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I’m in love with The Hamilton Building – the expansion to the Denver Art Museum designed by Daniel Libeskind. Not everyone is – Slate had a generally critical photo essay titled “The Mile-High Club: Why Experimental Architecture Isn’t Working Out For Denver” that was forwarded to me by my friend Ben. In it, the author Witold Rybczynski shows the three signature buildings that are clustered together with his commentary. He has great photos of The Hamilton Building, Gio Ponti’s original Denver Art Museum (built in 1971), and Michael’ Graves’ Denver Public Library (built in 1996).
Rybczynski concludes that “the three buildings in Denver make an odd grouping. Not a success – they simply don’t add up to anything meaningful – but an interesting failure. For one, they reflect the different faces of architectural Postmodernism: Aestheticism, Historicism, Expressionism. Architecture’s tottering, wayward course between 1970 and 2000 is all here. These buildings also show the peril of shock as an architectural compulsion… Shock is delightful in an amusement park, but in a building it can only, in the long-run, prove an anticlimax.”
While I’ll never be an architecture critical (or professor) – my reaction to these three buildings is the opposite. When standing at a place where you can see all three, my reaction is a simple “whoa.” They are extremely different styles – all expressing deep creativity – that provoke strong emotions. When you do a 360 and look at all the surrounding buildings, the cluster of the these three building are a bold and radical statement in the middle of an otherwhile bland, typical, and unremarkable scene.
I guess Rybcznski’s experience with the Mile High Club is not as positive as mine.