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Libeskind will add cachet to Denver cityscape

When the new wing of the Denver Art Museum is completed in the fall of 2006, officials here hope it will add to the city's credentials as a destination for architecture buffs.
/ Source: The Associated Press

When the new wing of the Denver Art Museum is completed in the fall of 2006, officials hope it will add to the city's credentials as a destination for architecture buffs.

The museum addition, designed by Daniel Libeskind, is one of several attractions around Denver by superstar architects. It joins the main museum, an elegant fortress-like building designed by the late Italian modernist Gio Ponti; the Central Library, a round structure in the boxy downtown skyline, designed by Michael Graves, and a mile-long pedestrian mall along 16th Street, designed by I.M. Pei.

These celebrity-designed sites add cachet to a city that already has an interesting, pedestrian-friendly architectural mix. There are skyscrapers in the business district; carefully preserved brick-and-stone buildings from the late 19th and early 20th centuries in LoDo, the historic Lower Denver district, and housing that ranges from rowhouses and single-family homes in outlying neighborhoods to new riverfront lofts and condos.

"Denver is one of America's youngest cities, but we've done an amazing job of preserving the older buildings we have, while adding architecturally significant new ones," said Rich Grant, spokesman for the Denver Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Since construction began on the Libeskind project in 2003, drivers have slowed down as they pass by to gawk at what the museum describes as a "geometric explosion of glass and titanium." Angular layers jut out from the structure at seemingly impossible angles, like petals on a silver sculpture.

"The structure is so fantastic, you can feel it soaring against gravity," Libeskind said on a visit to the site last year.

He added that the project was "like a birth, and you can watch it through every phase."

The architect has visited Denver often, not only to monitor construction but also to boost the project's profile.

"I am not the kind of architect who just sends the plans over," Libeskind said. "I am interested in the door handles, the railings, the bathrooms; everything that is part of the building and will be part of the experience of the people."

When it appeared there wouldn't be enough money for a below-ground parking garage for the facility, Libeskind designed a more conventional one. He has posed for photos near a construction beam, signed hard hats for workers and spoken with museum staff.

Libeskind, 59, was born in Poland but holds U.S. citizenship. An academic who didn't get his first contract until he was in his 40s, he has been praised and criticized for his daring work.

His design for the Jewish Museum in Berlin was his initial claim to fame, and he has since worked on projects around the world, including in Israel, Mexico, San Francisco and London. But he is probably best-known for winning an international design competition for the master plan to rebuild the World Trade Center site. Those plans continue to be revised, however, in response to concerns ranging from aesthetics to security.

If you go:

DENVER ARCHITECTURE: The Denver Art Museum is at West 14th Avenue and Bannock Street. The Libeskind addition is under construction a block away. The library, designed by Michael Graves, is at Broadway and East 13th Street. The pedestrian mall, designed by I.M. Pei, runs along 16th Street. For walking tours of downtown Denver's older historic buildings, contact the LoDo District, (303) 628-5428.