On Sunday, November 19, the Denver Art Museum’s gray-glass-tile-clad building on Civic Center Park that was designed by renowned Italian modernist Gio Ponti will close to the public for three years so that the landmark can be completely modernized mechanically while its architectural character is preserved. The goal is to finish the project by the end of 2021, which marks the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Ponti building in 1971.
The estimated cost of the endeavor is $150 million, and in honor of a gift of $25 million for the renovation project from J. Landis and Sharon Martin, the structure, now called the North Building, will be renamed the J. Landis and Sharon Martin Building when it reopens.
It was around five years ago that Christoph Heinrich, the Frederick and Jan Mayer director of the DAM, began to explore the idea of bringing the Ponti building up to date. He had the full backing of the board; as far back as 2006, when Daniel Libeskind’s Hamilton Building was completed, the need for repairs at the Ponti was widely known.
Earlier this year, preliminary concepts were unveiled by Denver’s Fentress Architects, working with Machado Silvetti from Boston. Jorge Silvetti, a principal with Machado Silvetti, has had a lifelong interest in Ponti, and his expertise is very welcome, considering the delicate operation that is to be undertaken.
Some of the changes will be prosaic, such as new HVAC, plumbing, wiring and elevators. Others will be restorative, including the new glass tiles that will be specially made to replace those that have become chipped or cracked over the years (the DAM has nearly run out of the extras made back in the ’70s for just that purpose).
Still more changes will be profound. First among these is the demolition of the South Building, which had housed Palettes restaurant; a glass-walled, drum-like pavilion will be erected there. This curving element recalls a never-built part of the original design, but the new version will be much larger and farther from the entrance than in the initial proposal. This new building will be called the Anna and John J. Sie Welcome Center, in honor of a $12 million gift toward its completion by the couple.
Another major change will be right in front of the original metal-clad tubular entrance, which will be preserved. The forecourt will be excavated to join with the existing concourse-level entrance, a full story below the tube, which will be accessed by a ramp-like pedestrian bridge. In order to make these changes, the curved wall to the left of the entrance will be demolished, and the existing glass-curtain wall corridor will be extended to join with the new Sie building.
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Finally, the top level — now only a partial floor with a roof deck typically closed to the public — will be completely built out so that galleries can occupy the entire space.
The Ponti building will be emptied of all artworks before construction activities commence. To compensate for the closure, the DAM's Hamilton Building, just south of the Ponti across West 13th Avenue, will add Monday hours starting November 20 and will remain open seven days a week for the duration of the renovation project.