Along with the Sie and the Martin, the park boasts an astounding concentration of governmental and cultural institutions, each with its own distinctive structure. Taken together, they offer a history of civic architecture from the past century, written in stone.
The idea for the Civic Center actually goes back to 1893, when a politically ambitious Denverite, Robert Speer, attended the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, where he was stuck by the neoclassical buildings on the fairgrounds. In 1904, Speer was elected mayor of Denver. Intending to use the urban design ideas he’d brought back from Chicago, he had his administration acquire the land between two extant Beaux Arts buildings, the 1904 Colorado State Capitol by Elijah Myers and Frank Edbrooke, and the 1906 U.S. Mint by James Knox Taylor. Several ultimately rejected plans for the site were proposed. Before a final scheme was codified, Albert Ross’s dignified gray flannel suit of a structure, the 1909 Carnegie Library (now the McNichols Building) was finished. Speer left the mayor’s office in 1912 but ran again in 1916; after he was re-elected, he brought in architect Edward Bennett to come up with a Civic Center plan that was finally accepted and led directly to today’s park.
Speer died in 1918 in the influenza pandemic, and didn’t live long enough to see the realization of Bennett’s designs. Those included the pseudo-symmetry of the paths, along with the Greek Amphitheater by Marean and Norton and the Voorhies Memorial by Fisher and Fisher, both completed in 1919. Those colonnaded confections serve as bookends for the north/south axis. The east end of the east/west axis pointed at the Capitol, so the empty west end needed something to reinforce it, and the gawdy, circa 1932 Denver City and County Building filled that bill. It was designed by over three dozen local architects who formed the Allied Architects Association, led by Robert Fuller.
And then came the DAM’s effervescent tower, the first Civic Center building to become internationally known. Designed by Gio Ponti and James Sudler, it opened in 1971. A couple of decades later, Michael Graves’s funky yet monumental 1995 polychromed. postmodern addition to Hoyt’s Central Library gained similar acclaim.
The first decades of the 21st century saw a Civic Center building boom launched by David Tryba’s sleek 2002 Wellington Webb Municipal Building, attached to the Annex I. This period reached an apex in 2006 with Daniel Libeskind’s stack of colliding titanium-clad wedges, the DAM’s famous Hamilton Building. The Hamilton and the Ponti, now renamed the Martin Building, are on opposite sides of the street, creating an obvious need to unify them. The circular glass drum of the new Sie Center, designed by Machado Silvetti and Fentress Architects, miraculously does just that by balancing the exaggerated horizontality of the Hamilton with the emphatic verticality of the Martin.