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Archive of posts filed under the Architecture category.

Central Downtown: Le Meridien/AC Hotel Update #1

Yet another tower is under construction in Downtown Denver!

Recently, the dual-brand Le Meridien/AC Hotel project at the corner of 15th and California broke ground. Developed by White Lodging (which built the nearby Embassy Suites and is wrapping up the dual-brand Hyatt), this project will rise 20 stories and include 488 hotel rooms in total, split 272 rooms under the Le Meridien brand and 216 under the AC Hotel brand. Click here to see our first post on this project earlier this year.

As you can see in these photos I took yesterday, work is underway:



Here are the only renderings of the project I’ve seen released so far:



I think the building looks fairly decent from this angle. However, don’t be surprised if the angle you can’t see—the side facing 14th Street and the convention center—is a solid blank wall. While I don’t know this for a fact, it’s an educated guess. As the close-up rendering shows, the new Le Meridien/AC Hotel tower will share a common wall with the small two-story structure where Bubba Gump’s is located, which is also visible on the right side of my second construction photo. The Bubba Gump’s building is neither a designated historic landmark structure nor a member of the Downtown Denver Historic District; therefore, it could be razed someday to make way for a higher-density development. If that were to happen and White Lodging had put windows on that side of their hotel, those windows could potentially be completely blocked by a new development next door, since there are no setback requirements in the Downtown Core District for the side interior property lines. Any hotel rooms that had their only window subsequently blocked by a new adjacent development could be rendered uninhabitable as Colorado regulations require every hotel room have “at least one window with direct and unobstructed opening to the outside.” A developer putting in a hotel or residential building with a vacant or underutilized property on an adjoining site is unlikely to risk having that happen. Consequently, there are several design options frequently used to address this issue.

Option 1 is the solid blank wall. White Lodging chose this option on their new dual-brand Hyatt Place/Hyatt House hotel at 14th and Glenarm (which opens this December). Here are two images that illustrate this condition. In the first image (from Google street view) we see the blank wall facing the side property line. The small two-story building adjacent to the hotel is not a designated historic landmark structure or a member of the Downtown Denver Historic District, so it and the tiny parking lot next door could be redeveloped. Interestingly, the small two-story building on the right is the Denver Press Club building which is a Denver historic landmark building. Assuming it would not be razed, the redevelopment site adjacent to the hotel would be only 50 feet wide, which is quite narrow to go vertical to any significant degree.

In the second image (from Ryan’s recent Hyatt post) we see the same blank wall but from the alley view. Note that both images show that the hotel rooms on this side of the tower are served by windows facing Glenarm and the alley, eliminating the need for any windows facing the side property line.



Option 2 is the blank wall with fake windows. White Lodging used this approach in their Embassy Suites Convention Center hotel. Here’s a Google Earth street view image showing this side of the hotel:


Since the surface parking lot in the foreground could be developed (let’s hope!), this side of the Embassy Suites would be the adjoining wall with that new development. Here we can see the use of fake windows as a design feature to make the facade appear a bit more interesting until such time as it is covered up by an adjacent new development. In the center is a narrow vertical notch where the building has been stepped back enough to allow real operable windows to be used. Should the site in the foreground be developed, you wouldn’t have much of a view from those windows, but there would be sufficient space for natural light and air to enter the windows.

Option 3 is a full setback from the side property line on the upper floors of the building. This is the approach taken at Spire, as seen in this Google Earth street view image:


The two-story structure in the foreground and the small adjacent parking lot represent a prime redevelopment site. But rather than having a 42-story blank wall on this side of Spire, the developers chose to step the building back about 20 feet from the property line above the podium base, allowing all residential units on that side of the building to have windows. Should the site in the foreground be developed with a tower, even one without any setbacks of its own from the common property line, there would still be sufficient space to allow for natural light to enter the windows of those Spire units. Here’s a Google Maps bird’s eye view showing both the Embassy Suites and Spire and their sides facing future redevelopment sites.


