Architect and the Public in Public Architecture

Lesson Plan


Students will learn how a public building reflects the ideas of the architect and compare this to how the public perceives the building. Students will look at the Frederic C. Hamilton Building, read about the architect Daniel Libeskind, and interview people about their perceptions of the Frederic C. Hamilton Building to better understand the similarities and differences in the architect’s and the public’s points of view.

Intended Age Group

Secondary (grades 6-12)

Length of Lesson

Two 60 minute lessons

Standards Area

Social Studies


Student will be able to:

  • identify key ideas held by the architect of the Frederic C. Hamilton Building;
  • survey people about their point of view and summarize results; and
  • interpret results of surveys and draw conclusions about differences and similarities in the architect’s ideas and in public perception.


Day 1

  1. Show students images of the Frederic C. Hamilton Building.
  2. Discuss the design plan and how it reflects Daniel Libeskind’s ideas about architecture and the culture and geography of Denver in the early 21st century (see the About the Art section for more information). Lead a discussion about Libeskind and his ideas about architecture as represented in the Frederic C. Hamilton Building.
  3. Divide the class into teams of four and explain that today they will be creating a survey that will help them understand how the public perceives this unusual building. Have each group develop survey questions about the Frederic C. Hamilton Building based on Libeskind’s key ideas. Make sure students understand how to phrase their questions so they can explore similarities and differences between Libeskind’s ideas and how the public perceives the building. Some questions that may be asked are:
    • Based on a visit to the Frederic C. Hamilton Building, or looking at photos of the building, what aspects of Colorado do you think inspired the architect? [Libeskind explains that he was inspired by the “craggy cliffs of the Rockies”]
    • How would you compare the outside surface of the Frederic C. Hamilton Building to the other building that comprises the Denver Art Museum, called the North Building? [Libeskind talks of using “another reflective and unusual material” for his building]
  4. As homework, each student should survey/interview at least three people so that each team has at least twelve surveys to consider. Make sure the students have images of the Frederic C. Hamilton Building that they can show the people they’re surveying.

Day 2

  1. Divide students into their groups from the previous lesson. Have them share their survey results with their group members. After looking at their survey answers, have students interpret their results and draw conclusions about the similarities and differences in the public’s and the architect’s ideas about the Frederic C. Hamilton Building.
  2. Have each team write a summary of their survey results and present their conclusions with the rest of the class.


  • Access to a group of people who can be surveyed about their perceptions of the building—this can be family members that students talk to at home, other teachers in your school, or guests you invite to class
  • About the Art section on the Frederic C. Hamilton Building
  • One color copy of the building for each student or the ability to project a picture of the building on a wall or screen
  • Optional: Resources on architectural ideas of Daniel Libeskind, such as this TED Talk video


CO Standards

  • Social Studies
    • History
      • Evaluate and analyze sources using historical method of inquiry and defend their conclusions
      • Analyze the concepts of continuity and change and effect
  • Visual Arts
    • Observe and Learn to Comprehend
    • Relate and Connect to Transfer
  • Language Arts
    • Oral Expression and Listening
    • Research and Reasoning
    • Writing and Composition
    • Reading for All Purposes

21st Century Skills

  • Collaboration
  • Critical Thinking & Reasoning
  • Information Literacy
  • Invention
  • Self-Direction

About the Art

Frederic C. Hamilton Building

Frederic C. Hamilton Building


Daniel Libeskind and Davis Partnership Architects, United States

Who Made It?

Architect Daniel Libeskind worked with Denver-based Davis Partnership Architects to design the Denver Art Museum’s Frederic C. Hamilton Building.

Libeskind was born in Poland in 1946, the son of two Holocaust survivors. At the age of eleven, he immigrated to Israel with his parents, where his family lived for two years before they left for New York. Libeskind was one of the last immigrants to arrive by boat through Ellis Island and he became an American citizen in 1965.

As a child Libeskind was a musical prodigy, winning international competitions with his performances on the accordion. He left music to study architecture at New York’s Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, followed by graduate work at Essex University in England. He went on to work as a professor and theorist before completing his first commission, Berlin’s Jewish Museum, at the age of fifty-two.

The Denver Art Museum’s Hamilton Building is Libeskind’s first completed building in the United States. He was also chosen as the master plan architect for the World Trade Center site in New York City.

What Inspired It?

In 1999, museum director Lewis Sharp and then-mayor Wellington Webb decided it was time for the museum to expand. A new building would allow the DAM to display more of its world-class collection and provide the space needed to host major traveling exhibitions.

With the Hamilton Building, Daniel Libeskind continued a tradition of bold architecture that began with Gio Ponti’s North Building. Libeskind tells us that he was inspired by the “craggy cliffs of the Rockies” and by his experiences in Denver. He describes Denver as “a dynamic place, the people are dynamic. And that is part of the composition of the building.” The lively architecture signals to the public that new things are going on inside; the experience begins before one even enters the DAM.



Libeskind chose to complement Gio Ponti’s million gray glass tiles of the North Building by selecting another reflective and unusual material: 9,000 titanium panels. Libeskind said, “We had an aim from the beginning: a building that is luminous.” The Hamilton Building’s different sides reflect light at different angles, and thus appear to be different shades of gray. The titanium also reflects varying colors throughout the day. It often appears more rosy in the early morning hours and golden at sunset, depending on the weather.

Fun Fact: 9,000 titanium panels cover the building’s surface.

The Prow
The Prow

The tip of the building, which we call the “prow,” makes a reaching gesture across 13th Avenue toward the North Building and Civic Center. The angled walls of the prow, and the many other angled walls that shape the building, are reflected inside and create unique interior spaces. These dramatic spaces have provided new opportunities for innovative displays of artwork.

The Atrium
The Atrium

Libeskind spoke of the atrium as an introduction to the visitor’s experience of the building: “The first sounds, the atmosphere, the connectivity with that atmosphere—the mood is set. And I think it’s proper that an atrium should set those moods because that’s where you quite literally enter, get informed, get ready for an adventure with art.” The walls and ceiling of the atrium create a variety of shaped spaces, making it one of the most dramatic spaces in the building.

How Does the Building Stay Up?
How Does the Building Stay Up?

The building is essentially a giant truss, meaning its steel frame is a balanced network of interlocking triangles. After all the steel beams are set in place, the building holds itself up and transfers weight to “anchors” of concrete pillars that reach down into bedrock. Libeskind described the building as a tree, branching out from these anchoring “roots.”

Fun Fact: 2,750 tons of steel and 50,000 steel bolts were used in the Hamilton Building.

Funding for lesson plans provided by a grant from the Morgridge Family Foundation. Additional funding provided by the William Randolph Hearst Endowment for Education Programs, and Xcel Energy Foundation. We thank our colleagues at the University of Denver Morgridge College of Education.