The Ten Worst 21st-Century Buildings in Downtown Denver

Denver has never been a great town for fans of architecture. Important buildings from the past routinely go under the wrecking ball, while only a tiny percentage of their replacements are any good at all. It’s actually a brilliant strategy on the part of developers: Short-circuit any future historic-preservation struggles by putting up structures that no one will care about if they ever have to be torn down.

A couple of months ago, I compiled a list of what I thought were the ten best buildings constructed downtown in the 21st century (“Mile High Monumental,” April 23). That list could easily have been stretched to fifteen — but not twenty, because there just aren’t twenty great buildings that have gone up downtown since the year 2000.

Now, while considering the flip side of that same coin, I’m confronted with an entirely different set of issues. Not only could I easily enumerate twenty monstrosities that have been built in Denver since 2000; I could probably come up with fifty, especially when it comes to those that serve as housing or hotels. And I’m not alone: The topic of development and architecture seems to be on everyone’s minds these days as neighborhoods change overnight, whether it’s regarding the construction of large apartment buildings or insensitive single-family homes.

Here, then, is a list of what I feel are ten of the most contemptible large structures built downtown in the 21st century.

The Beauvallon
925-975 Lincoln Street
Constructed: 2004-2005

There are a lot of non-architectural reasons to single out the Beauvallon, a pair of conjoined fifteen-story towers, as being among the worst buildings in town. After all, the place needed over $20 million in repairs almost as soon as it was finished. The money was paid as the result of a lawsuit, and may have single-handedly ended condo construction in the city for a good while, as other builders were hesitant to fall into the same trap. But I hate the building on purely aesthetic grounds.

Prominently sited on Lincoln Street, on the brow of Capitol Hill — the better to heighten its oppressiveness — the building is simultaneously pretentious and tacky. It was done in a style that might be dubbed “Baroque-a-cola.” It looks like it was originally made of Styrofoam covered in cake icing — which, seemingly, it was. The Beauvallon takes the form of two piles of beige blobs marked by heavy arches, with both towers and the connecting wing being topped by ridiculous domes.

A project of Martin Design Inc., the Beauvallon is the last of a trio of dreadful, skyline-marring high-rises done by Craig Nassi and his BCN Development. The other two — the Belvedere, at 475 West 12th Avenue, and the Prado, at 300 West 11th Avenue — are runners-up for this list of the worst. I think of the three as being the first truly dreadful high-rises to have ever been built downtown. But even in this disreputable company, the Beauvallon stands out.

Residence Inn Denver City Center
1725 Champa Street
Constructed: 2006

I hate to include the Residence Inn Denver City Center on this list, because unlike the Beauvallon, this building was a good-faith effort, at least from the standpoint of construction craft — and in appearance, it doesn’t hold a candle to the profound hideousness of that miserable carbuncle. Stylistically, its sources aren’t so bad, either, so I wasn’t tempted to come up with a pithy nickname for its style.

No, its lack of charm is more subtle — but no less deadly. For starters, the shaft looks too heavy and squat, a situation made all the worse by an anemic corner tower. And it doesn’t complement its distinguished historic neighbors on this incredible block, neighbors that include the Hotel Monaco, Denver Fire Clay, the Buerger Brothers building, the old Chamber of Commerce and the Colorado Business Bank. As much as it aspires to blend in with its surroundings, there’s no way the Residence Inn can get around its shortcomings, which are magnified when compared to these other fine structures.

The architects, Newman Cavender & Doane (now a part of DLR Group), were obviously trying. But I can only assume that the firm’s A-team was busy working on the much better Denver Newspaper Agency Building at the Civic Center — which was completed the same year — leaving the Residence Inn to the firm’s less gifted hands.

Hilton Garden Inn
1400 Welton Street
Constructed: 2007

If I felt a little bad about hanging shame on the Residence Inn, I delight in pointing and laughing at the unbelievably tawdry and unimaginative Hilton Garden Inn near the Colorado Convention Center. It’s hard to even describe what’s going on with this building, there’s so much confusion. On the lower floors, there are vertical bays flanked by windows linked by horizontal bands, which makes no sense compositionally. And although there was an attempt to give the place a volumetric complexity through the use of different colors, slight setbacks and a half-hearted cap at the corner, it’s still just a big, ugly box overall.