By the way, also in the image above in between Spire and the Embassy Suites is the 6-story Aloft Hotel that recently opened. It too used the “blank wall” option for its side facing the small building next door, as seen in this Google Earth street view image:


So why isn’t Option 3 the one chosen in all situations like this? Answer: Loss of developable square footage. In the case of Spire, their 20-foot setback on the upper 34 floors cost them about 68,000 gross square feet of developable space, according to my rough calculations. But if you have a larger site like Spire’s and the goal of having an attractive building on all four sides, losing that square footage is a price you’re willing to pay. But if you’re a national hotel developer like White Lodging that’s interested in maximizing their development potential and not the architectural legacy of their projects or the aesthetics of the downtown skyline, then you put up a blank wall on the side property line and figure some day it may get covered up by a neighboring building. And if it’s a particularly small or narrow site, doing a setback on the upper floors to allow for windows facing the side property line could create a floor plate configuration that may become unworkable for the proposed building’s program.

A required setback from the property lines on the floors above the building podium is the basic model for the point tower, which Vancouver BC has implemented to an extreme degree.


What do you think? Should the “point tower” be the required model for all new buildings in Downtown Denver above a certain height?

Aria Denver Update

A little over a year out from our initial post, I’d like to turn our heads to the progress of Aria Denver. Since its groundbreaking in August of 2012, we have got buildings constructed and new residents entering the neighborhood. In this update, we will look at what’s on the ground, but also take a look at some of the changes that inevitably occur over the course of a multi-phase project such as Aria. [note site changes since August 2012]

Previous Plan

Current Plan

At current, Aria is only about 19% built out. About 76 out of some eventual 400 units are currently constructed, but the project scope is quite complex. With a diversity of living arrangements, some units will be constructed around a pocket neighborhood design that will put residents in an intimate physical environment that promotes social interaction. Townhomes will also play a role, as will large footprint apartments buildings. Also, as mentioned in our original post of Aria, plans for a cohousing component are still moving forward. The newly completed construction of town homes and multi-family units give us an idea of how their design will transform the site, and neighborhood.



In a residential market that is used to building boxes (maybe with a community room or a pool), Aria is going beyond the standard to bring about a holistic approach to living. If you were to visit Aria today, you would see the attention to detail that makes this project so special. Community spaces are abundant, stormwater systems have been crafted into one-of-a-kind landscaping features, the properties are surrounded by a jungle of native plantings and programming the new construction with the surrounding neighborhood is a cornerstone of this development.

With Regis University neighboring this project, there has been discussion of making room in Aria’s plans to include student housing opportunities for their growing student population. For those already established residents living within a stone’s throw of Aria, an investment has been placed in community-building programs surrounding food, transportation and overall neighborhood health. Working with UrbiCulture, a portion of the site will be transformed into 18 raised beds to generate food for what will eventually become a “pay what you can” marketplace at Elm & 52nd Avenue.  This garden will begin at 10,000 SF and eventually grow to 1 acre. At that point, the garden will be large enough to produce food for purchase by local restaurants. That money will then be reinvested to community education programs on urban agriculture.



Beyond agriculture, the project team (Urban Ventures LLC and Perry Rose LLC) is also considering plans for a bike program to put the local community in touch with accessible alternative transportation. Quality of life, and balance, are a continued focus in the on-site retail options. Where Aria originally had plans for retail on site, they are now making a concerted effort to bring in businesses centered on fitness, natural foods and overall wellness.

So what’s next for the project? By spring or summer of 2014, 9 additional townhomes will fill out the project site. Most of 2014 will see continued townhome development. Commercial space will likely be open and available by 2015 and final build-out of the site should commence by 2017.  To get a more comprehensive view of Aria Denver, take a virtual tour of the project here!

Aria Denver Breaks Ground and Breaks the Mold

When infill is discussed here on the blog, we are most often referring to an instance of revitalizing the entirety, or part of, an urban city block. Well, a little over a week ago, Denver saw the groundbreaking of one of its largest infill redevelopment projects in years. Immediately east of Regis University at W. 52nd and Federal Blvd. (eight blocks from the Gold Line light rail), Aria Denver has positioned itself to be not only pronounced in size, but also in its distinct flavor of design.

