Students will participate in hands-on activities that give them a better understanding of and appreciation for the tent-like design of Denver International Airport as depicted in the Concept Model for Denver International Airport Passenger Terminal, Denver, Colorado.
Intended Age GroupEarly childhood (ages 3-5)
Length of LessonOne 50 minute lesson
Standards AreaVisual Arts
Students will be able to:
- describe observations about how fabric moves and does or does not take on shape;
- manipulate fabric and supporting objects to create tented structures;
- identify the Concept Model for Denver International Airport Passenger Terminal, Denver, Colorado as a model of Denver International Airport;
- describe how the Concept Model for Denver International Airport Passenger Terminal, Denver, Colorado reflects the mountains; and
- feel comfortable to take creative risks.
- Preparation: Read the About the Art section on the Concept Model for Denver International Airport Passenger Terminal, Denver, Colorado. Clear a space large enough, or find a location outside, to have the children raise and lower the sheets/parachute for the Warm-up. Set up workstations, one for each child, with the fabric, foam, and popsicle sticks. Print or prepare the color copies/projection of the Concept Model for Denver International Airport Passenger Terminal, Denver, Colorado that are large enough for the students to see the details of the wires and internal supports holding up the fabric.
- Warm-up: Gather the children around the edges of the sheet or parachute. Tell them to hold tightly and together raise the fabric up and down, creating a peak again and again. After getting the hang of it, have the children run under the peak and sit on the ground, watching and feeling the fabric collapse down on them. Allow the children to crawl out and repeat the action. Talk with them about why the fabric rises and then collapses. Brainstorm with them on what it would take for the fabric to stay up in the air.
- Using the furniture in the room, have the students test out some of their ideas on how to get the fabric to stay up in the air using the furniture. Crawl inside their tent(s) and talk about the structure supporting the fabric.
- Have the children go to the workstations you’ve set up. Share with them that now they are going to build tents using the materials at the station. Give them time to explore but encourage them with tips as you walk around the room. Tell them that it might be a little challenging and to keep trying. Allow the children to walk around and look at each other’s tents when they are done.
- Show the children the images of the Concept Model for Denver International Airport Passenger Terminal, Denver, Colorado. Have them talk with a partner about how the fabric is being held up. Lead a whole class discussion to allow students to share what they observe. What do they notice that is similar to the techniques they used? What do they notice that is different from the furniture tent and the smaller tents they made? One key element to point out is that there are “cables” connected to the edges of the fabric to make it more rigid. Thread the needle through the edges of one of the tents and push it into the foam. Ask the children to tell you what they notice.
- Talk with the children about the shape of the Concept Model for Denver International Airport Passenger Terminal, Denver, Colorado. What do they see? Does it remind them of anything? Reinforce all of their ideas, because they will come up with many that surprise you. Note that the architects wanted to reflect the mountains, and ask the children what about the design reminds them of the mountains. Share that artists often use shapes and colors in their work to reflect the world around them.
- One queen-sized or larger flat sheet for every eight students. You may also use a parachute for the entire class.
- One 12” x 12” piece of t-shirt fabric for each student (old t-shirts are a great source)
- Ten popsicle sticks for each student
- One 12” x 12” piece of floral foam, or equivalent foam, for each student. Air-dry clay in smaller pieces can be used as a substitute
- One needle with thread for the teacher
- About the Art section on the Concept Model for Denver International Airport Passenger Terminal, Denver, Colorado
- Color copies of the Concept Model for Denver International Airport Passenger Terminal, Denver, Colorado for students to share, or the ability to project the image onto a wall or screen
- Visual Arts
- Invent and Discover to Create
- Observe and Learn to Comprehend
- Envision and Critique to Reflect
- Language Arts
- Oral Expression and Listening
21st Century Skills
- Critical Thinking & Reasoning
About the Art
Who Made It?
