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New buildings at the Denver Art Museum welcome guests through art, architecture

Art is museum architecture in which everyone has a stake, and each of us has an opinion about it.

We ask these buildings to do the impossible: stand strong enough to protect billions of dollars in civilian coffers and, at the same time, invite enough to break down divisions in the social hierarchy. We want them to engage in extraordinary design as temples and community centers, as well as serve as affordable non-profit housing.

Above all, we want them to be a showpiece as well as a showplace. Unlike other large structures where people come together to inspect the goods, e.g., convention centers and shopping malls, we expect them to be as beautiful and epic from the outside as the masterpieces inside them. Art museums are judged by the company they keep.

The Denver Art Museum has boldly advanced, if not always successfully, through this mine of contrasts over the years, ever since building its signature seven-story tower, designed in 1971 by Italian architect Gio Ponti Was. That building, 13th Avenue near Broadway on the north side, has divided public opinion for half a century now.

Tall and strict with tile cladding, relatively few windows and a scalloped roofline, some compare it to a grand palace for art. Others say it looks like a county jail holding Claude Monet and Georgia O’Keefe prisoner in the gallery.

Even more controversial is DAM’s 2006 addition, which was designed by architect Daniel Libeskind and is located on the south side of 13th Avenue. A hulking, angular, titanium-sheathed structure coming in at 146,000 square feet, the building dwarfed Ponti’s effort and essentially shifted the DAM’s location across the street.

Rebecca Slezak, The Denver Post

DENVER, CO-Oct 6: Denver Art Museum Director and CEO Christoph Heinrich poses for a portrait on the roof of the Laney and Sharon Martin Building on October 7, 2021 in Denver, Colorado. The Denver Art Museum’s $150 million refresh opens to the public October 24. (Photo by Rebecca Slezak/The Denver Post)

Again, some people love that it has a charm of sorts, a progressive example of a design created by a celebrity architect. Others call it a giant, gray whale and criticize it for practical things, such as the fact that many walls are angled, making it challenging to hang art, or its lack of symmetry and in fact the messiness of external shapes. Makes it difficult to find the front. Door.

DAM’s latest addition to its campus is the Sea Welcome Center, which opened this month with the unveiling of a complete, $175 million renovation of the Ponti Building. The reception center is relatively small, at 50,000 square feet, but is sensational in its own way, with its elliptical shape and concave floor-to-ceiling windows on its second floor that light up like lanterns at night.

In the wake of the two buildings generating lasting controversy, the reception center was an opportunity for DAM to correct some of the flaws in its past as it pursued its mission, a chance to unite not only its campus with the spirit of the whole city which is its own Loves his art museum, despite the problematic headquarters.

New buildings at the Denver Art Museum welcome guests through art, architecture

Rebecca Slezak, The Denver Post

DENVER, CO – OCT 6: Work is done on the floor of the Bartlit Learning Center at the Laney and Sharon Martin Building on October 7, 2021 in Denver, Colorado. The Denver Art Museum’s $150 million refresh is open to the public on October 24. (Photo by Rebecca Slezak/The Denver Post)

Does it work? In many ways, it does; The building is a success and indeed a welcome one. As a fixture on the landscape, the addition is a complete choice. Humans tend to embrace things that are round and balanced, and smooth and shiny, and on a scale that doesn’t seem intimidating to them.

The building serves as a badly needed suppressor, a friendly gesture that dampens the cold exuberance of the Libeskind structure and changes the emotional tone of the entire complex from aggressive to approachable. The architects, led by Boston firm Machado Silvetti, and assisted by Denver’s Fentress Architects, created a building that is sleek yet amicable.

The building is also a good move for the neighborhood as it has enough presence to transfer the spirit of the museum back to the street where it is as part of a series of important public structures that surround and strengthen the historic Civic Center Park. Is. The Civic Center is troubled these days, and was so full of filth and mischief that the city actually closed it last month; It all needs cushioning if we intend to revive it as an attractive open space.

And, it must be said, the reception center solves the problem of the front door of the museum. It summons visitors from afar, draws them in and rewards them with high style, thanks to a graceful stairway at the entrance that houses the nation’s most important museums in art areas such as New York, Philadelphia, Cleveland, and Chicago. The sign remembers the entry routes. .

That door comes at a cost, and it stands. The Machado Silvetti’s design does not match particularly well with its structural predecessors. For better or worse, it goes its own way.

New buildings at the Denver Art Museum welcome guests through art, architecture

Rebecca Slezak, The Denver Post

DENVER, CO – OCT 6: Lookout from the top of the SIE Welcome Center on October 7, 2021 in Denver, Colorado. The Denver Art Museum’s $150 million refresh opens to the public on October 24. (Photo by Rebecca Slezak/The Denver Post)

The renovation of the tower’s seven original stories was sensitive to the architect Ponti’s primary intentions, gradually adding new elevators without disrupting the floor plan, opening closed windows, even placing a publicly accessible deck on the roof. Also known for the amazing views of the nearby Rocky Mountains – a part of Ponti’s plan that was never realized until now.

Ponti is an architect of mixed reputation, a well-known design figure of the 20th century, although some have stuck to their second level despite widely accepted masterpieces, such as the slender, ultra-modern Pirelli Tower in Milan. Ponti is respected for his thoughtfulness and holistic approach to buildings, though he is sometimes shunned for the compromises he makes in getting things done. The 20th century was about purity; Ponti was brilliant but practical.

While the renovation was an attempt to elevate their status in the area (and the status of DAM’s home as a work of art), the reception center, attached to Ponti’s building, does little to bring out the qualities of its exterior. The architects have stated that their choice of the oval shape was inspired by the oval entrance door that Ponti himself designed in his building, and by the extended, semi-circle cut-outs on its roof, but they were just ornamentation for his palace. Not meaningful, hints for future additions.

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