There is no architect or firm credited with its design, because it was likely conjured up in-house by its developer, Stonebridge Companies, from their offices in that renowned center for architecture, Centennial. That means it was probably shaped by accountants.

This absorption of the architectural-design function by developers will emerge as a theme that connects many of the buildings on this list. The people who conceive of these projects are usually more concerned with squeezing the most money possible out of them rather than thinking about how things look and how they contribute to the urban fabric, or about making a civic contribution through architectural excellence.

One Lincoln Park
2001 Lincoln Street
Constructed: 2008

One Lincoln Park is a train wreck, and not just because the developer, Erik Osborn, was indicted for grand theft, but because the building is a total mess architecturally. For instance, what does that traditional-looking base have to do with the Miami Vice-style tower that rises above it? It’s almost as though the base was conceived to work with existing historic buildings — as if it were located in LoDo. But the old buildings that once surrounded One Lincoln Park were demolished long before this thing was off the computer screen. And digital design is what encouraged many of its excesses, including the ill-proportioned arched top, which appears to have the wrong radius. Speaking of wrong, the tower looks too short in relation to both the base and the curved topper.

One Lincoln Park was done by the now-defunct Buchanan Yonushewski Group, a partnership of Brad Buchanan and John Yonushewski, both of whom later joined RNL. More important, Buchanan was appointed Denver’s planning director by Mayor Michael Hancock in 2014. Considering that One Lincoln Park is his former firm’s most notable project, Denverites can abandon all hope that good design values will play any role in the planning process with Buchanan at the helm.

Embassy Suites
1420 Stout Street
Constructed: 2010

There is something very wrong with this Embassy Suites. It was designed by LK Architecture’s Dennis D. Smith for WPM Construction, and it looks like some serious mistakes were made. There’s that blind shaft on the 14th Street side, and another on Stout Street — are they for elevators? Shouldn’t they be submerged in the walls? Then there’s the pseudo-symmetry on the Stout Street side, the building’s main elevation. At the base, on the left, are four tiers of windows, but on the right, there are just two. Above, five stacks of windows on the left pair with just four on the right. That extra stack is recessed, as though it were an afterthought — like those two blind shafts. Did I mention that, similar to One Lincoln Park, there’s an ersatz historical base that seems to be referring to historic buildings nearby — except that there aren’t any?

With the completion of the Colorado Convention Center in 2004, the need for more hotel space was anticipated, and so, in a public-private partnership, the Hyatt Regency Denver, by Keat Tan for klipp (now gkkworks), was built at 650 15th Street in 2005. It was among the first high-rises erected downtown since the oil boom of the late ’70s and early ’80s. It’s on my list of downtown’s best 21st-century buildings, setting a high standard for hotel design that neither the nearby Embassy Suites nor the aforementioned Hilton Garden Inn even tried to meet.

1956 Lawrence Street
Constructed: 2011

As with the Residence Inn, I feel a pang of regret for including Solera, by Denver architect John Gagnon of JG Architects, on this list. The brickwork on the podium and the metal on the tower both look to be well executed. And not only that, but Solera is LEED-certified — meaning it was designed to save energy, a standard feature of the buildings developed by Zocalo Community Development — putting the firm clearly among the good guys. But the appearance of the building has more of a Stapleton or Belmar feeling than a downtown one — and I don’t mean that as a compliment.

The building’s podium is done in buff brick, broken by horizontal lines of red brick, which lend it a neo-traditional air. The appearance of these types of podiums was a response to the problem of inserting tall buildings among lower historic ones, and often the top of the podium would line up with the rooflines of the old buildings. But in this case, as with One Lincoln Park and the Embassy Suites, there are no historic buildings left around it to refer to. This is a technicality, though, compared to the element with which the building really jumps the rails: the polychromed high-rise block accented by a canted tower, complete with a diagonal mast, that rises from the corner. It’s a lesson in how not to do neo-modern.

The Marq at RiNo
2797 Wewatta Way
Constructed: 2013

RiNo is one of the areas in town where, because of large available plots of land, bad new architecture is common. In fact, I could have pulled my entire list of disasters from this neighborhood alone. Although RiNo lays claim to the LoDo-ish section on the ridge bordered by Blake Street, its heart is in the old railroad yards down the hill, where Broadway gives way to Brighton Boulevard. This means that The Marq (formerly The Yards at Denargo Market) acts as a kind of gateway to the district — and that’s really too bad.

