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Currigan was the work of a group of Denver firms, led by W.C. Muchow Associates, which got the job by winning a national architectural competition. The principle designer was James Ream, who worked in collaboration with the chief structural engineer, Mike Barrett. Ream used Barrett's structural system, the then-experimental space frame, as his chief decorative device. The space frame, which allows great horizontal distances to be spanned without vertical supports, is made of ten-foot sections of steel. The edge of it is visible at the roof line, above the richly patinated rusted-steel panels on the walls. This expressed structure and the slit windows that punctuate all four sides give the building a visual lightness that compensates for its exaggerated horizontality.

Compare this to the CCC right across the street to get a quick course in architectural appreciation. As opposed to lightly sitting on its site, like Currigan does, the CCC lumbers across the land. For goodness sake, you can't even tell there's a hill underneath the building.

Inside, Currigan is spacious and filled with light. The rooms soar above your head, with city views glimpsed through the windows. Architect Fentress has frequently said that Currigan can't be saved and reused because there's little about it that works. Perhaps this makes Currigan superior to the CCC -- where nothing works. Currigan's design is intelligent and, as a consequence, elegant. It's a creative process little understood by those who have cast their lot with the nonsense of CCC expansion.

Also on the chopping block if the expansion is approved is the perfectly fine and handsome 1982 Terracentre Tower designed by Alfred Williams for Seracuse/Lawler and Partners. Now called the Terrace Building, at Speer and Stout, it is sleek and urbane and fully of its time. Constructed of a dramatically sculpted concrete frame fitted out with tinted windows, the building features a wedge of floors at the bottom that step back to the tower above. An unintended attribute of the building (since it was built several years before) is that it blocks the CCC from view when you're headed southeast on Speer.

Speer Boulevard itself, however, will also be a casualty of the proposed expansion. The building, if constructed, would contain approximately one million square feet, more than many of downtown's largest skyscrapers, and would come right up to Speer, where its gigantic bulk would damage the spatial relationships of this green sward, which is one of the city's most valuable urban equities. (If only a gifted urban designer was at the helm of the city's planning office, he or she would surely have noticed.)

Damage would also be done to the Denver Performing Arts Complex, which would be adjacent. In the conceptual model of the CCC presented to the public by Fentress Bradburn, the spectacular DPAC is diminished, reduced to looking like a cluster of Tuff Sheds assembled behind an airplane hangar. Even Fentress acknowledges, at least in the model, that the building's size is a problem. To break up the huge horizontal mass of the roof, he has proposed lines of full-sized deciduous trees -- no kidding. I hope they're plastic, because real ones can't live up there.

Let's stop this terrible idea in its tracks and prevent the Colorado Convention Center from continuing its city-murdering rampage.

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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

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