By Show and Tell
By Bree Davies
By Bree Davies
By Cory Casciato
By Emilie Johnson
By Robin Edwards
By Bree Davis
By Josiah M. Hesse
The buildings that match the neoclassical plan are typically among people's favorites, but I prefer the modernist buildings, one of the first of which is the 1949 international-style former Annex I — how international style a name is that? — by the Denver firm of Smith, Hegner and Moore. Faced in plain sheets of gray limestone with horizontally oriented ribbon windows, it has a sleek appearance with an exaggerated profile that's long and low. Though radically different in appearance, the former Annex I is sensitive to its neighbor, the City and County Building, because it's the same height and color. The building faces the park on Cleveland Place and is attached by an atrium to the Wellington E. Webb Municipal Building, which is also marvelous. That structure is by David Owen Tryba and was opened in 2002.
The former Annex I and the Webb Building are on the Civic Center's downtown side, but most of my favorite buildings are on the other side, near the Golden Triangle. At Broadway and West 14th Avenue Parkway is Burnham Hoyt's 1955 Denver Central Library. Hoyt, of Red Rocks Amphitheatre fame, was the dean of the first generation of Denver modernists, but for this, his last major commission, he reconciled his minimalist taste with the neoclassical character of the surrounding buildings. What he did was create a stripped-down modernist temple, thus anticipating the postmodernism of the late twentieth century. And, appropriately enough, that later style is what's shown off in the enormous 1995 addition immediately adjacent at Broadway and West 13th Avenue, done by the world-famous godfather of the postmodern movement, Michael Graves.
The best way to experience these two landmarks is to walk along the curve of West 14th Avenue Parkway, winding up at Acoma Plaza in front of the Denver Art Museum's North Tower. Opened in 1971, the glass-tile-clad mid-rise tower is the only building by Italian modern master Gio Ponti in all of North America. And it is, hands down, the most significant building of the whole group. Interestingly, this incredible confection was once one of the most hated buildings in Denver, but Ponti is better loved now that he's dead than he was when he designed the DAM at the end of his career.
All of that pent-up hatred for cutting-edge culture has been shifted over to the DAM's new wing, the expressionistic Hamilton Building, anyway. Designed by Daniel Libeskind, it is so outrageous, it makes the Ponti look tame — no mean feat. As could be predicted, the Hamilton, opened in 2006, has already shown up in lots of cable-news reports about Denver.
There's been a buzz over the past few months among some who believe that the Civic Center will embarrass us when the spotlights are thrown on the city. These naysayers — suburbanites, apparently — believe the Civic Center is a hellhole and that Denverites ought to be ashamed of it because some homeless guys hang out there. But when the world tunes in next week, I'm confident that this gorgeous landmark will make Denver look great. It'll be that darned flatness that will leave us humiliated.