At its best, architecture encapsulates the soul of a place. It mirrors the past in new ways or it looks ahead to a new future. It inspires people and engages them visually, all while being easily useable.

The design of a new project on Ketchum’s Main Street that will line an entire block has failed to do any of those things to date. It has left developers in a mute standoff with the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission.

The block-long building will occupy the space now known as “Hot Dog Hill,” and replace an old A-frame that houses Formula Sports.

The developers have complained that P&Z members haven’t been able to communicate their objections to the design. A city staffer said the developers aren’t listening.

The building is stuck in pre-application review before the P&Z, a step that saves developers the expense of creating a final design that has no chance of garnering the approval of the public or City Council. Developers have met with the P&Z three times, and the building should remain stuck until its designers apply some imagination and listen to what generations of city residents and elected officials have said they want in commercial buildings.

Those desires have been expressed loudly and clearly: No unrelieved expanses of blank-faced buildings. Variety in building facades, multiple materials applied in interesting ways.

The building is a series of blah boxes and commits an unpardonable sin, the sin of sameness. It looks like the product of the cut-and-paste function in computer-aided design. It could be dropped into nearly any suburb in the West. It is not alpine, nouveau alpine, Western or modern. It’s not Ketchum.

It communicates nothing of Ketchum’s motto, “Small Town, Big Life.” It isn’t inspired by the area’s history of mining, ranching, the Union Pacific Railroad and skiing.

Good design doesn’t have to be expensive. Financial goals and good design can co-exist on expensive dirt. Buildings attract lessees and buyers when they function well and are appealing.

Ketchum is not Everywhere U.S.A. The developers do a disservice to insist that it must be. They should work with the P&Z until they get it right.

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