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Museum of Contemporary Art, Denver by Adjaye Associates

Delgany Street, Denveer, Colorado, USA

The commission – Adjaye’s first in the United States – was to design a a building that was a) environmentally efficient, b) ‘fiscally responsible’ (ie one that would come in within the tight $16.3 million budget – it did; and c) and most intriguingly, one that ‘supports rather than defines the museum’s mission’. Here, clearly, is a client who is not star-struck, for all the international eminence of the architect. Maybe too many arts clients are just that, meaning that the resulting buildings are better billboards than galleries, better at advertising themselves than showing off the art inside.

The emphasis within the 20,000 square feet of exhibition space both indoors and out, is on temporary exhibitions. This is tough for the architect who doesn’t know exactly what they are dealing with. The obvious solution is to go for neutral backgrounds and unchallenging spaces, but that is not the Adjaye way. There is a tough materiality to these white and black cubist spaces and timber soffits that can only enhance the art. And rather than adopting a one-size-fits-all approach, rooms are tailored volumetrically for different media. But it is in the acceptance of light – strong mid-western light at that – that the gallery differs from most. As well as a large T shaped rooflight, there are two large south-east facing windows.

Borrowing from the practice’s London work, at the top of the building is The Idea Box, where children can engage with art and discover it can be fun.

Externally the building is all about translucence. The outer layer of double glass skin is grey, the inner clear. Both inner faces are sand-blasted. Inside the glazing is a layer of insulating polypropylene. Beautiful.

Client: Museum of Contemporary Art, Denver
Structural Engineer: Martin/Martin Inc
Mechanical Engineers: M-E Engineers Inc
Contractor: M A Mortenson Company
Contract value: $11.3 m
Date of occupation: October 2007
Gross internal area: 2508 sq m

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