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The Integration of Architecture, Art and Public Space Westin Denver International Airport

Image courtesy of Denver International Airport

Last year, Denver International Airport unveiled Ned Kahn, Patrick Marold and Yann Kersalé as the artists selected to create three distinctive public art pieces for the Hotel and Transit Center Program. As of spring 2016 all of the public artwork will be dedicated and open to the public.

The art for the new Hotel and Transit Center enhances the three main public areas, starting at the train arrival area, the escalator that ascends from the train hall to the plaza, and the plaza itself. In the words of Denver International Airport CEO Kim Day, “all of the pieces have aspects that reflect the region, which will enhance the 'sense of place' at the airport, while adding a bit of joy and serenity to the traveling experience." The vision was to create a striking experience for everyone who will travel to and from Denver International Airport.

Image © Ryan Gobuty

The announcement marked the culmination of unprecedented three year integrated design approach for the new Hotel and Transit Center, encompassing architecture, art and landscaping. This integrated strategy sets a benchmark due to the inherently cohesive approach adopted from the outset. Typically art is layered on top of the architecture, the opposite of the integrated the approach. Instead, for this project Denver International Airport embraced a holistic design approach, where architecture, art, landscape and interiors are in complete harmony, resulting in a seamless and unparalleled experience.

The journey to integrate architecture, art and public space at Denver International Airport began three years ago when Kendall Peterson, the Hotel & Transit Center Art Program Manager, created an arts committee to deliver the project, as part of the City and County of Denver’s “one percent for art” ordinance.

The art committee members included Jonas Philipsen and ourselves on the project design team at Gensler alongside local artists and arts professionals as well as community members: Maria Buszek, Ph.D., David Dadone, Georgina Kolber, Chandler Romeo, Bee Harris, John Ackerman and many other advisors. The committee began work during the schematic design phase, creating a list of artists who were invited to apply for the opportunities. This invitation was extended to around 250 national, local and internationally known artists. We knew that we wanted artists that had a great deal of experience working on projects of this size.

Image © Ryan Gobuty

The locations were identified as the areas which would have the most impact on visitors to the Hotel and Transit Center. The group decided upon the “Valley” which is the entrance to the Transit Center, the connecting escalator to the train hall and the plaza. The art committee reviewed artist presentations and conducted interviews to create a shortlist. From start to finish it was an inspiring process, providing an opportunity to work side by side with renowned artists to create something truly memorable.

The final three artists - Ned Kahn, Patrick Marold and Yann Kersalé – were selected for a number of reasons, first and foremost as a result of their artistic excellence and the potential for their work to operate in harmony with the proposed architecture and landscaping. Our goal was to provide guests and travelers with a sense of place and a direct connection to the Colorado plains and the mountains beyond.

California-based sculptor Ned Kahn was selected to create a large wind-activated sculptural installation titled, “Field of Air.” For his artwork at Denver International Airport, Kahn was inspired by the way the grasses of the plains expose the invisible force of the wind. Each of the thousands of individual blades are made from brushed aluminum and hinged so that the play of air on the plaza translates into a tangible form, accentuating the beauty of wind.

Denver artist Patrick Marold was to create a large-scale installation to enhance the expansive landscape area around the public transit station. The sculpture, titled “Shadow Array,” consists of 236 beetle-kill spruce logs from southern Colorado, creating an active experience for travelers as they enter and exit the valley by train, while also providing a dynamic panorama from the hotel and public spaces to the south of the plaza. The shadows and patterns created by the sculpture change and shift according to the seasons, daily passage of the sun and with evening lighting.

Paris-based light artist Yann Kersalé was selected to provide a lighting design for the train and Level 5 canopies, and a unique video-based art installation for the escalator connecting the Public Transit Center to the Level 5 plaza. His work is titled “L’eau dans tous ses êtats” or “Water in all of its states.” Kersalé is an internationally-acclaimed artist who works with light as his primary medium.

As architects we are extremely proud to have been a part of a committee that has enabled art to create a heightened, continuous experience for anyone arriving at the Hotel and Transit Center, by train or by car. Wherever you are, you are always connected to the art, the landscape and the architecture. And it doesn’t stop there, there will be even more art for guests to enjoy in the new Westin Hotel opening on November 20. The hotel features three striking interior artworks, “Strange Continents” by Mindy Bray; “The Colorado River” by Wopo Holup and “En-Route” by Heather Patterson.

The vision of the art committee and Denver International Airport’s leadership was key in raising the bar for the integration of art, architecture and public space. They made the bold and smart decision to select impactful installations that make the new buildings look even better. People can experience the art in so many different ways, not just in transition. We hope when you arrive at Denver International Airport you will immediately connect with the space.

Video courtesy of Denver International Airport.

Kap Malik, FAIA, has an influential body of work that rises from profound connections to place and culture. It merges architecture, sustainability and urbanism in harmony to create new global paradigms that reconsider the possibilities of the built environment. He is a global design leader for the firm and co-leads the Hospitality studio in the Southwest Region. Contact him at kap_malik@gensler.com.
Brent Mather loves to consider possibilities. His passion is searching for the inherent harmony that exists between architecture, site, and the people who experience it. As Design Director for Gensler's Denver office, Brent inspires people to pursue design excellence in everything they do while exceeding clients' expectations. Contact Brent at brent_mather@gensler.com.

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