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It seems even the Denver Art Museum can’t escape our city’s construction fever. The venue’s North Building—designed by Gio Ponti and home to most of the DAM’s permanent collection galleries—is closing soon for a major renovation.
When it opened in 1971, the museum hosted about 100,000 visitors annually; last year, they saw approximately 800,000. Forty-six years later, the structure is also in need of some more basic TLC (plumbing, electrical, etc.). “The North Building is a treasure house for our permanent collections, but the galleries need more than fresh paint,” says Christoph Heinrich, Frederick and Jan Mayer director of the DAM.
When the renovations are completed (the goal is late 2021, coinciding with the building’s 50th anniversary), there will be an additional 20,000 square feet of gallery space; a new welcome center, grab-and-go snack bar, and restaurant; and the seventh-floor terrace, with its city and mountain views, will finally be built out and opened to the public.
How people use museums has changed significantly since the 1970s. For example, there was no education space in the original design. “[Now we’re] putting education in the center of the building,” Heinrich says. Two classrooms and a Creative Hub (see the rendering below) will sit on the first floor. Three entrances will also help disperse school groups.
A second, larger elevator bay will more easily move people through the building. A state-of-the-art conservation lab and art storage space will be added to the basement level. The courtyard out front will be enlarged and better separated from busy 14th Street. Fifty-five thousand objects are being moved for the project.
Heinrich hopes to open the updated space in stages (the new welcome center and first and second floors, followed by upper floors) starting in late 2019. In the meantime, the museum’s other wing—the Frederic C. Hamilton Building—will be open seven days a week to accommodate guests, beginning on Monday, November 20. And the programming isn’t slowing down: The curators will be displaying pieces from those permanent collections in thematic exhibitions. The first, Stampede: Animals In Art, will take over two stories of the Hamilton Building, and is partially open now. We’re also looking forward to Degas: A Passion for Perfection and Dior: From Paris To The World, two blockbuster exhibitions opening next year.
“We wanted to give [the North] building the wide and open and welcoming arms I think we do with our programs,” Heinrich says of the open-format, glass design. “This is your building, this is your museum—come and visit.”