(Bloomberg) -- When John Gendall began to write a book on architecture in the Rocky Mountains, “I was expecting to find a common backdrop,” he says. “A rocky topography and a lot of snow—some of the cliches.” Instead, he says, “the geography is quite varied, and the houses are really tailored to their environment.”

Gendall, a writer who studied architectural history, “found it quite surprising that some of the greats of modern architecture and design had early projects out west,” he says. “I wanted to bring that to the surface. I’m from there, and I tend to get frustrated when the impression of architecture in the Rocky Mountain West is just antler chandeliers and rough-cut logs.”

His book, Rocky Mountain Modern: Contemporary Alpine Homes (Monacelli Press, $50), should put that misperception permanently to rest when it’s published on June 28.

The book highlights 18 contemporary homes that reflect the geography and environment of their unique settings.  “The list I compiled is not an encyclopedic catalog,” Gendall says. “There’s more out there. But I would put it this way: It is an approach to architecture in the Rocky Mountains that is beginning to gain some exciting traction.”

Consider, he suggests, a house in Jackson Hole, Wyo., that overlooks a valley with dramatic views of the Grand Tetons. Designed by the London-based firm McLean Quinlan, the house has stone walls and is built into an embankment. “The architects took a trip to the Cunningham cabin, which is in Yellowstone and was built in the 1860s,” he says. “The house they designed is inspired by that 150-year-old structure, but one quick look at it and you can see it’s decidedly modern.” Even so, he continues, the design is “in some relationship with the local vernacular.”

Not only are many of the houses designed in response to their environment in some way (as opposed to, say, a generic McMansion built to get pummeled by heat, wind, and snow), several houses in Gendall’s book provide potential templates for sustainability. “That entire geography is going to be facing some real challenges pretty imminently,” he says. “Water shortage is well documented, and there are already too many fires.” 

A house in Aspen, Colo., designed by the Minneapolis-based architecture firm VJAA is, Gendall says, “an interesting study” of how to mitigate and plan for environmental change.

Originally, the property was a working ranch. “I saw the ‘before’ photos, and it looks every bit the ranch—a dusty, flat, dirtscape,” Gendall says. The owners “restored the site to what would be the natural ecology,” planting 1,685 aspen trees and 435 Colorado blue spruce, along with native grasses.

The house, meanwhile, “has a lot of ambitious sustainability measures, too,” he says, running on solar power with high-performance insulation to ensure it stays hot in the winter and cool in the summer. “They generate more energy than they consume.”

Similarly, a house in Golden, N.M., has a water catchment system whereby the roof is designed to capture water and channel it into cylindrical tanks near the house. Designed by Rick Joy, the house is part of a ranch set in an arid area where the Sangre de Cristo Mountains transition into the high desert. As such, it is also at risk of wildfires. The architect, Gendall writes, “took fire prevention into account with his choice of cladding material”: a charred cedar less likely to combust than normal wood.

And then there’s the simple fact of the weather: In the mountains, where 20 feet of snow can fall in a year, houses need to be built defensively. In Jackson Hole, the architecture firm Olson Kundig designed a house with massive shutters made from the same thick wood cladding as the rest of the house. Owners can use interior hand-cranks to seal off most of the house. “You wouldn’t do it if you were going to dinner, obviously,” Gendall says, “but for a longer stretch, you can close up the house. That was one response to extreme weather.”

Moreover, he adds, “one of the things the architects mentioned about the design is opening yourself up to the landscape, but also being able to feel protected from it.”

Aside from environmental challenges, a recurring issue Gendall heard about from architects wasn’t that they needed to take advantage of the views but rather, the opposite. “It was about the management of space,” he says. “There’s only so much of a full, sweeping panoramic view that you want to have.”

For a house designed by Brad Cloepfil in Sun Valley, Idaho, the exercise became “developing really careful frames of the surrounding landscape,” Gendall says. “He was filtering some stuff out and then framing things in. So to do that, the house is essentially a series of apertures of the landscape.”

A prominent throughline among the houses in the book, Gendall says, “is that the clients really love these places. And so,” he continues, “the houses are obviously beautiful to live in and look at, but more often than not they wanted to deemphasize the presence of the house and focus on the landscapes that drew them there in the first place.”

This is evident in the designs of comparatively modest homes, such as a cabin on Christina Lake in British Columbia designed by the firm Bohlin Cywinski Jackson and a slightly grander house in the San Juan Mountains in southwest Colorado.

The projects in the book vary aesthetically, but Gendall’s goal, he says, was fairly straightforward. “There’s a really thoughtful approach to modern architecture that is at once aesthetic but also addresses energy, resilience, and sustainability in really sophisticated ways,” he says. “That was what I hoped to capture.”

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