In this studio class, we were asked to infill a site, located on Champa street a block off of the 16th Street walking mall in Denver, Colorado, with a mixed-use, high rise building. Despite our extensive program requirements, one of our first tasks involved determining what the site and surrounding neighborhood required. We also dove headlong into the rich history of the site to determine what was worth removing, what was worth saving and what was ultimately worth celebrating.
Having always been a little dismayed at the lack of outdoor space provided in downtown Denver, I focused my efforts on providing local residents and visitors with a place to relax outside in the dense, urban environment. I started by reading A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander. With that fresh in mind, I spent countless hours sitting in and absorbing outdoor spaces around the city, making a list of the inherent desirable qualities. Among them, sunlight, human scale, approachability, protection, ease of use and views seemed important.
After crafting my list of constraints, I formed the program around the courtyard, taking care to respect the local history and context of the site. The high rise residential tower splits into two, reducing the building’s perceived impact on the site while also allowing sunlight in and views out of the courtyard. Additionally, this grand gesture serves to give precedence to foot traffic coming in off the walking mall, solidifying the pedestrians’ importance over the tall structure.
The tower windows with their brick pattern pay homage to the history of Denver architecture while allowing the high-rise to airily float over the strong masonry courtyard. Contextual rhythm and height take over as the towers touch down to earth with oversized brick bases, adding additional significance to the local neighborhood and pedestrian scale.
The paths from the adjacent streets cut through the site, organizing and shaping the courtyard as they do. At their intersection, a fountain serves as the center point for the square, offering up a metaphor for the convergence of the three distinct streets and their varied histories.