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The Sampson-Wood House. Photo credit: Rich Stimmel, Western Exposures Photography, courtesy of Sean McIlwain

Architect Tician Papachristou’s Love Affair with Colorado

Boulder's Month of Modern in September celebrates the life and work of the late starchitect with a retrospective of his 11 years on the Front Range. Here, a primer.

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In 1954, Tician Papachristou rode on a Greyhound bus into the city that would launch his architectural career. That far-from-grand entrance led to an 11-year stay in Boulder, where Papachristou found a symbiotic relationship with the city: His distinct style flourished as he added to Boulder’s burgeoning modernist movement.

Tician Papachristou. Photo credit: Carnegie Library for Local History, Daily Camera Collection

Born in Greece in 1928 and educated at Princeton, Papachristou came to Boulder for a job under master architect James Hunter. It took the young draftsman just two years to open his own firm and begin building avant-garde homes for a forward-thinking clientele. “It was a special time in our city. People were fascinated by new science and new thinking,” says Carol Taylor, executive director at preservation-advocacy organization Historic Boulder. “That spirit extended to architecture. The clients were often young and willing to give Papachristou complete freedom.”

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Youth often comes with budget restrictions, which forced Papachristou to design striking homes without flashy materials. Using inexpensive cinder blocks, concrete, and wood helped him develop a more approachable, natural style that endured for the remainder of his career. Tight budgets didn’t stop him from creating eye-catching, geometric structures, though. A pair of houses near the University of Colorado Boulder, where he taught architectural design, best exemplify his fascination with shapes: The first, the Sirotkin House, celebrates rectangles, while the second, the Jessor House, plays with circles and curves.

Though we have architect I.M. Pei (who died in May at age 102) to thank for the design of the impressive NCAR labs on Table Mesa Drive, we can also blame him for luring Papachristou out of Colorado. After the site-selection committee—of which Papachristou was a member—suggested building the labs atop the mesa for dramatic effect, an impressed Pei helped him get a job in New York City with famed architect Marcel Breuer in 1965. Still, until his death in 2018 at age 90, Papachristou visited Boulder often—perhaps to soak up more of that inspiration he found in his early stomping grounds.

Open House

Get inside Papachristou’s head—and houses—during this Month of Modern special event.

Most admirers of Tician Papachristou’s Boulder residences have only seen them from afar, but on September 21, everyone can get a closer look at seven of them—inside and out. The self-guided tour is part of Month of Modern, the annual celebration of Boulder design orchestrated by modernist firm HMH Architecture & Interiors. To protect owners’ privacy, visitors won’t receive the addresses until the day of the tour (pick up a map at HMH headquarters), but once guests enter the homes, they’ll see many of Papachristou’s signature design elements, including exposed beams and pillars, and the illusion of the landscape flowing into the built environment. Tickets from $50; September 21, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., monthofmodern.com

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