A lot of people make Denver what it is, but few have changed the face of the city the way architect Cabell Childress did ("Mind Over Matter," August 5, 2004).
Born in Virginia in 1932, Childress earned a degree in architectural engineering at Georgia Tech in 1954. After graduation he enlisted in the U.S. Navy, where he was a midshipman and worked as an engineer. After serving, Childress came out west to study architecture at the University of Colorado in Boulder, graduating in 1958.
He was hired in 1961 by William Muchow, his former thesis critic at CU. At the time, Muchow was working on CU's School of Engineering, and Childress served as architect during the design phase, learning lessons about academic buildings that would come in handy later.
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In 1966, Childress formally founded his own firm, and for the next decade and a half, he designed cutting-edge modernist buildings, including the 1968-1970 Foothills Gateway Rehabilitation Center in Fort Collins and the 1972-1973 Samuel Gary Oil Producers Headquarters in Inverness Park. Built of cast-in-place concrete, these structures owe a lot to the brutalism associated with Le Corbusier.
In the 1980s, Childress made a major shift, going from modernism to post-modernism. The first design of this type was the Theater and Dance Building at CU, shown in a drawing done in 1982, but the most important, "Granny's Castle," came ten years later. This was a luxurious mountain retreat created for Daniel Ritchie, then-chancellor of the University of Denver. The remarkable house combines modernist and historic elements in a thoroughly original way.
"Granny's Castle" led to Childress's getting the commissions to do a series of major buildings in a similar style for the DU campus, including the Daniel L. Ritchie Sport and Wellness Center (1992-1999), F. W. Olin Hall of Science (1995-1996), the Daniels College of Business (1997-1999), the Benjamin Stapleton Jr. Tennis House (1999-2000) and (pictured) the Newman Center for the Performing Arts (1996-2003). These D.U. buildings represent Childress's greatest accomplishment -- and he didn't do the first of them until he was in his sixties.
Childress died at the age of 74 on November 17 after a long illness.