The unique aspects of this development are the product of its wholesome past. Once a fruit orchard, turned convent, the 17.5 acre site has been occupied since the late 1930s by the The Sisters of St. Francis. After the Marycrest Convent saw their resident population fade from several dozen nuns to just seven, they began exploring options for redeveloping the site into something that met their needs, and also the community’s. After searching for a developer that could understand and respect their vision, the sisters teamed up with development partners Urban Ventures and Perry-Rose.

As Susan Powers explained, “The sisters placed a great deal of trust in us to develop the land in a way that would align with their mission and their values.” At the heart of this development, community has really become the focus. Though many residential developments may jump to make that claim, it is completely evident in this case. It is shown through the amount of intelligent planning, programming and quality of design represented throughout each component of Aria.

In 4 phases, 380 new homes will be built in the form of townhomes, apartments, condominiums and senior housing. What takes the community aspect beyond the typical neighborhood is its co-housing component. A portion of the housing will be designed and programmed in a way that connects people and encourages interaction. In co-housing, residents play a large part in developing their community by helping to design, and eventually share, certain amenities like a community kitchen, gardens, green spaces, and other common facilities. In Colorado, several examples of co-housing can be found in Boulder, but the concept is still quite innovative for Denver.

In addition to internal community functions, developers also provided opportunities for the greater neighborhood outside of the development. Approximately 20,000 sq. ft. of retail space will sit as the hood ornament of this development to provide new commercial assets to residents of Aria, but also to enhance Federal Blvd. One other community-building element is that both affordable and market rate housing will be available to make the lifestyle accessible to more people.

Taking a step away from programming, aesthetic design is one of the other outstanding attributes of this redevelopment. In addition to Urban Ventures and Perry-Rose, other collaborators include Oz Architects, Humphries Poli Architects, Wenk AssociatesCalthorpe Associates and award winning architect, Michelle Kauffman. Kauffman is known for her modular sustainable designs that have a distinct contemporary flair. As a result of being modular structures, they will be prefabricated and, therefore, will reduce waste, eliminate weather damage to materials, expedite construction, cut back on construction site pollution and prevent cost overruns.


Other sustainability wins in the project are evident through the conformity of all residential uses to follow the Enterprise Green Communities Criteria. As part of that standard, recycled materials will be used throughout, units will be equipped with low VOC products (exterior materials, windows, etc.), alternative energy will be sourced, and energy/water conserving appliances will be installed into each home. The entire site will also utilize innovative storm water designs to boost sustainability and water-conserving native plants will dress the landscapes.

Aria brings sustainability, co-housing/community building, and high design to the same table and delivers the final product in a way that pays tribute to the good intentions of The Sisters of Saint Francis. At the same time, it will also bringing Denver a totally new alternative lifestyle. Ground was broken on August 8, 2012 and the first batch of units should be available for move in by Spring 2013. For more information and renderings, click here!

Denver International Airport Terminal Expansion Update

Let’s take a look at the latest designs of the exciting expansion that’s getting underway at the terminal at Denver International Airport. The $500 million expansion incorporates three major elements:

A new Public Transit Center that will accommodate the end-of-line station for RTD’s East Line—a 23-mile rail transit connection between DIA and Union Station in Downtown Denver—currently under construction and scheduled to open for service in January 2016.

A new 500-room Westin Hotel & Conference Center that will be located immediately south of the existing Jeppeson Terminal and above the Public Transit Center.

A new 60,000 square foot Public Plaza that will connect the Jeppesen terminal with the new hotel.

Gensler is the principal architect of the entire South Terminal Redevelopment program at DIA, with Anderson Mason Dale working on the Public Transit Center. Here are some new renderings of the project, courtesy of my friends at Gensler’s Denver office. You have two options to view the renderings: click on an image to view a larger version of it, or use the link below an image to open a giant-sized version in a new window. Here we go:

View (looking north) at the Public Transit Center and Westin Hotel, with the existing terminal complex beyond:

(extra-large version)

View (looking northwest) of the Public Transit Center and Westin Hotel:

(extra-large version)

View (looking southeast) of the Public Plaza in between the existing Jeppesen Terminal and the new Westin Hotel:

(extra-large version)

View from the train platforms inside the Public Transit Center:

(extra-large version)

View of the entry to the hotel from the Public Transit Center:

(extra-large version)

View looking southwest from the Public Plaza, with the existing Jeppesen Terminal on the right and the Westin Hotel on the left:

(extra-large version)

For a few additional renderings, visit the project’s page on the Gensler website.

