Building For the Future

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"That's what some young architects find difficult to accept," says Fitch. "When doing historic renovations, you have to be able to put yourself in the shoes of the original architect. Invention is at a minimum."

The New York firm emphasized listening carefully to clients and trying to understand how a building would fit into a neighborhood. "I learned a different way of thinking about things," says Tryba. "I got an opportunity to design several mixed-use projects. I also became excited about working inside cities."

While today Tryba's heart is in downtown Denver--he estimates 75 percent of his firm's work is within walking distance of his office--he's now working on a large project that will transform the ultimate suburban monstrosity: the former Cinderella City Mall in Englewood.

The onetime shopping monolith is now being demolished, and Tryba has been given the task of converting the site into a civic and commercial center that will open up to a light-rail station now under construction. Much is riding on the project, which Englewood officials hope will trigger a renaissance for the aging suburb.

Originally, Englewood officials proposed replacing the mall with yet another "big box" collection of retail superstores. But after residents revolted, they scurried back to the drawing board and turned to celebrated planner Peter Calthorpe to help them design something better. Tryba has worked closely with Calthorpe on the project; both men are advocates of "new urbanism," the planning movement that calls for a return to pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods served by mass-transit lines.

The new scheme creates a civic and commercial district closely tied to the RTD light-rail station. Commuters will be able to step off a train and go over a bridge that Tryba hopes will resemble the famous Spanish Steps in Rome.

"You'll come down a cascading set of stairs into a beautiful urban space," says Bob Simpson, Englewood's development director. "It will have fountains and a green oval and will be an active pedestrian space with a library, stores and living areas. It will be a place where you can go to the movies, have dinner, drop off your laundry or just hang out."

The only building that will be salvaged from the old Cinderella City is the former Foley's, which will become Englewood's new town hall with a library on the first floor. A movie theater, retail stores and restaurants will be located on the plaza. Several hundred housing units will be built, and many of the retail stores will have apartments on the second floor, allowing employees to live "above the shop" and skip commuting.

The idea is to create a suburban space where it will be possible to function without a car. "We wanted to make something that would be lasting," says Simpson. "The community didn't want to see what happened to Cinderella City happen again. This will be a model for transit-oriented design here in Denver."

In 1950, the population of the entire metro area was just over 610,000, with 415,000 of those living in the city of Denver. Today 2.2 million people call metro Denver home, but only about 500,000 of them live in the city proper.

Despite this astounding growth, the things that people love about the city--the parks and parkways, the famous old hotels, the ruddy brick commercial buildings, the stone churches and government centers--were almost all created by a remarkable group of people who worked and dreamed here a hundred years ago. The fact that Denver hasn't fostered a group of city builders of equal stature since is a shame--and a challenge to those who want to guide Denver into the next century.

Three talented architects working in the 1880s and early 1890s gave Denver much of its best architecture during an extraordinary six-year building boom that lasted from 1888 to 1893. Frank Edbrooke, William Lang and Robert Roeschlaub each worked to shape the rough-hewn frontier town into a city of grace and sophistication. Their work was amplified by Denver's greatest mayor, Robert Speer, who dominated the city during the first two decades of this century and worked tirelessly to create many of Denver's parks and civic buildings, including Civic Center.

Edbrooke was summoned to Denver from Chicago--a city that greatly influenced Denver architecture--in 1879 by mining magnate Horace Tabor to supervise construction of the Tabor Grand Opera House and the Tabor Block at 16th and Larimer. (Both buildings were demolished in the urban renewal that decimated blocks of Victorian buildings in the Sixties.)

Edbrooke quickly realized that a booming Western town eager to prove itself was the perfect place for an ambitious young architect. And Denverites were quick to discover the talents of the man from Chicago, especially when they saw his buildings holding their own with those designed by firms in Boston and New York.

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Stuart Steers
Contact: Stuart Steers

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