The Things People Build

Frederic C. Hamilton Building
Daniel Libeskind and Davis Partnership Architects, United States

Children will have time to construct their own “buildings.” They will then look at an ancient structure, followed by the Frederic C. Hamilton Building and the North Building, and talk about the different shapes, styles, and materials used for construction over the course of history. A comparison to the buildings they’ve fashioned, followed by a chance to build their own “forts,” winds up the lesson.

Intended Age Group
Elementary (grades K-5)
Standards Area
Social Studies
Lesson Length
One 40 minute lesson

Students will be able to:

  • identify at least three similarities and differences between the structures they made, ancient structures, and the Frederic C. Hamilton Building and the North Building; and
  • recognize that people make buildings with available materials and technology.


  1. Preparation: Read the “Details” information from About the Art for the two buildings.
  2. Warm-up: Give the children time to build with blocks/Duplo/Legos, asking them to make “buildings” where people might live, work, or play. Have them talk about why they built what they did. Take pictures of their structures. (If you don’t have a camera, you can keep the buildings up to refer to later.)
  3. Show the children pictures of the pyramids in Egypt and Mexico/Central America, the Parthenon, and other structures built in the past. Google Images is a good source for pictures. Ask them to describe what they see. What shapes do they see? What types of materials? Are they big or small? What colors? (You could use a dodecahedron for this activity where you write a question on each side of the dodecahedron. Allow each child to roll it, and then answer that question. Try this template for a dodecahedron.
  4. Show the images of the Frederic C. Hamilton Building and the North Building. Use the same activity above to help students describe these two buildings.
  5. Now ask the children to make some comparisons between the Frederic C. Hamilton Building and North Building. What’s the same? List at least ten things. What’s different? Now compare the buildings to the “buildings” they constructed during the warm-up. Lastly, compare the two Denver Art Museum buildings to the buildings from the past that they looked at.
  6. Tell them that some of the things that are different, such as the shapes and materials, could not be used in the past. People can only build with materials they have at hand. Ask them to think about what materials they have in their classroom that they could build with.
  7. If you are able and have time, have them build blanket forts with the materials you’ve brought in to class.


  • Legos, Duplo, blocks, recycled boxes/containers, or some material for students to use to construct a “building”
  • Digital or Polaroid camera and means to display photographs taken
  • Assortment of larger blankets
  • Chairs and tables
  • Images of different buildings over time (see suggestions below), either copies or the ability to project
  • Internet access to template for a dodecahedron
  • About the Art sections on the Frederic C. Hamilton Building and the North Building
  • Color copies of the buildings for students to share, or the ability to project the images onto a wall or screen


CO Standards
  • Social Studies
    • History
  • Recognize change and sequence over time
  • Visual Arts
    • Invent and Discover to Create
    • Observe and Learn to Comprehend
    • Relate and Connect to Transfer
  • Language Arts
    • Oral Expression and Listening
    • Reading for All Purposes
21st Century Skills
  • Collaboration
  • Critical Thinking & Reasoning
  • Information Literacy
  • Invention
  • Self-Direction

Frederic C. Hamilton Building


Daniel Libeskind and Davis Partnership Architects, United States


146,000 sq. ft.

Photo by Jeff Wells, Courtesy of the Denver Art Museum

Photograph © Denver Art Museum 2009. All Rights Reserved.

About the Artist

Architect Daniel Libeskind worked with Denver-based Davis Partnership Architects to design the Denver Art Museum’s Frederic C. Hamilton Building.

Libeskind was born in Poland in 1946, the son of two Holocaust survivors. At the age of eleven, he immigrated to Israel with his parents, where his family lived for two years before they left for New York. Libeskind was one of the last immigrants to arrive by boat through Ellis Island and he became an American citizen in 1965.

As a child Libeskind was a musical prodigy, winning international competitions with his performances on the accordion. He left music to study architecture at New York’s Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, followed by graduate work at Essex University in England. He went on to work as a professor and theorist before completing his first commission, Berlin’s Jewish Museum, at the age of fifty-two.

The Denver Art Museum’s Hamilton Building is Libeskind’s first completed building in the United States. He was also chosen as the master plan architect for the World Trade Center site in New York City.

What Inspired It

In 1999, museum director Lewis Sharp and then-mayor Wellington Webb decided it was time for the museum to expand. A new building would allow the DAM to display more of its world-class collection and provide the space needed to host major traveling exhibitions.

With the Hamilton Building, Daniel Libeskind continued a tradition of bold architecture that began with Gio Ponti’s North Building. Libeskind tells us that he was inspired by the “craggy cliffs of the Rockies” and by his experiences in Denver. He describes Denver as “a dynamic place, the people are dynamic. And that is part of the composition of the building.” The lively architecture signals to the public that new things are going on inside; the experience begins before one even enters the DAM.



Libeskind chose to complement Gio Ponti’s million gray glass tiles of the North Building by selecting another reflective and unusual material: 9,000 titanium panels. Libeskind said, “We had an aim from the beginning: a building that is luminous.” The Hamilton Building’s different sides reflect light at different angles, and thus appear to be different shades of gray. The titanium also reflects varying colors throughout the day. It often appears more rosy in the early morning hours and golden at sunset, depending on the weather.

Fun Fact: 9,000 titanium panels cover the building’s surface.

The Prow

The tip of the building, which we call the “prow,” makes a reaching gesture across 13th Avenue toward the North Building and Civic Center. The angled walls of the prow, and the many other angled walls that shape the building, are reflected inside and create unique interior spaces. These dramatic spaces have provided new opportunities for innovative displays of artwork.

The Atrium

Libeskind spoke of the atrium as an introduction to the visitor’s experience of the building: “The first sounds, the atmosphere, the connectivity with that atmosphere—the mood is set. And I think it’s proper that an atrium should set those moods because that’s where you quite literally enter, get informed, get ready for an adventure with art.” The walls and ceiling of the atrium create a variety of shaped spaces, making it one of the most dramatic spaces in the building.

How Does the Building Stay Up?

The building is essentially a giant truss, meaning its steel frame is a balanced network of interlocking triangles. After all the steel beams are set in place, the building holds itself up and transfers weight to “anchors” of concrete pillars that reach down into bedrock. Libeskind described the building as a tree, branching out from these anchoring “roots.”

Fun Fact: 2,750 tons of steel and 50,000 steel bolts were used in the Hamilton Building.

Funding for object education resources provided by a grant from the Morgridge Family Foundation. Additional funding provided by the William Randolph Hearst Endowment for Education Programs, and Xcel Energy Foundation. We thank our colleagues at the University of Denver Morgridge College of Education.

The images on this page are intended for classroom use only and may not be reproduced for other reasons without the permission of the Denver Art Museum. This object may not currently be on display at the museum.