More Stories About Buildings and Art

Opportunities for art and architecture can be both found and lost amid city politics.

But there are some things that I don't like about it. Because this is a municipal facility (although it's being developed in a public-private deal with Mile High Development, which actually owns the building), shouldn't the public art be done by local artists? In fact, it could have been argued that only Denver artists should even qualify for such a project. Instead, as usual, we're going to get work by second- and third-tier national talents like Donald Lipski.

Then again, the fact that this building will probably be named for Webb could subtly make the point that his legacy in regard to the arts was to make Denver artists irrelevant during a time of unprecedented public-art spending.

Here's another outrage related to the Civic Center Office Building: Elaine Shiramizu, a LoDo-based graphic designer charged with designing its signage, has proposed carving a poem by Thomas Hornsby Ferril into the side of the former Annex I. Give me a break.

The Colorado Convention Center (under construction at the edge of downtown), and all that it has wrought, will stand as Mayor Wellington Webb's true legacy.
Larry Winter
The Colorado Convention Center (under construction at the edge of downtown), and all that it has wrought, will stand as Mayor Wellington Webb's true legacy.

Not that there's anything wrong with the poem, but to do such a thing would seriously compromise the architectural integrity of a building that has already suffered the indignities of an unfortunate new front canopy and some borderline-quality window replacements, among other problems. The walls were conceived as flat planes with virtually no mass, which is a defining characteristic of the International style. By carving words into the plane, unwelcome mass is created and the planar conception of the walls destroyed.

Shiramizu has already placed other phrases all over the new building, but that's okay for several reasons. First, Tryba's design is an example of neo-modernism, a post-post-modernism that happily accommodates conflicting components used in juxtaposition. In this style, it's perfectly fine to create a tension between planes and masses. Second, Shiramizu worked out her plan for the words on the new building with Larry Kirkland -- the out-of-town artist supervising the art planning -- and with Tryba.

So unless Shiramizu holds a séance in which she raises the ghosts of Hegner and Moore and gets their permission, she'd better keep her hands off the old building. And shame on Kirkland and Tryba, who let this pseudo-intellectual idea see the light of day. Luckily, it wasn't in the budget, so money will need to be raised if it's to be done. Here's hoping they don't get a dime.

Will the new African-American Research Library be called the Wellington and Wilma Webb African-American Research Library or some such? Definitely. Will the new Civic Center Office Building be called the Wellington Webb Civic Center Office building or something thereabouts? Doubtless. Will the Welton Street Historic District be renamed Wilm'ington? Probably not. But here's the big question: Will these buildings represent Webb's legacy to the city? No. The Colorado Convention Center will.

The CCC has represented what can only be called a trail of tears for the city's architecture. I.M. Pei's Zeckendorf Plaza; Temple Buell's Denver Post Building; Currigan Hall, by James Ream with William C. Muchow Associates; and the TerraCentre Tower, by Jerry Williams for Seracuse/Lawlor, were all destroyed as a result of its growth. And all were high-quality examples of modern architecture -- unlike the CCC, which is a genuine monstrosity. But this facility will soon disappear in the expansion, too, so I guess every cloud does have a silver lining.

The new building, by Fentress & Bradburn Associates, which also did the current CCC, will cover more than twenty acres with a single building sitting hard on Speer Boulevard across from the Auraria campus. Its size and placement are sure to annihilate the urban design of the fabulous parkway, and it will dwarf the nearby Denver Performing Arts Complex, hiding it from westbound drivers on Speer until they're right on top of it. Also, its preposterously big horizontal mass is absolutely wrong in relation to the skyline views of adjacent skyscrapers that are -- need I say it? -- vertical.

Preservation and design excellence have no meaning to some people, but it's hard for anyone to ignore cold, hard facts -- even if those involved in the expansion of the CCC, Webb chief among them, have done a good job of doing just that. The city-financed project isn't going to work, and neither is the city-financed convention-center hotel. Weren't the nation's hoteliers telling us exactly that when none of them would take $55 million in free public money -- and God knows what else -- to develop one? Eventually, all of us will be affected by this, as city services and city support for public amenities are cut back to bail out the CCC and the hotel. Not even I could have imagined that the police and fire stations would be second-mortgaged to help pay for this boondoggle -- but believe it or not, just such an idea is being discussed by the Denver City Council. And imagine: The city's barely started to build it!

See, I told you the CCC, and not the Webb Library or the Webb Building, will wind up being our mayor's real legacy; it's going to take a miracle for the city to survive it. But I've got an idea: Let's call the CCC the Webb Center and the hotel the Hotel Webb so everyone will know who's to blame.

« Previous Page
My Voice Nation Help