There’s more to Denver’s cityscape than its brick-and-mortar exterior. The annual Doors Open Denver tour peels back that layer, offering insider looks at what’s behind some of the Mile High City’s most famous facades. Sponsored by the Denver Architectural Foundation, this year’s theme is “Denver Classics Then & Now,” and includes both modern architectural marvels like the eye-catching 21st-century DaVita building in LoDo and historical gems like the 1910 Daniels & Fisher Tower on the 16th Street Mall. Dozens of public and private structures will be open this weekend, with self-directed tours or ticketed trips led by volunteer architects, historians and Denver-centric enthusiasts.
In advance of the Eleventh Annual Doors Open Denver, Westword spoke with Brit Probst, architect at Davis Partnership and vice president of the Denver Architectural Foundation.
Westword: What was the the idea behind this year's Doors Open Denver theme, "Denver Classics Then & Now"?
Brit Probst: To a large extent it's inspired by this being the first year of Doors Open Denver since Union Station has reopened. There's such a terrific story there of a venerable old building that has been a train station its entire life that hasn't always been very active. It's always been a substantial structure, but not something that was necessarily front and center to Denver as train travel became more marginalized. Here it is back this year in all of its glory, not only as a beautifully restored and improved building, but as part of a brand-new transit story in Denver that has unlocked a whole district of new development, as well as renovated and restored buildings. Not that that's the only story, but this truly was a Denver classic with a history and a very relevant, current story, and we thought that it was appropriate.
How do buildings get involved with Doors Open Denver — can they submit to be a part of it or are they reached out to by the organization?
It's a little bit of both — we have a steering committee that every year tries to compile a list of the buildings that we think would be relevant for the tour this year. There are years when we are really focused downtown, which is pretty much how we are this year — last year we were really focused on neighborhood architecture. We compile a list and then go out and see if the building owners are interested and willing to participate. In other cases, they contact us and really want to be on the tour.
We're obviously seeing a lot of growth in Denver and that includes a lot of new construction. What role do you think design plays as the city grows?
One of our key objectives with Doors Open Denver is to connect people to what is going on in the city and help them understand the treasures we have in our midst — and hopefully to create the expectation on their part that as development proceeds, that it will be good development. It will be buildings that we're proud of, buildings we'll be happy to be on this list of classic architecture. What we're hoping to do is energize the public about architecture and urban planning in Denver and create an expectation on their part and involvement from them, and for them to expect the best in development.
To me, it seems easier to look at older architecture and find styles or things that stand out and make them worthwhile stops on tour like this. When you look at newer buildings to include, what do you look for?
In newer buildings, we're looking for examples of architecture — buildings that really relate to their urban context in an appropriate way, and that can be in very different ways. I think there are great examples of contextual architecture. I'll use the SugarCube (1555 Blake Street) as an example, which is right next to the historic Sugar Building. Both of those buildings are open sites for Doors Open Denver. Obviously, the museum district — the Denver Art Museum (100 West 14th Avenue Parkway) and the Clyfford Still Museum (1250 Bannock) are modern architectural examples that aren't trying to blend into their context; they are creating a civic cultural district context there. The Hamilton and North buildings of the DAM are both open sites, although the new office building — really a great example of urban, modern architecture — will not be open to the public.
Is there a new or old building that you personally are excited to have on the Doors Open Denver tour this year?
One of my favorites that is on the tour again this year is the Byron White Courthouse project (1823 Stout) — it used to be a post office for years and years and then was renovated about a decade ago into a courthouse. It's a really lovely building both on the outside and the inside, and that's definitely one of my favorites. In terms of a historic building that I think is just a treasure, the Equitable Building (730 17th Street) is an open site — it's one of the first "high-rises," if you will. It's only a seven- or eight- or maybe ten-story building, but the interior lobby space on the first floor and the lower level have spectacular glass mosaic tiles and barrel-vaulted ceilings. If you haven't seen it, you really have to go check it out. It's a wonderful building.
Doors Open Denver runs Saturday, April 25 and Sunday, April 26 at various locations around the city, with official tour headquarters at Union Station. Self-guided tours are free; insider tours are $10. For a full list of open buildings, as well as information on tickets and guided tours, visit the Doors Open Denver website.
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