Clyfford Still Museum
Allied Works Architecture
Denver, CO, USA
PRIMARY AUTHOR Brad Cloepfil
Saunders Construction, Inc. (Contractor) Reed Hilderbrand (Landscape Consultant:) KPFF – Consulting Engineers (Structural Engineer) ARUP (MEP Engineer) ARUP (Lighting Design)
Joan H. Prusse
The site for the museum resides in the Civic Center of Denver, a district inhabited by buildings of grand collective and cultural narrative. The 28,000sf Museum mediates this setting with two distinct acts of architecture. The first prepares the site by creating a dense grove of deciduous trees - a place of refuge from the intense light of central Colorado. The second act of architecture looks to the earth. The Museum is conceived as a solid, a continuous form opened up by natural light. Walls of textured concrete form the primary building envelope, interior walls and structural system. The entrance, deeply recessed beneath the cantilevered walls, holds the visitor to the earth. The lower level houses the education, archive and storage spaces. In the upper level galleries, the visitor moves through a series of nine distinct volumes where they encounter the work of Clyfford Still. Overhead, an open lattice of concrete unites the body of the building and offers illumination and connection to the atmosphere of the city. The galleries respond to the evolving character of Still’s art, changing scale and proportion, while varying the intensity of light. As we knew what works would be hung in the spaces we created, we tried to make rooms of absolutely specific dimension and proportion. Rooms created specifically to hold that work, to scale a relationship between the individual and Still’s canvasses. Each vessel within the building feels complete, and yet it is part of a continuum, unified by material and light.
In 2004, the City and County of Denver announced it had won the competition to receive the 2000 artworks contained within the estate of Clyfford Still. After the death of Still’s wife, Patricia, the following year, Denver received an additional 400 works from her estate as well as Still’s complete archive. This extraordinary body of work – 94 percent of everything he ever created (most of which had never been seen) -- represents, by far, the most intact body of work by any major artist. In 2006, the newly-formed Clyfford Still Museum secured a 25,000-square-foot parcel of land immediately west of the Denver Art Museum’s then-under construction Frederic C. Hamilton Building, designed by Daniel Libeskind. This highly desirable site, in the heart of Denver’s Civic Center Cultural Complex, provided an art historical context for the collections and the opportunity for almost unlimited partnerships between the two institutions. Later that year, the Board selected Allied Works Architecture, led by Brad Cloepfil, for the museum’s design.
It is structure that mediates the scale of the land and the scale of the monumental civic buildings that surround the Museum. The structure emerges from the essential possibilities of concrete. It is the single element that enfolds you in a relationship with the art, limiting your field of view, allowing for moments of release while holding you to the earth. The structural order of the Museum is a continuous field of planes – of walls, of floors, of ceilings – that create specific places for the art. In essence, the structure is a series of exceptionally deep beams that span, cantilever and intersect to create the volumes and the specific proportions of the galleries. We chose that language because it acts as a single body, able to define building extents and boundaries and at the same time create a range of interior surfaces that hold the art. We were always interested in a visceral material presence for the museum. A building made, not manufactured. We needed to find a way for the material to become everything: structure, mass and source of light for the project – dense, radiant and ephemeral, diffusing, reflecting and transforming. Another primary goal was to show Still’s work in natural light. We created openings from the sides, and clerestories to reflect up and wash surfaces; formed the concrete to reflect lateral light across the walls and into the rooms; and allowed light to penetrate the mass of the concrete itself.