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Anywhere you go in the building, these ever-changing spaces constantly create visual drama. The main entrance, which is on the Acoma Plaza side, is fitted out with limestone on the floors and the walls. A Graves "folly" (trade lingo for an architectural conceit with no function, in this case a grid of light-colored maple struts) envelops the square-shaped entry. The "folly," which separates the entry from the down staircases on either side, suggests a lantern. The image is carried out in many other places throughout the library, and it's an appropriate one, since books are often compared not to covered wagons but to beacons.

Many of the architectural elements hinted at by the exterior are fully expressed on the interior. The submerged rotunda on 13th Avenue, for example, is completely round inside. Going up through the floors, it forms some of the building's best interior spaces--in particular, the two-story-tall main reference room just off Schlessman Hall and, upstairs, the spectacular Gates Western History Reading Room. Access to the Gates room is provided through a gallery that showcases the fine-art collection the DPL has been putting together for decades. The antique gilt-framed oil paintings, including the masterpiece of the collection, Albert Bierstadt's nineteenth-century view of Estes Park, prepare us for the luxury within. Fancy veneer work adorns the maple bookshelves that radiate around another Graves "folly"--this time a found one; it's a fragment of an old Oregon oil derrick, made of fir and used as a centerpiece for the room.

I do have one major criticism of the Graves library from the point of view of urban design--there are simply too many colors. Buildings in multiple shades are a Graves signature, but couldn't he have stuck to the established tones of the Civic Center, using the many shades that lie between gray and buff?

"The Big New Library" is an instant landmark, or, to be exact, two landmarks: Hoyt's old classic and Graves's new one. The complex can already be said to constitute one of the most significant public buildings in the state. For a change, Denver got the project it should have, even if, given the selection process, we probably didn't deserve it.

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Michael Paglia is an art historian and writer whose columns have appeared in Westword since 1995; his essays on the visual arts have also been published in national periodicals including Art News, Architecture, Art Ltd., Modernism, Art & Auction and Sculpture Magazine. He taught art history at the University of Colorado Denver.
Contact: Michael Paglia