I.M. Pei and Michael Graves are two internationally renowned architects who have provided Colorado with some of his most iconic designs, including the 16th Street shopping mall and Denver Central Library. Now one of China’s leading architects, Ma Yangsun, has unveiled his vision for a block of flats that could potentially become Denver’s next architectural icon.
One River North, located at 3930 Blake St., will have a façade cut to provide a view of nature. It will contain 13,352 square feet of open area, including a footpath, a flowing stream, and many green plants. The accessible horizontal section extends from the sixth to the ninth floors. An inaccessible vertical slotted canyon will rise from the ninth floor to the roof in the middle of the 16-story building.
Source One River North
The building, slated to open in the fourth quarter of 2023, is only the third in the US designed by MAD Architects, a Shanghai-based Ma firm known for its biophilic approach that integrates natural elements into building designs. Two of his other projects in the United States are in Los Angeles – the Lucas Narrative Art Museum, which is under construction, and the Gardenhouse, which opened in 2020.
Ma promises that when people see the image of One River North, it will be so different that they will immediately associate it with Denver.
“The idea is to bring nature to a modern city. We want to create a new typology that will be very useful for the future of architecture, ”he said, adding that his goal is to restore a spiritual quality that is lacking in the architecture of many modern cities.
“We never distinguish between the artificial and the natural. We use artificial elements to expand the human spirit, ”he said in an interview with Zoom.
Ma earned himself a reputation as an architectural visionary after designing the Floating Islands in Beijing’s Central Business District in 2002. Five years later, he was awarded a Young Architects Award by the New York Architecture League, and in 2008 he was named one of ICON Magazine’s 20 Most Influential Young Architects. MAD Architects is the first Chinese architecture firm hired to design iconic projects outside of this country.
Ma said that every bend in One River North Canyon is unique and is not created from “computer geometry” but from hand-drawn sketches and paintings inspired by Chinese gardens. This will make it difficult for others to repeat.
“It’s made by hand,” he said. “We want to make every part of it unique.”
Kevin Ratner, co-founder of The Max Collaborative, one of four firms developing the project, said the building itself is a fairly standard rectangular structure, similar to others under construction. But the development team opted to get by with fewer units, 187, in order to bring in more natural traits that those inside the building and those looking from the bottom up can enjoy.
“Cities cannot contain nature. Cities have to work within the framework of nature, ”he said. “To keep doing things like climate change and mental health, nature needs to be part of this conversation.”
According to Ratner, when it comes to the conversation between nature and architecture and how it sounds in a building, Ma is one of the main sources of light.