Populus Hotel Adds Architectural Diversity to Downtown Denver | Westword
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Inside Colfax's Funky New Building, the Soon-to-Open Populus Hotel

Get a glimpse inside the eye-catching, sustainably built hotel by Civic Center Park designed to look like an aspen tree.
The facade for the Populus is almost complete.
The facade for the Populus is almost complete. Catie Cheshire

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At the edge of Civic Center Park and the start of downtown Denver stands an unusual building, the eye-catching Populus.

The city sold the triangular-shaped lot for $2.5 million in 2017; it had previously been home to the precursor of Visit Denver and then a daycare for people using the Denver courts. But the new owners took their time coming up with just the right project for the property.

Designed to mimic the bark of an aspen tree, the hotel at 240 14th Street is now taking reservations for September 2024 and beyond while construction is completed. Its exterior, built from 365 Glass Fiber Reinforced Concrete panels, already has a look unlike that of any other structure in the city.

The building is the country’s first carbon-positive hotel, according to developer Urban Villages, which says it has planted 70,000 trees in Gunnison County to offset emissions from construction. It’s using local, biodegradable and high-quality materials to minimize its environmental impact as well.

Aparium, a national boutique hotel group, will manage the project once it’s finished. General manager George Prine says the hotel will adopt sustainable operational practices such as composting and paperless check-in and check-out.

“Hotels have not historically been a very environmentally forward-thinking industry. ... We're going to show and share, more importantly, best practices that everybody can do. That's my goal," Prine says.

The architecture of the hotel is meant to remind people of nature. The building was designed by architect Jeanne Gang and her firm, Studio Gang, which has outposts around the globe; according to Prine, Gang took long walks in the Colorado mountains to get inspiration. The resulting curved, hooded facade insulates the windows to keep hot sun out in the summer and warm air in during the winter

Prine attended the University of Colorado in the 1980s and says the city's skyline was about the same back then. The Populus, he adds, "is an architectural marvel and something Denver's skyline needs."

Inside Populus Hotel

The interior of the hotel keeps the aspen theme going, as it's designed to mimic a tree. The lobby plays the role of the forest floor with earthy tones, and elevator shafts and hallways serve as the trunk with darker tones; rooms and the rooftop lounge represent the brightness and foliage of leaves.

Populus director of sales Jared Johnson says the hotel currently has a musician recording sounds of an aspen grove throughout the year that will play in the elevators during the appropriate season.

“Spring will be very different than winter,” he explains. “The birds that you hear, the leaves, the water, moose calls: Who knows what's going to be on there?”

The 265 rooms at the hotel start at $299 per night, with the average room having a “luxury yacht” feel, according to Johnson, as they’re not spacious but still well designed. Keeping up with sustainable construction, the headboards are made of beetle-kill wood and the carpet is biodegradable.

Populus will offer unique studio suites and larger rooms for those who want an upgraded space. But every room has its own windows shaped like upside-down bells, eyes or archways found throughout the hotel. Sconces in the hallway mimic the shape of the window in nearby rooms.

“There's not a lot of right angles in the hotel to go with the nature theme of 'no right angles in nature,' so there’s just a lot of different configurations,” Johnson says.

Rooms where the windows have the right shape will include built-in hammock benches. There are 64 furniture arrangements throughout the 265 rooms, though every shower is glass with floor-to-ceiling tile.
click to enlarge Hotel window archway in Denver
The Populus will offer a variety of great views and funky window shapes.
Catie Cheshire
Guests will get views of the Colorado Capitol, Denver's cityscape or the mountains, depending on which side of the hotel has their assigned room.

And regular Denver dwellers can stop by, too, as Populus will have a coffee shop and two restaurants with full bars open to the public. The rooftop bar and restaurant will even have their own elevator so that hotel guests don’t get bogged down with bar traffic, and vice versa.

The rooftop restaurant will have a live-fire area where guests can watch meals being prepped. The second floor will also have a bar and can be used as an event space with boardrooms. Prine teases a “tremendous” food and beverage team to be announced this summer.

Other sustainable features in the design include a front desk made of a reclaimed cottonwood tree, reclaimed snow fencing lining the ceiling, dots on the windows for bird safety, and fly ash concrete throughout the building.

Sustainable Practices at Populus

click to enlarge Reclaimed snow fencing lines the ceilings at Populus hotel.
Reclaimed snow fencing lines the ceilings at the Populus.
Catie Cheshire
According to Prine, Populus will make sustainability efforts transparent and trackable. All of its electricity will be sourced from off-site solar and wind farms, and management is aiming for a zero-food-waste spot. The hotel will have an on-site biodigester that will dispose of every food scrap before the contents are donated to a company that makes compost.

“We will be the first hotel in Denver to have this,” Prine says. “Every package and every wrapper that goes into the hotel that might be used, we're trying to make sure it could be completely biodegradable and put into our biodigester.”

Along with paperless check-in and check-out, which Prine says makes for a smoother operation anyway (though people can still get physical keys), Populus's owners want to plant a tree for every night a guest stays at the hotel.

There isn’t a parking garage at Populus. That’s sustainable, Prine argues,  because a garage would likely become obsolete over the next three decades, as fewer people will be using cars in the downtown area. The hotel's location in the center of Denver means people don’t need a car to enjoy the city, he adds.

The A Line from the airport to Union Station connects almost directly with the free 16th Street Mall bus, which runs just two blocks from the Populus.

“The art museum is right across the street from us,” Prine adds. “Activities happen at Civic Center Park throughout the year. You've got the creek with the bikeway. ... The more people walk to destinations, I think it's going to be better for everybody.”

But management won’t be hitting guests over the head with sustainability, he promises, adding that many will want to stay at the Populus simply because it’s a cool hotel.

“You don't have to show us your environmental green card before you check in,” Prine jokes. “We want to meet people where they're at, and we're not going to be preachy about it, but if people are inquisitive and ask, ‘Tell me more,’ we'll certainly be able to tell them everything they need to know about all of our initiatives.”
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