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.
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.
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 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.
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.
Daniel Libeskind's 17 Words of Architectural Inspiration In this TED Talk, architect Daniel Libeskind reveals the 17 words that inspire his architectural vision.
Denver Art Museum Architecture
This website features information about both museum buildings, Gio Ponti's North Building and Daniel Libeskind's Frederic C. Hamilton Building. "DAM on Call" contains two podcasts: in the first Daniel Libeskind answer visitors' questions about his design; in the second a variety of scholars and museum staff talk about Ponti's building.
Studio Daniel Libeskind
The official website of Daniel Libeskind that includes current projects, a look into his studio, his bibliography, exhibitions and other resources.
Architecture Week: Great Buildings Collection
An online encyclopedia to architecture across history and around the world.
An interactive web-resource that encourages kids to learn about and participate in architecture, including project ideas.
Denver Art Museum: Art Spaces. London: Scala Publishers Ltd. in association with the Denver Art Museum, 2006.
A short book about the different architectural spaces at the Denver Art Museum.
Jodidio, Philip, ed. Architecture Now! Taschen, 2002.
A compilation of contemporary architects and their work.
Libeskind, Daniel. Breaking Ground, Adventures in Life and Architecture. New York: Penguin Group, 2004.
Libeskind reflects on his life, his architecture and how his art form relates to who we are.
Olsen, Richard, ed. Daniel Libeskind, The Space of Encounter. United States: Universe Publishing, 2000.
A portrayal of the architect and various forms of his work.
Tilden, Scott J., ed. Architecture for Art, American Art Museums 1938-2008. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 2004.
A look at the many different kinds of architecture that make up America’s art museums.
Glancey, Jonathan. The Story of Architecture. New York: DK Publishing, 2000.
A book equally enjoyable for children or adults that explains the history of architecture: its beginning and development through time.
Isaacson, Philip M. Round Buildings, Square Buildings, and Buildings That Wiggle Like a Fish. New York: Alfred A Knopf, 1988.
A children’s introduction to architecture.
Winters, Nathan B. Architecture is Elementary: Visual Thinking Through Architectural Concepts. Salt Lake City: Gibbs Smith, 1986.
An exploration of architectural concepts through drawings, lessons and activities for children and adults.
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.