About 10 years ago, Denver Art Museum director Christoph Heinrich stood atop of the museum’s North Building roof patio and felt a pang of guilt. The castle-like space, designed by architect Gio Ponti, never fully achieved its intended vision. That rooftop, with all its excellent views and square footage, was never turned into the accessible space Ponti imagined.
“It’s really where the journey started,” Heinrich said.
So he and his colleagues set out on an ambitious capital campaign. A decade and $150 million later, they brought outsiders into the new North Building — now called the Martin Building — for the first time.
But this was not a grand opening. It was a sneak peek of what is to come, just a look at the first floor and a tease as to what museum visitors will see when the project is completed in 2021.
The building has undergone some changes since then, and its transformation concealed parts of Ponti’s original plans.
When workers began stripping drywall inside, for instance, they discovered lighting panels meant to illuminate the structure’s windows at night. Those lost elements will shine on again when the building is complete.
Another element, a courtyard on the Bannock Street side, also became an unused, virtually forgotten piece of the space. It, too will see new life.
The courtyard on the 14th Avenue side is also getting a re-boot, partially in response to “explosive growth” of school field trips that called for more room to park buses and corral kids.
The Martin Building’s tiled facades will also get a new vantage point, through skylights that allow a closer look at their artful design.
The first bits of the building are set to open in June 2020. This includes a 50,000-square-foot welcome center with an event space and two dining options, a school group reception area, new design and architecture galleries, the old Bonfils-Stanton Gallery (which was previously used for storage), the Northwest Coast and Alaska Native Gallery, and a state-of-the-art conservation lab.
There’s more to come, including that rooftop, which will be the very last piece unveiled. Its opening is set to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Ponti’s creation, which began construction in 1967 and opened in 1971.