In an article in today’s Denver Post entitled Pro-Libeskind forces fire back, Kyle MacMillan cites two influential critics coming to the defense of the new Hamilton wing of the Denver Art Museum. Most interesting is the assessment of Suzanne Stephens of Architectural Record:
Regardless of the controversy about the display of art within the canted gallery walls, the jagged building is a surprisingly successful tour de force on urbanistic grounds alone. It revitalizes an area of downtown Denver between Civic Center Park, the location of the Colorado State Capitol, and a dilapidated district to the south dubbed the Golden Triangle, now in the process of being gentrified with housing, art galleries, shops, and restaurants.
I’ve read a number of the previous reviews critical of the space and, although I’m somewhat critical of parts of the design, I felt the initial reaction was a bit harsh. The Hamilton building is very much a proof of the intellectual ideas expressed by Libeskind since his days at Cranbrooke, and, as Stephens points out in the Architectural Record, is a maturing of the ideas first tested on a large scale at the Jewish Museum in Berlin.
From the outside, the fractured geometries of the space are visually arresting, and provide a worthy counterpoint to the crenellated fortress of the North tower designed by Gio Ponti. The configuration of the building and its muscular gestures create a magnificent public plaza that serves as a gateway to the Golden Triangle neighborhood.
The very strength of the design program ultimately prove to be one of the limitations; in particular, the galleries on the top floor of the building are not effective spaces and suffer from their position at the edge of the design metaphor. Much like Gehry’s Guggenheim Bilbao, some exhibition spaces lack flexibility. Fortunately, these are not temporary exhibition spaces, so there is the opportunity for the curators to address the limitations of the space over time (as Bilbao did by installing a Richard Serra into the leading prow of the titanium ship).
Other parts of the interior are more effective in creating a dialog with the art presented there. And while some may find the vertigo inducing central foyer of the building problematic, I enjoy the disorienting flavor of the complex geometries.
Architecture, like other human endeavors, goes through ebbs and flows; if the Libeskind building may be an example of how architecture, as art, limits the presentation of the very art it is charged to support, it also provides the grounding from which artistic creation can step forward. The Libeskind addition to the Denver Art Museum extends the conversation about the importance of art and culture in our lives and in our cities.