The DAM’s tower closed nearly two years ago, and within months construction began on an addition to replace the last remnant of the 1950s museum, which was torn down in preparation. In early 2018, the Ponti tower was emptied of its collections, and rehab work began there. The overall project involved the ground-up construction of a new, attached building, as well as updating the tower to include all new windows as well as new mechanical, electrical and climate-control systems; remodeling and restoration of the interior; additional elevators; completion of the heretofore only partially finished seventh floor; and replacement of thousands of damaged tiles both inside and (mostly) out. The final cost is projected to be $150 million, with $35.5 million of that coming from an Elevate Denver bond, approved by voters in a landslide.
All of this is being overseen by designers from Denver’s Fentress Architects, who have teamed up with Machado Silvetti of Boston, tapped for its expertise. Jorge Silvetti, a principal with that firm, is a Ponti enthusiast and scholar, and his understanding of the master’s aesthetic is revealed in the careful juggling he pulled off to successfully insert an addition immediately adjacent to the front of the iconic building. The curvilinear volume of the addition is perfectly offset by the repeatedly reinforced verticality of the tower. Though larger, it serves the composition in the way that a never-realized auditorium, planned for a spot near the tower’s tube entrance, would have. Its location, south and slightly east of the tower and thus directly north across West 13th Avenue from Daniel Libeskind’s Hamilton Building, allows the semi-circular form to visually, though not literally, “connect” the two major components of the DAM’s campus: the Ponti and the Libeskind. Together, the three function as a true promenade architecturale.
A few weeks ago, the DAM announced that the finished project would be revealed in stages starting in June 2020, when the addition and the first two floors of the tower will open to the public. The entire place is set to be completed by the end of 2021, which lines up exactly with the museum’s original schedule.
Christoph Heinrich, the DAM’s director, leads the tour. Gesturing to the sides of the corridors, he says, “There will be art on these walls,” which is a bit of a surprise, since entry corridors in museums aren’t often used that way. But these long, tall walls are ideal for the job, and he reminds us that the Ponti also featured art in its entry. Andrea Fulton, the DAM’s deputy director, points out the lighting system in the not-yet-completed ceiling of the broad hallway. Because the translucent drop panels have not been installed, I can see the strings of high-tech lights that will create the illusion of thousands of tiny twinkling stars. Other lighting effects are being restored with new technology, like the luminous joints in the facade and the back-lit windows.
Some DAM regulars will recall the glass curtain wall volume that ran along the Civic Center side of the tower, behind which was the lobby adjacent to the tube entrance. It had a sort of candy cane footprint, linking the tower to the now demolished ’50s museum. The rehab project has straightened that out, in one of the most radical changes to the Ponti design; fortunately, the gridded pattern of the fenestration has been retained. Inside this volume is the continuation of the corridor, leading visitors from the Sie to the museum proper. At the base of the tower, the architects bring light into the interior through a series of large, transparent skylights. Only one is uncovered during my tour, right where the tower splits in two. Seeing the tile-clad outside walls from the inside is spectacular.
While I’m not crazy about the look of the bridge leading to the tube, overall the DAM is doing a good job of giving Ponti’s only work in North America a new lease on life as the spectacular Martin Building. And unlike so many city projects, it’s on time and on budget.