retreat with an abundance of usable outdoor space, high winds and temperature extremes needed to be tempered. Altitude and temperature severely limited the planting palette and growing season, while the request for a heated outdoor pool and spa required using sustainable energy.
A number of techniques separate differing uses and create microclimates around the home that meet the needs of the client and the demands of the site. A series of stone walls divide the open, native land from the more formal, cultivated perennial gardens and outdoor living spaces near the home. Occlusive fencing protects the vegetable gardens from the native wildlife that live in and migrate through the valley. Designers considered sun and shadow relationships on all sides of the house in the creation of comfortable outdoor environments. Native tree species planted at intervals provide shade during the hottest times of a summer day. The flagstones of the indoor/outdoor terraces act as thermal mass and radiate warmth in the evening. Frequent winds were addressed by expanding architectural forms to enclose courtyards without obstructing the striking views of the nearby Elk Mountain Range. The eight photovoltaic cells, part of the closed-loop solar water heating system, were located and oriented to catch the most possible energy during the client’s peak use hours in the early morning.
- By installing solar panels in the landscape, the homeowners saved nearly $60,000 in current Pitkin County Renewable Energy Mitigation Program (REMP) fees. Purchase, installation and maintenance of the units totaled approximately $24,000.
- The solar panels in the landscape, which were installed primarily to heat the swimming pool, are oriented east-southeast rather than south. The landscape architect predicted that the panels would better catch early morning light at this angle and thus more successfully meet the needs of the client, an early morning swimmer. A resident survey reveals satisfaction with the panels’ orientation and performance, proving that the choice to deviate from the traditional due-south orientation of solar panels was successful.
- The vegetable garden on the north side of the residence has seen adaptation and change throughout the years as the homeowners discover which types of vegetables are most successful at high altitude and with an average of only three frost-free months each growing season. While the original idea was to grow a wide variety of edible vegetables, after several disappointments the garden proved to be most rewarding when planted with hardier species such as spinach, onions, and potatoes.
- The client made key decisions regarding hardscaping materials based on aesthetic properties rather than durability or local availability. The stone has proven susceptible to extreme temperatures and precipitation found in the local climate and shows premature signs of wear. A more durable, local stone might have been less subject to weathering and produced fewer emissions in the transportation of the material to the site.
Master Plan & Landscape Plan: Design Workshop, Inc.
Architect: CCY Architects, Ltd.
General Contractor: New Age Homes
Landscape Contractor: Landscape Workshop
Role of the Landscape Architect
The landscape architect addressed all aspects of exterior design of the home and collaborated with the architect to locate the building and achieve a seamless, bioclimatic design both indoors and out.
Case Study Prepared By
Research Fellow: Bo Yang, PhD, Assistant Professor, Utah State University
Research Assistant: Pamela Blackmore, BLA, Utah State University
Research Assistant: Chris Binder, MLA Candidate, Utah State University
Firm Liaisons: Allyson Mendenhall, Suzanne Jackson, and Richard Shaw, Design Workshop
Yang, Bo, Chris Binder, and Pamela Blackmore. “Capitol Valley Ranch.” Landscape Performance Series. Landscape Architecture Foundation, 2013. https://doi.org/10.31353/cs0640