A Thoughtful Update to Gio Ponti’s Denver Art Museum

Machado Silvetti and Fentress Architects wrap up long-awaited interventions at the Denver Art Museum, which remains Gio Ponti’s only completed building in North America.

Denver Art Museum. All Photography by James Florio

Though Gio Ponti was actively designing in the United States as early as 1928 and throughout the 1950s, the late Italian architect only ever completed one building in North America: the Denver Art Museum, a commission he accepted in 1965 at age 74. The seven-story castle-like tower eschewed traditional museum archetypes at the time, sporting such design flourishes as unexpected window openings, a rooftop terrace with Rocky Mountain views, and 24 facades clad in more than one million reflective glass tiles. To celebrate the museum’s 50th anniversary, Machado Silvetti and local firm Fentress Architects embarked on a campus-wide transformation that entailed creating a new welcome center, outdoor areas, reconfigured galleries, and additional space for events and dining. 

Of all the interventions, most notable is the Sie Welcome Center that adjoins the tower, newly renamed the Martin Building,d and references an elliptical auditorium that Ponti originally intended for the museum. “To create the new Sie Welcome Center in Denver’s architecturally rich Golden Triangle Creative District, it was critical for us to design a structure that was in dialogue with the vibrant visual language of Ponti and Studio Libeskind’s designs, while also providing connection to the museum,” says Jorge Silvetti, principal at Machado Silvetti. “With its elliptical shape approachable from all angles, and transparent glass facade, the center is an inviting and glowing beacon to greet all visitors.” It streamlines access to Studio Libeskind’s titanium Hamilton Building, which otherwise remains untouched.

When phase one of the redo opens in late October, visitors can navigate brand-new gallery spaces designed by OMA and Esrawe + Cadena. The inaugural exhibition? “Gio Ponti: Designer of a Thousand Talents,” which showcases an array of objects from the museum’s thorough architecture and design collection. The wide range of work on view will reinforce the vast array of both traditional and modern materials and techniques that Ponti employed throughout his illustrious career. 

Ponti may be having a moment. News of the exhibition follows the reissue of the Round D.154.5 chair for Molteni&C and the publication of Gio Ponti, a striking tome that documents his approach to every design project in detail, from the nitty-gritty particulars of a teaspoon to the more than 100 buildings he completed throughout his six-decade career. “The most resistant element is not wood, is not stone, is not steel, is not glass,” Ponti describes in the book, which was published by Taschen. “The most resistant element in building is art.” The Denver Art Museum—the architectural intrigue that Ponti infused into its unconventional build, and its thoughtful renovation—upholds that principle. 

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