Calatrava's bridge at DIA is the latest art plan that never took off

Last August, Denver International Airport unveiled its ambitious plans for a hotel, an RTD commuter rail station and an RTD bridge (pictured) over Peña Boulevard. All had been envisioned as a coherent, interconnected and singular group of structures by architectural superstar Santiago Calatrava (whom I wrote about on August 5, 2010).

The Spanish-born Calatrava envisioned that as motorists approached the airport, they would pass under the bridge (rail commuters, of course, would go over it), which would act like a gateway to the complex. And as they left, the bridge would do double duty as the symbolic gateway to Denver. The station would be subtly submerged below grade and tucked in beneath the hotel, which would be connected to the iconic tent-roofed Jeppesen Terminal that was done by Fentress Bradburn.

The dialogue between the compressive arches of the bridge, station and hotel and the soaring tensile structures of the terminal would create, according to Calatrava, a "promenade architectural." Looking at these plans and listening to what Calatrava had to say about them made me understand why he is so famous and well-respected.


Denver International Airport

Last week, because of a funding shortfall, the bridge element was scrapped, and that's a real pity, because the bridge set the tone for the whole endeavor. Not only that, but RTD has a miserable record in architecture, so what can be expected of the replacement design? The light-rail stations and pedestrian bridges along I-25, for example, are invariably ham-fisted affairs that were apparently designed by people who had no idea of what a formal relationship was or how to draw one. The sole positive note about RTD's infrastructure? It has staying power, as I seem to never tire of ridiculing it.

The Calatrava bridge at DIA joins a roster of creations that were designed for Denver by world-famous architects but never built. Others include Mario Botta's ceremonial arch for LoDo, Daniel Libeskind's hotel at 12th and Broadway, and the courthouse by Stephen Holl. Let's just hope the rest of Calatrava's plans for DIA don't bite the dust like so many other worthwhile ideas in the Mile High City.


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