By Ron Bernthal
In late 2020, the Chicago-based architectural firm Studio Gang announced their design for Populus, a vibrant new social center and hotel in downtown Denver whose proposed design is attracting much attention from Denver residents and architecture fans. Construction of the new structure is expected to begin in 2021, with a completion date in 2023.
Created with Denver developer Urban Villages, Studio Gang’s first Colorado project is located on a prominent corner site at 14th Street and Court Place near Denver’s Civic Center Park. Connecting Denver’s civic, arts, and commercial districts, the sculptural building greets the neighborhood equally on all three sides, welcoming isitors and city residents to explore the property and connected urban amenities.
Populus derives its name from the scientific classification of Colorado’s native aspen tree (Populus tremuloides), which served as inspiration for the texture and rhythm of the building’s façade. “Forming an essential interface between inside and outside, the distinctive windows expand the hotel rooms to the city and Rocky Mountains beyond,” said Jeanne Gang, architect and founder of the firm that bears her name. “Their shape is inspired by the growth pattern seen on the iconic aspen trees of Colorado, whose branches produce ‘eyes’ on the trunks’ surface.”
The 145,000 square-foot, 13-story mixed-use building will include hotel rooms and a public green roof terrace planted with lush regional vegetation. The windows lend a sense of drama to the hotel rooms, presenting guests with wonderful views of the nearby State Capitol, Civic Center Park, and the mountains beyond. At the building’s base, the windows expand to frame entrances and views into the lobby, restaurant, and shared amenity spaces.
Opening itself to the city and to the Rocky Mountains beyond, Populus is designed to become an energetic new social center in downtown Denver. Located on a prominent corner site, the building greets the neighborhood equally on all three sides, welcoming visitors and residents and connecting Denver’s civic, arts, and commercial districts.
At the building’s base, the windows grow up to 30 feet in height to frame entrances and views into the lobby, restaurant, and amenity spaces. The texture and rhythm of its sculptural façade is strongly tied to the building’s hotel function. Each vertical scallop is the width of a hotel room, and its windows change in size in response to public and private spaces. The distinctive window shapes are informed by studying the characteristic patterns found on Aspen trees (Populus tremuloides). As the trees grow, they shed their lower branches, leaving behind dark, eye-shaped marks on the papery bark of their trunks.
The windows are further detailed to perform efficiently in the Denver climate. On the exterior, the “lids” of each window stretch outward according to solar orientation to shade the interior, improving the building’s energy performance. They also channel rainwater to keep the façade looking fresh over time.
Upon entering their rooms, hotel guests are greeted with immersive views of the nearby State Capitol and Civic Center Park and the mountains beyond through the generous windows. In some rooms, the windows also become occupiable, transforming into seating or desks that bring guests closer to the outdoors.
“As the signature private development on Civic Center Park, Urban Villages felt a responsibility to create a community asset that would contribute to the architectural legacy of the Mountain West and provide 24/7 activation in this underserved area,” said Jon Buerge, chief development officer at Urban Villages. “We have brought together a team that exemplifies this vision – from architecture and design, to sustainability, hospitality, food and beverage and more. Populus will create opportunities for locals and visitors to connect, relax and find inspiration.”