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Denver Art Museum Welcome Center Glass, From Concept to Construction

Jeffry Burchard   May 2019

Glass panels being installed by Saunders Construction on the Welcome Center. Photo by Jason A. Knowles, Fentress Architects


T

he new Welcome Center at the Denver Art Museum is one part of the combined project to revitalize the original Gio Ponti designed North Building and establish a new Welcome Center at the heart of Denver’s civic and cultural center.

The Welcome Center sits between the Hamilton and North Buildings, and provides ground level entry, ticketing, cafes and access to galleries and Educational programs. The new entry provides direct access to the second story event space which itself contains direct links to the North Building and Hamilton Building, the latter designed by Studio Libeskind.

Aerial rendering of the new Welcome Center in the center of the cultural campus

The event space is a single elliptical volume that cantilevers above the ground. Its all glass facade provides extensive views around the cultural center. Made with curved glass panels, the facade creates an elegant surface ripple as its appearance responds to the curvature of the elliptical plan, the environment and the viewer’s own movement around the building. This simple but distinguished center of the Denver Art Museum creates a cohesive experience while celebrating the iconic and eclectic mix of existing architecture and public space.

Site Plan of Cultural & Civic Center
1. Welcome Center
2. Hamilton Building
3. DAM Administrative Building
4. Clyfford Still Museum
5. Byers-Evans House
6. North Building
7. Denver City and County Building
8. Civic Center Park
9. Greek Amphitheater
10. Colorado State Capitol
11. Colorado Judicial Center
12. History Colorado Center
13. The Art: A Hotel
14. Parking Garage
15. Denver Central Library
Sourcing Gio Ponti
“The most resistant element is not wood, is not stone, is not steel, is not glass. The most resistant element in building is art. Let’s make something very beautiful.” Gio Ponti

In this quote we understand that Gio Ponti, the Architect of the North Building, is referring to the objects of art that while inhabiting a museum building transcend the presence of that building’s architecture in order to achieve “something very beautiful.” In Gio Ponti’s work we also understand that “making something beautiful” is an architectural endeavor where a building is seen to be artful and beautiful, and carries a sense of cultural continuity, purpose, and value. At the outset our team committed to design a project with this endeavor as our goal.

Gio Ponti and James Sudler’s diagram of the North Building’s “Forms”

There are three particular artifacts of Gio Ponti’s design that are references for Machado Silvetti's conception of the Welcome Center. First, Gio Ponti articulated the form of the North Building by creating more surfaces than necessary to the basic volumetric extrusion of a tower. Second, Gio Ponti used glass in his facades in a unique way that visually responds to varying atmospheric conditions. Third, Gio Ponti introduced the ellipse as a counter point to the castle like geometry of the main building. Our design employs these three elements—articulated form, glass facades and elliptical shapes—in the creation of the new Welcome Center and events space.

Clockwise from top-left: Elevation of North Building; Detail of glass tiles; Elliptical portal entry on 14th Avenue. Photos by James Florio
Welcome Center Event Space
Rendering of the Welcome Center with the Gio Ponti-designed North Building in the background

The event space is the second story of the new Welcome Center and links the Hamilton and North Buildings. This space is a single room that offers multiple scenarios for use.

The room may be used as a "hands on" space which provides a casual living-room like atmosphere for the museum, where patrons of all ages may gather to reflect on the work, meet, attend workshops and readings, and enjoy the amenity of the museum. The room may also hold large banquets, weddings and gatherings with table seating for up to 650 guests. An operable partition is available to subdivide the space so that multiple activities can occur simultaneously.

Event space floor and ceiling plans (Second Level) development

Sophisticated mechanical systems and thermal details maintain gallery level environmental conditions so that art can be moved through and displayed in the space. Limited vertical structures (two columns and two cores) are placed in the room to provide the functional flexibility without obstructing the continuous glass of the exterior facade. People in the event space will be able to stand at the glass and see the entirety of the civic and cultural campus.

Event space interior, shown with operable partition activated (03 & 04 below)

The event space is a 25’ tall extruded ellipse. As Ponti did with the tower, we have articulated the façade of the event space by dividing the surface into 52 equal sections. In each section we have placed identical curved glass units. These units are among the largest curved Insulated Glazing Units ever produced and installed. They provide incredible views and aesthetics as well as environmental control and high energy performance.

The combination of the volumetric ellipse and the concave curved glass units creates visual properties that as seen from the exterior change constantly in response to a viewer’s movement, the path of the sun and the elements that may be reflected in the glass such as buildings, public art, landscape and the sky. At times the events space may look partially opaque, at other times entirely transparent and still other times may exude a dynamic range of visual qualities.

Rendering of the Welcome Center with the fluted glass spanning the full height of the second floor event space volume
Elevation of the cultural campus with the Libeskind-designed Hamilton Building on the left, the Michael Graves-designed Library on the right, the Gio Ponti-designed North Building in the background and the new Welcome Center in the middle
Glass MockUp

A two-panel mock-up was installed and tested at an off-site field laboratory. This mock-up was created to test installation, structural performance and visual quality. The installation team was able to test the use of a purpose-built suction-cup device, and the design team was able to verify dimensions and finishes, while making recommendations for improving the quality of the finished project.

Specially-designed suction cup lifter installing glass panel for the mock-up (left) and installed mock-up ready for testing (right)

Following visual inspection the mock-up was put through a strenuous multi-step process that tested the systems resistance to weather penetration under a variety of simulated conditions such as light rain and wind-driven rain. The mock-up was also subjected to vertical and lateral structural loads that tested the ability of the system to perform under a range of forces. The mock-up presented the design team with an opportunity to revise and finalize design prior to the fabrication of the units to be installed on site.

Glass Installation

The installation of the new welcome center’s curved structural glass began in April. The specially designed suction cup lifter that was tested on the mock-up is used to lift each glass panel into place. A total of 52 glass panels will complete the full façade.

Installation of the Welcome Center glass panels. Photos by Jason A. Knowles, Fentress Architects
Photo courtesy of Saunders Construction
Video courtesy of the Denver Art Museum

Project Credits

Owner: Denver Art Museum
Design Architect: Machado Silvetti
Architect of Record: Fentress Architects
Structural Engineer: MartinMartin
Mechanical Engineer: ME Engineers, Inc.
Lighting Design: Buro Happold Engineering
Acoustics, AV/IT: K2 Audio
General Contractor: Saunders Construction
Facade Sub-contractor: Harmon Innovative Facade Solutions
Facade Design & Engineering: Sentech Architectural Systems
Glass Fabricator: Tianjin Northglass
Photographs: Authorship noted in captions, where not noted photos are attributable to Machado Silvetti.
Video: Courtesy of the Denver Art Museum
*All drawings and renderings are attributable to Machado Silvetti and Fentress Architects


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