Denver is about to get a stunning new landmark. And though One River North is unlike any building Colorado has ever seen before, you sure can see Colorado in the building.

That’s exactly what Ma Yansong and his team at MAD Architects, the renowned global design studio, had in mind. The team drew inspiration from Colorado’s mountainous terrain when they conceived the revolutionary residential project that will live at the intersections of Blake and 40th Streets in Denver’s RiNo neighborhood. Their design strategy is radical: Create a 16-story tower that looks as though it’s been cracked open to reveal a vibrant, green world hidden within. That 10-level rift will embrace a plant-filled fantasy landscape complete with water features and a hiking trail-inspired passageway. It’s a large-scale example of biophilic design—merging natural materials with the built environment to allow people to connect more closely with nature.

The richly landscaped chasm is a fantasy zone filled with plants, water, and walkways inspired by Colorado’s natural features. Rendering courtesy of One River North

“Colorado residents, and those moving here, greatly value nature and the outdoors, and we felt there was a tremendous opportunity to weave in that love of the outdoors, greenery, trails, and nature into a living environment in an organic way,” says Kevin Ratner, chief development officer at Max Collaborative, one of the project’s principal developers. “Our vision was to create the model for how we should be living, surrounding ourselves with the natural environment, bringing nature into our homes, and creating authentic, biophilic experiences coupled with modern comforts and conveniences.”

MAD Architects was the ideal firm to bring that idea to life. “MAD’s core design philosophy is based on ‘Shanshui City,’ an endeavor to create ‘a balance between humanity, the city, and the environment, in a vision of the city of the future based on the spiritual and emotional needs of its residents,’ ” Ratner explains. “Nature and landscape design were already an integral part of MAD’s DNA, so when combined with a city that values and embraces those elements, they felt like this was the perfect location for this type of placemaking architecture.”

The building’s fractured façade reveals a hiking trail that ascends four stories to a rooftop pool intended to represent an alpine lake. Rendering courtesy of One River North

One River North is only the third U.S. project by MAD Architects to break ground. Along with the Max Collaborative, the principal developers include Uplands Real Estate Partners and Wynne Yasmer Real Estate. Denver-based Davis Partnership Architects and Saunders Construction also collaborated on the project.

When it’s finished in late 2023, One River North will offer 187 residences for lease, ranging in size from one to three bedrooms and with floorplan options providing between 625 and 2,500 square feet of living space. Each apartment will have a private, open-air terrace and floor-to-ceiling windows. The minimalist interior spaces, designed by Davis Partnership Architects, will continue the organic theme. “The materials support the idea that home is a place of respite that feels luxurious, polished, and comfortable,” Ratner says. “The light wood finishes feel both modern and hygge, while the introduction of raw stone accents provides a spa-like quality balanced with gritty natural finishes.”

Organic and natural forms provide spectacular settings for outdoor enjoyment. Rendering courtesy of One River North

The heart of the building is the mesmerizing 13,352-square-foot rift, designed to echo Colorado’s signature landforms. “The architecture and landscape teams worked meticulously to integrate the features and benefits of these biomes into the physical architecture and desired experience of the building, starting with the foothills at the bottom and working through trails and slot canyons, then reaching the alpine plateau at the top,” Ratner explains. “The center of the building creates experiences for the residents as if they were hiking a trail from level six to level nine, and slot canyons at the balconies from level 10 to level 16.”

In true Colorado fashion, natural beauty and a spirit of outdoor adventure resonate throughout the building. “To capitalize on seasonal change, the amenity spaces will include a significant diversity of plants, ranging from ornamental grasses representative of the plains to a mix of evergreen and sedum groundcover as one ascends to the high alpine plateaus,” Ratner says. “Other biophilic elements include a cascading water feature that bridges the gap between the sixth- and seventh-level outdoor amenity spaces.” The rooftop boasts 6,813 square feet of garden, pool, spa, and terrace, intended to symbolize an alpine lake setting.

Boundaries between built and natural environments blur in outdoor areas where residents can climb winding trails to the sky. Rendering courtesy of One River North

Additional amenities include a ninth-floor fitness center with a yoga studio that opens onto the outdoor space, a pet spa, 178 underground parking spots, and 7,995 square feet of retail space on the ground floor. Nature, however, remains the star of the show.

“This project is designed around biophilia; it is the centerpiece of the physical architecture but also the resident experience,” Ratner says. “Those innate qualities of human connection, cognitive function, relaxation, wellness, and productivity are elements developers try to ‘build’ into communities—but in some ways, the natural environment is the ultimate amenity.”