Architect Curtis Fentress grew up and went to school in North Carolina and started his career in New York City at the offices of acclaimed architect I. M. Pei. While working at Pei’s office, Fentress became fascinated with large-scale public projects like city halls, judicial centers, courthouses, university buildings, and medical centers. He began working with a new studio, Kohn Pedersen Fox, and moved to Denver to work on the firm’s design of the Chase Tower, a skyscraper located on 17th street in downtown Denver. Three years later, he decided to start his own firm, C. W. Fentress and Associates, and in 1988, he launched Fentress and Bradburn Architects with partner James H. Bradburn. Their architecture firm is now known as Fentress Architects. It was likely the success of their Colorado Convention Center design—which proved their ability to work on complex civic projects with many stakeholders—that led to the commission to design the new Denver International Airport.
A team of three model makers at Fentress and Bradburn Architects made this concept model of the passenger terminal to show the innovative roof design to city officials before it was built. Most model makers come from highly skilled trade backgrounds like fabricating and woodworking, and typically apprentice with other experienced model makers. Throughout the design process, architects use various methods to test out their ideas and solutions to unique project challenges. For the Denver International Airport, architects constructed models by hand and on the computer and also built models like this one.
What Inspired It?
Denver International Airport opened in 1995, replacing Stapleton International Airport as Denver’s travel hub. It became the fifth busiest airport in the United States and the tenth busiest in the world by 2010. It is a “greenfield” airport, meaning it was a new design built on open space rather than an expansion (or modernization) of an older airport. This model represents Fentress’s first airport commission, one that led to others worldwide.
The Fentress team was originally brought on as the project architects for this airport, which meant they were primarily responsible for the construction drawings and other details. It wasn’t until the project was over budget and behind schedule that they were given an opportunity to come up with their own design proposal.
One of the design principles of the Fentress architecture firm is to “use context to create identity.” Its connection to the local setting is a central feature of this iconic airport. The dramatic peaked roof echoes the angular forms of the nearby Rocky Mountains. Huge glass window walls on either end of the terminal let in natural light and give visitors sweeping views of the surrounding landscape.
In describing the particular challenges and unique qualities of this airport, architect Curtis Fentress explains, “Yes, we created a metaphor for the mountains, and, yes, we related it to place. We had the idea of embracing the light, which was very special at this location. But there was also a lot of problem-solving. . . we flipped the building upside down to make it work.” Flipping the building upside down is quite literally what Fentress ended up doing with the design. To make the building more economically and environmentally efficient, the designers used a lightweight and relatively inexpensive material for the roof structure—which created open, lofty spaces in the interior of the building—and moved the heavy infrastructure to below ground.
By locating the building’s mechanical systems underground, Fentress and Bradburn Architects opened up space for an airy, tent-like roof that lets in an abundance of natural light from any sun angle.
Notice how the interior of the great hall is free of columns and walls. This sense of openness is further emphasized by the translucent ceiling “floating” high overhead like a layer of clouds in the sky.
The model includes both interior and exterior views and is built to scale (1/16 of actual size). However, it represents only half of the terminal; the mirror behind it doubles the view so that all twenty-eight peaks of the roof can be seen.
Architects include tiny plants, people, and furniture in scale models to better visualize how the space will function in real life.
This model was made early in the design process and some things changed before the terminal was built. For example, the floor shown here doesn’t look like the one that was actually installed, which is polished granite that reflects sunlight, further brightening the interior and lessening the need for artificial lighting.
The strings on the edges of the concept model create rhythm and visual interest, and they also represent an important structural characteristic of the roof. See how the roof fabric is pushed up by the poles and tied down by the strings? This is the essence of the roof’s steel cable support system.
The materials used in a model mimic the way the real materials will act but they don’t have to be the same materials. In the model, a cotton-Lycra blended fabric, similar to t-shirt material, stands in for the industrial Teflon-coated fiberglass fabric that the roof is actually made of.