Rising Star

Maria Cole is building for the future.

When she returns to Denver, Cole will oversee the public-art selection for the Justice Center, the committee having already interviewed the eleven short-listed phase-one artists (including one from Colorado) last week. As the head of the group, she's helped to take this assignment in a new and innovative direction, asking artists to participate in the actual design process of the buildings. "We want artists to be equal partners with the architects in the master plan, and this is somewhat unprecedented in public art," she notes. "Usually the structures are built, you do your call for art and then you do your large-scale public sculpture, and it's not really integrated into the initial thinking. We wanted to try and change that. I think it's a huge opportunity to knit the campus together with more than just street trees. Phase two is more site-specific and will have a preference for Colorado artists, and I think that's a good thing for our city. To always reach beyond and see what the rest of the world is doing, but also support and grow our local community simultaneously."

The project she's finding most stimulating these days is the Anchor Center for Blind Children in Stapleton. "It was a really nice gift from my office," Cole says of the building, which goes into construction next month. "Brit told me, ŒMaria, we want to keep your soul active.' And it's such a cool project. The people are awesome."

It's also forced her to step outside any preconceived ideas -- something she learned directly from Libeskind. Cole realized that her interpretation of what blind and low-vision children need was not entirely correct, so she adapted and stretched as a person and an architect in order to create the best possible space for the kids. "I had a eureka moment and realized this is a study in light," she says. "This totally surprised me, because I had a preconception about blindness, about how everything needed to be tactile and sound. But because the kids are low-vision, you could see that some of them are drawn to different colors, different light sources. So the building has become this study in all sorts of lighting typologies to engage children in different ways."

Maria Cole is a DAM fine architect.
Tony Gallagher
Maria Cole is a DAM fine architect.

The project also exemplifies another Libeskind principle: Keep it simple. Libeskind is known for his very basic palettes and materials, and Cole followed that lesson plan when creating the Anchor Center. "When you go to Stapleton, it's just this complete visual chaos -- style, materials, scale," she says. "So my first impression was that this building had to be very simple so that it would stand out." But the final concept is pure Cole: The facility is being constructed of long white bricks that will come in and out at different depths, creating an elegant monochromatic look that mimics Braille.

Definitely a gold star.

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