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The welcome center’s grand staircase. Photo by James Florio
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Work of Art: Inside Denver Art Museum’s Newly Renovated Martin Building

Four things you need to know about the new-and-improved cultural institution.

Designophiles have much to celebrate with the debut of the Denver Art Museum’s recently renovated Martin Building. More than 11,000 square feet of new and redesigned exhibition space accommodate the museum’s enviable collection of 19,000 architecture and design pieces (one of the largest such collections in the country), some of which are showcased in a rotating exhibition called By Design: Stories and Ideas Behind Objects. On display now: Denver furniture designer Laura Kishimoto’s Yumi chair, which was commissioned in 2018 by the museum’s curator of architecture and design, Darrin Alfred. “One of my favorite things about the chair is how bold and unapologetic it is,” Alfred says. “It’s meant to be looked at from all different angles.”

Yumi chair, on display at the Denver Art Museum. Photo courtesy of Denver Art Museum

Here’s a peek at everything else to know about the the new-and-improved Martin Building, which reopened to the public this fall.

1. The original structure is truly one of a kind. Designed in 1971 by the late modernist architect and furniture designer Gio Ponti and Denver–based James Sudler Associates, the seven-story, glass-tiled edifice—formerly known as the North Building—was one of the first high-rise art museums upon its construction and is the only Ponti–designed building in North America to this day. (The Italian architect’s notable works also include Milan’s Pirelli Tower and the iconic Superleggera chair.) “He was a visionary and artist with incredible attention to detail,” says Curtis Fentress, principal of Fentress Architects, who worked with Boston-based architecture firm Machado Silvetti on the building’s most recent iteration. “So much of what Ponti is known for is represented in the tower: textured facades, geometric cutouts, and form following function.”

The Martin Building’s new rooftop terrace. Photo by James Florio

2. The three-year, $175-million renovation celebrates and even augments Ponti’s vision. The design team began by rehabbing the tower’s existing exterior, replacing many of the damaged, original pyramid-shaped glass tiles (produced by Corning) with replicas supplied by facade specialist Bendheim; these also cover the building’s new exteriors. The unconventionally shaped windows, some of which frame views of the mountains, were swapped out for more energy-efficient versions (the building is now LEED Silver–certified). And speaking of views, a rooftop terrace—part of Ponti’s original vision that wasn’t built until now—is a prime spot to take in the cityscape.

3. The interior renovations make way for lots more art. More than 33,000 square feet of sleek gallery and education spaces have been carved out of the castle-like building’s core, with many former storage rooms repurposed to make way for the museum’s growing collection. “We didn’t have enough space to suit the scale of this collection [before],” Darrin Alfred, curator of architecture and design, says. “This is our opportunity to shine a light on the architecture and design collection in a way we haven’t been able to in the past.”

4. A welcome center ties it all together. Sandwiched between the linear Martin tower and the angular Hamilton Building, the new, rounded Sie Welcome Center “unites what otherwise may be experienced as disparate elements,” Fentress says. The structure’s curves are echoed inside, where the Grand Staircase—constructed as a monolithic terrazzo form—winds sinuously to connect three levels. The welcome center houses ticketing, an event space, and two new dining options—including the Boss Architecture–designed restaurant that’s helmed by chef Jennifer Jasinski and aptly named the Ponti.

Coinciding with the 2021 reopening of Denver’s Gio Ponti–designed Martin Building is the release of a new coffee-table book celebrating the starchitect’s work. Gio Ponti (Taschen, 2021) is available for $250 on Amazon.

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