Complex skeleton with HISTAR® steel allows angular design of Denver Art Museum expansion

The expansion to the Denver Art Museum, the Frederic C. Hamilton Building, was opened in 2006 and has become the new entrance to the entire complex. Its deconstructivist geometric design was realised with a steel structure for which ArcelorMittal's high strength steel HISTAR® was used.

Detailed information

The Hamilton Building houses the museum's Modern and Contemporary Art Collection as well as the collection of Architecture and Design and Oceanic Art, a 280-seat auditorium and an art storage area. Its representative lobby enables access to the museum, the shops and a café. Clad with titanium panels, the Hamilton Building has become a landmark in Denver.

With its complex geometric shape, the building aims to imitate the surrounding urban and natural landscape, especially the Rocky Mountains. The angular structure consists of 20 sloping planes, none of which is parallel or perpendicular to another. A complicated skeleton of more than 2700 tonnes of steel was required as a load-bearing structure for this irregular geometric design. The assembly of the angular steel frame was finished in 13 months.

The project was a joint venture between Daniel Libeskind and Davis Partnership of Denver. The team oversaw the construction of the project and were ensured they were based in Denver from the completion of schematics. The studio worked closely with the director, curators, the core exhibit team, the contact architect, and the Board of Trustees to realise an innovative museum for the 21st Century.

The Eye and the Wing: An architectural memory by Daniel Libeskind

"The new building for the Denver Art Museum will be an icon whose character and form will attract a wide public to the museum complex. Nexus is conceived in close connection with the function and aesthetic of the existing Ponti museum as well as the entire Civic Center and the public library. The new building is a Nexus tying together downtown and civic center forming a strong connection to the golden triangle neighborhood. The project is not designed as a stand alone building but as part of a composition of public spaces, monuments and gateways in this developing part of the city, contributing to the synergy amongst neighbors large and intimate.

The materials of the building and plaza will be those closely relating to the existing context (local stone) as well as innovative new materials (titanium) which together will form spaces that connect local Denver tradition to the 21st Century.

The amazing vitality and growth of Denver from its foundation to the present inspires the form of new museum. Coupled with the magnificent topography with its breathtaking views of the sky and the Rocky Mountains, the dialogue between the boldness of construction and the romanticism of the landscape create a unique place in the world. The bold and forward looking engagement of the public in forging its own cultural, urban and spirited destiny is something that would strike anyone upon touching the soil of Colorado.

One of the challenges of building the Denver Art Museum is to work closely and respond to the extraordinary range of transformations in light, coloration, atmospheric effects, temperature and weather conditions unique to this city. I insist these are to be integrated not only functionally and physically, but culturally and experientially for the benefit of the visitors' experience. The conjunction of the contemporary art experience with the uniqueness of the local conditions will form part of the decisions of materials, form, and space.

The community has a great role in participating in the creation of the new Denver Art Museum, though the architect has to take full responsibility for the work, the public's inclusion is integral to the building's success. I believe in the importance of the debate and discourse the project will generate as part of its mission to extend public participation in the museum. Although no symphony or work of art has been composed by committee, the open public context of a work has always been important for its successful completion.

The spatial spectrum of the museum will choreograph public experience for the visitors greater than the sum of its parts. The visitor experience will begin before actually entering the building proper because the building is conceived as a spectacular urban form within the center of the horizon of the city. The flow of public circulation will therefore be a full three dimensional exploration of the topography of place, time and the unexpected.

The 21st century is a century in which the experience of visitors and the museum itself will be radically rethought. The old barriers between tradition and the future will be dissolved and reformulated in a new architectural program. The ecological issues and the role of architecture in fostering a creative relationship to its environment will be explored in the way the building is conceived and constructed. The issues of light and systems within the building will have to relate to the variety of museum experience. Since the new museum is not thought of as an abstraction, but as a place for the diverse desires of the public, it will use the latest technologies and fuse them into an integrated whole.

Since contemporary art has so much richness and such a wide horizon of unpredictability one of the missions of the museum is to provide inspiring and generative space for new art. This space will range from the black and white box galleries to radical spaces in which both intimate dreams and grand installations will take place. The contemporary nature of galleries in the new building will also deal with the indeterminate and ever surprising and challenging horizon of art by providing new opportunities for artists to conceive and implement their wildest dreams.

The Ponti building is a powerful building conceived by a remarkable architect in his time. The new building for the Denver Art Museum will provide the necessary tension to further engage the existing museum in an urban dialogue into the future. The new building will centralize the lobbies and social activity spaces and functional connections as a singular new entrance to the complex as a whole. It will also provide a seamless link and thus transform the public perception of the Ponti building. The whole is not conceived as merely adding an additional building to the museum, but generating a new complex in which the Ponti building plays a major regenerative role. The new place created for the Denver Art Museum will generate a wholly new audience added to the audience already involved in the art experience. It will do so by providing experiences that will be unique to this museum making it a destination point not only for visitors from Denver, but from around the world.

The new building is not based on an idea of style or the rehashing of ready-made ideas or external shape because its architecture does not separate the inside from the outside or provide a pretty façade behind which a typical experience exists, rather this architecture has an organic connection to the public at large and to those aspects of experience that are also intellectual, emotional, and sensual. The integration of these dimensions for the enjoyment and edification of the public is achieved in a building that respects the hand-crafted nature of architecture and its immediate communication from the hand to the eye to the mind. After all, the language of architecture beyond words themselves are the laughter of light, proportion and materiality."

By Daniel Libeskind

Additional information

Building area: 146 000 sq. ft. (13 565 m2)
Structure: Steel structure on concrete with titanium and granite cladding
Building cost: USD 75 million
Budget: USD 65 million

Project information

  • Denver, Colorado
  • USA
  • Architect:
    Daniel Libeskind
  • 2006
  • Client:
    Denver Art Museum, City of Denver
  • Engineering Firm:
    Arup Structural Engineers
  • Contractor:
    Davis Partnership (Joint Venture)
  • Photographer:
    Studio Daniel Libeskind/Courtesy

Technical details