The More Things Change...

Landmarks rise and fall in Denver.

A couple of months ago, the Denver Art Museum and the city's office of planning unveiled the latest model for a new addition to the museum. The wing, which is being designed by Berlin-based architect Daniel Libeskind, along with Denver's Davis Partnership, is to be built adjacent to the existing DAM, a gray, glass-clad tower from 1971 designed by Milan's Gio Ponti along with Denver's James Sudler ("Amazing Grace," March 8).

The Libeskind model, made of plywood and metal, was magnificent as an art object (not to mention that the building it represented promises to be out of this world). It was so meticulously crafted that it looked like a gigantic piece of jewelry. Libeskind, who was the nominal host of the unveiling, said the model was made in-house at his small firm.

Presented at the same event was a crude and less specific site model showing the wing in context with the existing museum and the entire area, from west of Bannock Street all the way to Broadway. This model included a high-rise tower on a two-story podium at 12th Avenue and Broadway, where a long-planned-for low-rise parking garage was supposed to be. The newly conceived high-rise, to be built on spec by Mile High Development, will incorporate the garage behind a course of shops that wraps around the building; the tower itself will be devoted to residential use.

Daniel Libeskind's site model for the Denver Art Museum expansion.
Daniel Libeskind's site model for the Denver Art Museum expansion.
The Terracentre tower.
The Terracentre tower.

As I looked at the model, I began to wonder whether the tower and parking/shopping complex had been a part of the plan all along but had been kept secret. It makes much more sense if that were the case, because in terms of the overall composition of the site, and in its relationship to the rest of the Civic Center, the new wing relates better formally with the tower there than without it. And not only that, but in the previous version, the architectural composition seemed to bleed off the south and east ends; now the tower anchors the southeast corner of the project. This essentially extends the Civic Center a block south, with the tower visually linking the complex to the existing DAM and to the Michael Graves-designed library addition. These buildings now make up the southern end of the Civic Center.

As I went to my car in the surface parking lot on which the tower will rise, I thought, "Wow, that's going to be cool." Little did I know that the planned erection of the tower would act as a kind of civic Viagra, arousing interest from editorial writers at both the Rocky Mountain News and the Denver Post. Apparently, for them, the most important, most urgent component of the DAM's expansion plans is the fate of D Diamond's Ilios restaurant.

In order for the DAM's plans to be carried out, the building that houses Ilios will have to be condemned and purchased by the city. Diamond doesn't own the building and fears she will be driven out of business.

A spokeswoman for the DAM project, whose identity I'll protect, makes the following observation: "I was surprised by the editorials. I always thought of the editors at the News and the Post as being hardened professional journalists." An unfortunate choice of words, but an apt one considering Diamond's easy-to-understand appeal.

Now, honestly, I wish Diamond well in her business future, and I suggest she take that sweetheart deal the city's offering her, which includes a number of plums, like two years of free rent and first choice of space in the new building. But oddly, it looks like she's not going to, even though she doesn't own the building and therefore has only limited say in the condemnation anyway. We'll learn what her next move is at any moment.

Less than a block from the Civic Center, where many of the city's most important buildings are, the homely Ilios should not -- and apparently will not -- stand in the way of the construction of what promises to be one of the most important architectural complexes ever to have been built, not just in the city, but in the entire region.


In the meantime, a more genuinely controversial condemnation is being carried out as part of the ongoing melodrama -- or would that be slapstick comedy? -- at the Colorado Convention Center. The city is moving to condemn and then demolish the perfectly good Terracentre tower nearby.

As this latest episode highlights, the CCC has been the single worst thing to happen to the city's architecture, ever ("Written in Stone," May 17). Let's briefly review the story so far.

The current monstrosity, the work of Fentress Bradburn Architects, was built on the cleared site of the Silver Triangle neighborhood, essentially a mini-LoDo filled with late nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century brick buildings. The CCC was a financial failure, however, so the idea was to blame the lack of a hotel of sufficient size nearby. This pie-in-the-sky rationale led to the destruction, at public expense, of I.M. Pei's 1950s Zeckendorf Plaza and its conversion to the tacky Adam's Mark Hotel. Historic Denver and a coalition of preservationists mounted an all-out campaign to save the Pei masterpiece, but it was for naught.

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