The Aspen Institute originated with the 1949 Goethe Festival, an international
Elizabeth Paepcke and her husband recruited Herbert Bayer to design many of the institute's structures. Bayer (1900–1985) immigrated to the United States when Adolf Hitler closed the Bauhaus school. Bayer had studied mural painting with Wassily Kandinsky as well as graphic design, photography, and typography. He found design work with the Container Corporation of America, where he promoted avant-garde advertising, such as CCA's “Great Ideas of Western Man” series. After Bayer retired to California, his brother-in-law, Taliesen-trained architect Fritz Benedict, continued his work for the Aspen Institute and elsewhere in the Aspen area. Although Bayer never officially completed architectural training, he is one of Colorado's most influential Modernist master builders. His work in Europe, New York, Chicago, and Colorado and on the West Coast is documented in the Bayer Collection and Archives at the Denver Art Museum.
Following his move to Aspen in 1946, Bayer worked on designs for everything from Aspen ski posters with the famous snowflake logo to town plans and the “Ski Colorado” logo. He chaired the city-county planning commission, focusing on both new design and historic preservation. For the Aspen Institute, he designed the Boettcher Seminar Building (1953), the Marble Sculpture Garden (1955), the Grass Mound (1955), the Health Center (1957), the Paepcke Monument (1960) and Paepcke Memorial Building (1963), Anderson Park (1962), and Trustee Houses (1964). Bayer also spearheaded the 1951 creation of Aspen's International Design Institute, which strove to convince business people and corporations that good design was good business and that America needed to excel culturally as well as militarily and financially.
After Paepcke died in 1960, Robert O. Anderson followed him as the Aspen Institute's director and perpetuated and expanded the original dream. Elizabeth Paepcke, who kept a house in Aspen until her death in 1994, spearheaded projects such as the creation of the 25-acre Aspen Center for Environmental Studies and a nature preserve around Hallam Lake.