Magazine article Newsweek

What Little Town Blues? for 21st-Century Design, It's Smaller Cities That Rule

Magazine article Newsweek

What Little Town Blues? for 21st-Century Design, It's Smaller Cities That Rule

Article excerpt

Byline: Cathleen McGuigan

The fabled architectural sketch on a cocktail napkin has made a comeback. But in the case of the new Denver Art Museum, it was a boarding pass--Daniel Libeskind says he grabbed it as he flew over the city: "I copied the shapes I saw out of my airplane window--the craggy cliffs of the Rockies." Libeskind is the Great Communicator when it comes to explaining his edgy abstract designs to the public--a talent that got a workout when he won his highest-profile commission, to plan the World Trade Center site. But while that scheme was being pummeled by the forces of big-city real estate and politics, his glimmering museum was quietly rising in Denver. Set to open Oct. 7, it's the Polish-born, American-bred architect's first building in the United States.

Whether the building's sharp peaks mimic the distant Rockies is almost beside the point; Libeskind's designs tend to be angular anyway. What matters: the building is smashing. Its jagged forms soar out of the ground, an eruption of shapes frozen in the moment and hovering over the site as if held together by a powerful unseen force. Enhancing the museum's dynamic beauty is its lustrous, silvery titanium skin. For all its space-age strength, it's a remarkably soft-looking metal with the billowy sheen of heavy silk.

Strictly speaking, the $90.5 million Frederic C. Hamilton Building, as the new structure is called, is an addition to the old Denver Art Museum--a bizarre crenellated and tiled fortress built in 1971 by the late Italian designer Gio Ponti. But because the new building connects to Ponti's by an unobtrusive footbridge, it essentially stands alone, an electric presence in the neighborhood. And despite all those weird angles and canted walls, it works surprisingly well on the inside--from the light-streaked four-story atrium, to the generous galleries, to a sculpture terrace that feels like the deck of a ship. …

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