The mammoth project is in a style I like to call McCentury Modern, because the designers have taken the inspired devices associated with mid-century modern — cantilevers, wedge-shaped roofs and corner windows — and freely collaged them, with the help of software, onto enormous structures like these. And that turns inspiration into pathetic clichés.

The Marq at RiNo was developed by Cypress Real Estate Advisors, with LKR Services as architects. It’s clear when looking at the project that lawyers and accountants called the shots — never a good thing for architecture.

AMLI Riverfront Park
1900 Little Raven Street
Constructed: 2014

The development of the Platte Valley over the past couple of years — with RiNo as its northern extension — has been nothing short of shocking. It’s like a decade’s worth of development has happened in just a year or two. The area behind Union Station, made up of high-rise and mid-rise buildings, is pretty impressive, with several notable structures and an overall sense of urban coherence.

But closer to Coors Field, it’s a different story, with lots of boring structures, none of which are as boring as AMLI Riverfront Park. Like a number of projects on this list, AMLI Riverfront Park was a developer-driven project (that developer being none other than AMLI), even if an architect, Paul Bergner, is credited with its design. The building mindlessly refers to both historic and modern architecture. It features different volumes done in different shades of brick. There are also various bump-outs; both of these attributes are used to break up the structure’s staggeringly large mass. Some have praised the curved footprint that follows the curve of the street, but that’s just a way to get more building onto the site.

Chicago-based AMLI is one of the largest owners and developers of multi-family dwellings in the country. There are actually eight other AMLI projects in metro Denver, encompassing a total of nearly 3,000 apartments; that list includes the equally unappealing AMLI Park Avenue, at 755 East 19th Avenue.

Line 28 at LoHi
1560 Boulder Street
Constructed: 2014

One of the things that makes the Line 28 at LoHi apartment complex so annoying is the way in which the developers have cynically embraced Denver’s hipster vibe — which is especially vibrant in this neighborhood — and have used it as a marketing tool. That extends right down to that name — Line 28 — which is meant to refer to Denver history: a trolley line called Line 28 went right by the place. How cool (eye roll).

Like The Marq at RiNo, which also features that awkward “at” where “in” should be, Line 28 at LoHi exemplifies McCentury Modern, even if it is marginally better than the RiNo project. This is clearly the style of choice for the big development corporations operating in the city right now — corporations like Holland Partners Group, which developed Line 28 at LoHi to a design by Sprocket. And it’s easy to see why: You don’t really need inspired design when you have an architect with a computer program and employees who can work the cursors.

This allows Holland Construction and Holland Development to, according to the company’s website, “…manage the entire project development process from conception through completion…[allowing] a smooth transition from design development through the construction process to project closeout and transition into property management.” So, Line 28 at LoHi was created using well-tested formulas — and it looks it.

2785 Speer Boulevard
2785 Speer Boulevard
Constructed: 2014-15

Speer Boulevard northwest of I-25 lacks the charm of the parkway portion of the street southeast of the Auraria Parkway, so maybe part of the problem with the two-building complex known by its address, 2785 Speer Boulevard, and developed by Allied Realty Group, is that it’s so close to the street, it seems to be looming over it. This oppressive impression is only enhanced by its prominent site on the hillside that starts to rise from the freeway. Given its highly visible location, 2785 Speer Boulevard functions as something of a gateway to Jefferson Park — which has not yet been re-dubbed JePa, by the way — and as is the case with The Marq at RiNo, which plays the same role for RiNo, that’s too bad. Frankly, it’s worse in the case of 2785 Speer Boulevard, because it’s more emphatic in that lofty location on which it’s been built, while The Marq is at least built at grade.

2785 Speer Boulevard was designed by Meeks + Partners Architects, a Houston-based company that appears to specialize in this kind of awkward hybrid of neo-traditional and neo-modern. The two sensibilities collide with one another all over the building. A good example is the handling of the walls, which feature both windows marked by sills and lintels and cantilevers and horizontal lines; it’s a preposterous combination of elements.