Students will work with a partner in a fun activity that helps them see the importance of finding precise words to describe the Frederic C. Hamilton Building. They will then learn how research can expand their understanding of the Frederic C. Hamilton Building beyond what they examined and learned about it from visual images alone.
Intended Age GroupElementary (grades K-5)
Length of LessonOne 30 minute lesson
Standards AreaLanguage Arts
Students will be able to:
- list at least five descriptive words for the Frederic C. Hamilton Building; and
- identify at least three key words from the written descriptions of the Frederic C. Hamilton Building that add to their knowledge about the building.
- Teacher preparation: Read the “Details” information from About the Art.
- Warm up: Call on a volunteer to come up to the front of the room. Tell the student to close his/her eyes or help the student put on a blindfold. Ask the student to follow your instructions as closely as possible as you help him/her navigate to the back of the classroom. Ask what was hard and what was easy about the activity? Call on classmates to share what they observed.
- Have the students get into pairs. One student will look at images of the Frederic C. Hamilton Building and the other student will have a piece of paper and a pencil and will have his/her back to the first student. Without being able to see the image of the building or the other student, the second student will have to draw what the first student describes. The idea is to teach students about the importance of precise language and how hard it is to help others “see” exactly what is meant.
- In order to allow all students to have a turn drawing, you could repeat the activity using the image of the North Building.
- Share that often the visual details you see don’t tell the whole picture. Have students read the “Details" information from About the Art, along with other information on the Frederic C. Hamilton Building, and write down details that were not apparent from the visual images alone (e.g., the material used on the exterior of the building, the intention behind the design).
- Talk about what students identified as missing from the visual alone and talk about the importance of having the written descriptions to fill in missing information. When they try to describe something, sometimes it’s helpful to have more information, and that’s why research is so important.
- Paper and a pen or pencil for each student
- About the Art section on the Frederic C. Hamilton Building
- One color copy of the Frederic C. Hamilton Building for every four students, or the ability to project the image onto a wall or screen
- 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
- Critical Thinking & Reasoning
- Information Literacy
About the Art
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 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.
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.
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.