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Among the responses to the severity of the functionalist ethos was the sumptuousness of formalism with its European roots. The marvelous 1965 U.S. Courthouse and Byron G. Rogers Federal Building, which comprises a low-rise pavilion and a high-rise tower, with a gorgeous (if currently under construction) plaza connecting the two, is one of Denver's best examples of formalism. The buildings, designed by James Sudler, have been luxuriously appointed, with notable features including the William Joseph eagle relief, the freestanding stile by Edgar Britton, and the sun-breaker screen by Alan Gass. No Denver architect of the '60s and '70s was as familiar with European architecture as Sudler. For example, the tower definitely shows the influence of Gio Ponti. Oddly enough, Sudler hadn't met Ponti at the time, though only a few years later, he would collaborate with the Italian master on the design of the 1971 Denver Art Museum.

Auraria Library
1100 Lawrence Street

The Auraria campus, southwest of Speer Boulevard and Colfax Avenue, was once among the oldest neighborhoods in the city, until it was all but cleared to provide a common campus for three institutions. Thankfully, a street of little houses — the Ninth Street Historic Park — some churches, and the old Tivoli Brewery were saved from the carnage. Interspersed among them are buildings constructed over the past forty years, most carried out in red brick. The exception is the stunningly white 1976 Auraria Library. This elegant pavilion is covered in horizontal strips of glass and anodized aluminum panels, making it stand out like a jewel among its quieter neighbors. It was designed by a young Helmut Jahn, working for C. F. Murphy. In the 1970s, postmodernism was gaining a foothold, but Jahn was going the other way, toward a refinement known as late modern. For the library, he resurrected elements that had long been dispensed with, such as louvered sunscreens and radial corners, and in this way, pointed toward the neo-modern future.

The Auraria Library, designed by Helmut Jahn.
Philip Poston
The Auraria Library, designed by Helmut Jahn.
U.S. Courthouse and Byron G. Rogers Federal Building, both designed by James Sudler.
Philip Poston
U.S. Courthouse and Byron G. Rogers Federal Building, both designed by James Sudler.
Denver Club Building, designed by Raymond Harry Ervin.
Philip Poston
Denver Club Building, designed by Raymond Harry Ervin.
The Paramount Theatre, designed by Temple Buell.
Philip Poston
The Paramount Theatre, designed by Temple Buell.
Harry Edbrooke’s Denver Gas and Electric Light Company Building.
Philip Poston
Harry Edbrooke’s Denver Gas and Electric Light Company Building.
The Prairie-style Rockmount Ranch Wear Building.
Philip Poston
The Prairie-style Rockmount Ranch Wear Building.
The Brown Palace Hotel, designed by Frank Edbrooke,
Philip Poston
The Brown Palace Hotel, designed by Frank Edbrooke,

Wells Fargo Building
1700 Lincoln Street

Denver's fortunes are tied to the commodity exchanges, because the nearby mountains are full of materials that generate wealth. But those exchanges go up and down — boom and bust. The mother of all booms hit Denver in the late '70s and early '80s as oil prices rose. This led to a generation of the biggest, tallest, finest, most expensive and most luxuriously appointed structures ever erected here. Many were designed by the most prominent firms in the world, including SOM, Kohn Pedersen Fox and Johnson/Burgee, Philip Johnson's firm. The latter was the only large outfit to adopt postmodernism early on, and Johnson used it for the 1984 Wells Fargo Building, nicknamed the "Cash Register." In it, Johnson combined vaguely neoclassical fenestration with streamlined modernism turned sideways. The only negative is the way it needlessly overwhelms the Mile High Tower by I. M. Pei. By the time the "Cash Register" was completed, the bust was well on its way, ending forever this era of architectural riches.

Hyatt Regency Denver Colorado Convention Center Hotel
650 15th Street

There have only been a handful of tall buildings constructed downtown since the 1980s oil crash, and only a couple of them can stand up to the great buildings of the preceding era. Among them is the 2005 Hyatt Regency Denver Colorado Convention Center Hotel (the headquarters for AIA conventioneers). The Hyatt's beautiful formal complexity and thoughtful detailing are both signatures of Keat Tan, head designer for klipp (now part of gkkworks). Comprising a pair of shockingly thin towers that overlap one another, the building looks as though it might start to float away. Also notable in this public/private partnership is a collection of integral art, most of it by Colorado artists. Tan is also responsible for another great building, the Lindsey-Flanigan Courthouse, at 520 West Colfax Avenue.

MCA Denver
1485 Delgany Street

Over the past decade or so, Denver has been erecting, expanding and founding museums as quickly as a drunken sailor spends money. Among the new museums is the smart little MCA Denver, by African-born British architect David Adjaye. Completed in 2007, it was his first public building in America. Though the black-glass pavilion looks like a cube, it's not, as the walls don't run parallel to one another, and there's a secondary geometric form slotted in behind the exterior, as revealed by the off-center cantilevered penthouse that emerges at the roofline. Adjaye wasn't the starchitect that he is today when former MCA director Cydney Payton tapped him to design a home for an institution then occupying an old fish market (no, really). Don't miss the severe Richard Serra-esque townhouse next door, also by Adjaye, built for Mark Falcone, the developer and museum board chair who donated the land for the museum.

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11 comments
The English Instructor in Denver
The English Instructor in Denver

When I first moved to Denver I admired that building each time I passed it. I thought it was an old train station from the 30s-never imagined it would be the Wastewater Management Building!

Deborah Watts
Deborah Watts

Prejudice and NEGLIGENT Colorado Government..not so impressed!

Deborah Watts
Deborah Watts

I sang in the hall of the Mayor's offices Thurs...the HALLS are alive with the sound of CORRUPTION! That is quite an impressive building!

Nick Murphy
Nick Murphy

As I use to call it as a kid the French fry wall

Corey Donahue
Corey Donahue

Van Cise detention center!!! Lock away the poor!!!

 
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