- United States
Daniel Libeskind and Davis Partnership Architects, United States
146,000 sq. ft.
Photo by Jeff Wells, Courtesy of the Denver Art Museum
Photograph © Denver Art Museum 2009. All Rights Reserved.
About the Artist
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.
Quick Classroom Ideas
- Have students design their own museum to hold a collection of their choosing (e.g. their shell collection, baseball cards, etc.). How many galleries will you need? How do you want people to move around the building—is there a specific starting point? Does your collection include large objects that need a lot of space? How will you make your entryway welcoming? Students can either design a floor-plan for their building or use different materials to build a structure.
- When coming up with the design for the Denver Art Museum’s Frederic C. Hamilton Building, Daniel Libeskind was inspired by the Rocky Mountains. Ask students how they think his inspiration is reflected in the shape of the building. Have students choose something from nature to inspire the design of their own building (house, museum, office building). Draw an image of the building and explain how nature is reflected in their design.
- Have students take on the roles of architects and clients. In groups of 2, have students design a house for one another. Taking turns, one student (the client) will keep their eyes closed and describe their ideal house, including number of windows, front door, size, number of floors, location, landscaping, etc. The other student (the architect) will draw a building based on these requirements. Finally, the architect will present their design to see if it fits the desires of the client. If time allows, have the architect continue to make revisions based on the client’s comments.