Denver Parking Lots Continue to Vanish

As 2012 opens with a number of slated large-scale residential projects, we will say goodbye to numerous swaths of desolate concrete.  Where a few dozen cars once spent their day sunbathing, we will soon see several hundred people injecting life into 2785 Speer Boulevard.  Thanks to the vision of developers Allied Reality Group and architects Meeks + Partners, this new project will provide even more housing opportunities within walking distance of Denver’s urban core.

Keith Malone, Associate Partner at Meeks + Partners, informed that a real focus of the 325-unit project would be integrating the neighborhood and surrounding spaces with the 4.5-acre site. Design elements will borrow similar materials and textures of the surrounding structures to compliment the character of the neighborhood. However, sleeker features will also be incorporated to continue the trend of painting Denver’s urban landscape with modern design.  In addition, a “pedestrian spine” will split the project into two mini-blocks which should enhance connectivity and promote appropriate scaling.  As a mixed-use development, 2785 Speer will also provide residents, and the neighborhood, with 10,000+ sq. ft. of retail space.

Other design features which will help to set this development apart from others around the city were also noted.  Keith Malone mentioned that one of the most defining features, and also greatest challenges for 2785 Speer, is the topography.  The unique panoramic views of the city that are so characteristic of the Lower Highlands and Jefferson Park, will showcase the Denver skyline.  While the views will draw attention to urban life outside, courtyards will absorb residents into more intimate spaces at the nucleus of the buildings.

It is likely that the project will break ground by spring of this year.  It will aim for completion by the end of 2013.  For more information concerning 2785 Speer Blvd., click on the following link:


Inside the Infill: Ralph Carr Judicial Center Part 2

Just a block away from History Colorado Center is the State of Colorado’s new judicial complex, officially known as the Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Center. Ryan just posted Part 1 of this “Inside the Infill” feature, so here’s a second dose of infill goodness for you to enjoy. Rumor has it there may be a Part 3!

The Ralph Carr Judicial Center is already making an impact on the Civic Center skyline, and I like it. The architecture is classic Neoclassical, with marble columns and all. The state courts wanted a building that communicated a stately, civic presence on par with (and visually oriented towards) the State Capitol, and they are getting it. But despite the Ralph Carr’s architectural gravitas, I find its contemporary touches and generous fenestration (for this style) welcome features that give the building an inspiring, approachable quality. And it’s not even finished yet. Kudos to Denver’s Fentress Architects for designing a building that is clearly worthy to take its place at Denver’s hallowed ground, Civic Center. Our thanks to Trammell Crow and Mortenson Construction for the tour.

I like the exterior materials too. A light gray granite wraps the 4-story courthouse wing as well as the lower levels of the 12-story office tower, and pre-cast panels complete the upper floors of the tower. They work well together to give the complex a unified visual appearance, while exposing pedestrians to the high-quality material like granite we expect in important government buildings. Here’s a view (an inner courtyard along Broadway) of the vertical transition from granite to pre-cast panels. The darker-gray window glazing complements both materials. This wasn’t intentional, but I now notice the nice reflection in the window of perhaps Denver’s best light gray granite-clad modern building, Republic Plaza:

The office tower incorporates into both its north and south facades the columnar form, with vertical glass “columns” in between adding a modern gesture.

Before we we went up to the project’s upper floors, we saw a quick preview of Mortenson’s digital planroom technology. More on that in a future post. Then we took a ride in the construction elevator “cage” that climbs up the outside of the building:


From the 12th floor, here’s a nice view of the two courthouse domes: the smaller one in the foreground will be centered above the Colorado Supreme Court courtroom, and the larger one will cover the grand atrium. On the right, a stack of windows are being lifted up by a crane while traffic below on Broadway goes about its business:


From the Supreme Court’s fourth-floor atrium entrance, here’s the symbolic view looking back at the statehouse. Once all the scaffolding and temporary window supports are removed, this will appear as one big window offering one fantastic view of our state’s beautiful gold-domed Capitol.

Finally, while we now have real-life views of this project to observe, I recently ran across some additional renderings of the project I hadn’t seen before. They can be viewed here.

PS. If you don’t know who Ralph Carr is and why he is worthy of having a justice center named after him, please go here.

Inside the Infill: History Colorado Center Part 2

Ryan and I recently had the opportunity to tour the inside of the new History Colorado Center. Our sincere appreciation to the good folks at Trammell Crow, Tryba Architects, Hensel Phelps Construction, and History Colorado for organizing and joining us on the tour. Ryan’s last update on this project was in May, so much progress has been made since then. In fact, the building will be turned over very soon to the State, although it won’t be until Spring 2012 before the museum opens to the public because all the exhibits, dioramas, etc. have to be built. Ryan posted his observations and photos from the tour in Part 1. Here are mine.

The construction barriers are down, new sidewalks and streetscaping are in place, landscaping has been planted, and the finishing touches are being applied. The main entrance on Broadway is impressive and welcoming. Wide stairs lead up to the front doors, creating a seamless transition from sidewalk to lobby. Zipping past the building in a car at 30 miles an hour, the building’s exterior can read as just plain beige. But inspecting the building up close for the first time, I was pleased at the warmth and the subtle variations of color and texture that meander throughout the beautiful limestone facade.


In Ryan’s Part 1, he included a photo of the lobby and its wood ceiling. The wood used there is beetle-kill pine, an appropriate material to use in a building dedicated to Colorado’s history, and a good local material to use in a building aiming for LEED-Gold certification. The floor of the lobby features a large COLORADO inlaid the terrazzo floor, which itself is rich and warm in color. The almost-golden hue of the interior finishes extends into the stairs as well, with Colorado sandstone walls.


The terrazzo floor continues into the grand atrium where, in the voluminous space above, a cool color palette and a more modernist feel prevails. The four-story glass wall facing 12th Avenue, and skylights above, flood the space in light. The building’s secondary entrance, reserved for large groups like school field trips, leads directly into the grand atrium from 12th Avenue, where a bus drop-off zone is located.


As Ryan mentioned, the top floor facing Broadway features a handsome function space, available for rent. Here, dark bamboo flooring contrasts nicely with the bright light coming in from the west-facing windows. A covered terrace extends this space outdoors, with sweeping views of the mountains and downtown skyline.


Overall, this is a fantastic building and I’m quite impressed. It features many beautiful (and durable) natural materials throughout, and manages to make its interior spaces feel spacious and intimate, modern and warm, at the same time. Congratulations to Tryba Architects for a job well done, and to Hensel Phelps and Trammell Crow for getting the building built on-time and on-budget. I know History Colorado (formerly the Colorado Historical Society) is eager to move into their new home and get it ready for a series of exhibit grand openings over the next year or two.

DenverInfill will be back to History Colorado Center later this year after the huge map of Colorado is installed on the atrium floor!

Finally, I’ll leave you with a time-lapse video, provided by History Colorado, of the building’s construction:

Union Station Update (sort of)

On the first leg of our travels, we spent two days in Tulsa.  We had never been here before so the city was a great discovery for us.  It seems that the beautiful downtown resulted from the intersection of a 1920s oil boom and the art deco style of the era.   The outcome is worthy of a visit.

But, as usual, I’m here to talk about Union Station or, in this case, the Tulsa Union Depot.

2011-01-10_Union_ Depot_Tulsa

I took this photo on January 10, 2011, a very cold day in Tulsa.  After the last train left this station in 1967, the building fell in disrepair to the extent that the roof collapsed.  Restoration was completed in 1983, and now the building is yet another fine example of Tulsa’s art deco architecture.  Unlike Denver’s Union Station, this one no longer has a place in the city’s transportation system.  It is an office building.  And it’s a beautiful office building.