1250 Bannock Street
Sat and Sun 10AM–5PM
Architect: Brad Cloepfil
Year Built: 2010
Considered one of the most important artists of the 20th century, Clyfford Still was among the first generation of abstract expressionist artists who developed a new, powerful approach to painting in the years following World War II. The Still Museum, which opened in 2010, was founded to promote public and scholarly understanding of the late artist’s work through the preservation and presentation of more than 94% of his total output. Denver competed with several other cities for Still’s collection. In 2004, Denver was selected by Still’s wife, Patricia, to receive the collection, plus additional archival materials, with the requirement that the city build a museum entirely devoted to his work.
The Museum’s collection includes about 825 paintings and 1,575 works on paper. Some of his paintings have yet to be unrolled. The gallery exhibits rotate periodically, ever revealing new works. The vast majority of his accomplishments have yet to be seen. The gallery displays on the second floor, combined with the interactive timeline and glimpses at Still’s archives on the lower level, offer visitors a thorough look at the artist and the man.
In 2006, the Museum secured a 25,000 square foot parcel of land immediately west of the Denver Art Museum’s Frederick C. Hamilton Building, designed by Daniel Libeskind (then under construction). Later that year, the Museum’s Board selected Allied Works Architecture, led by Brad Cloepfil, for the Museum’s design. The immediate neighborhood surrounding the Museum also includes the Art Museum’s Gio Ponti designed flagship building built in 1971, an eccentric structure designed in an almost neo-medieval style, and Michael Graves’ playfully post-modernist Denver Public Library, completed in 1995. Both of these Denver landmarks butt up against various beaux-arts civic buildings that align along Civic Center Park. During the selection process for the Clyfford Still Museum, architect Cloepfil suggested that he would add what this campus needed most – silence.
In designing the building, Cloepfil considered the topographic context from which Still’s paintings emerged: Washington State’s the Columbia River Gorge, Alberta Canada, and other regions where Still resided until 1941 and re-visited often. The architect was keenly familiar with these regions and their natural sensations, textures, and rhythms and had built structures throughout that region in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho.
The result is a quiet, ribbed, cast-in-place concrete building with strategically placed wooden elements and windows that bring rhythm to the exterior with a focused infusion of light to the interior. The Still Museum is an elegant 28,000 square foot structure. The upper cantilevered level is dedicated to 10,000 square feet of gallery space. Concerns of intimacy, proportion, and ideal viewing conditions influenced the design of the Museum. As a result, the largest gallery measures only about 1,200 square feet, with a ceiling placed, by today’s standards, at a modest 12 to 16 feet above the floor.
The quality of light, not just within the galleries but in the entire building as a whole, is the essential characteristic of the design, even more defining than the 4,000 cubic yards of textured concrete that Cloepfil cast into the earth. The evenly dispersed natural light that fills the exhibition rooms not only presents Still’s canvas surfaces in the most compelling and truthful way; the gentleness of the daylight also enlivens the senses as visitors move through the variously proportioned spaces.
Brad Cloepfil was born in Portland, Oregon in 1956. He is an architect, educator and founding principal architect of Allied Works Architecture of Portland and New York City. His first major project was an adaptive reuse of a Portland warehouse for the advertising agency Wieden & Kennedy. Since 2000, Cloepfil and Allied Works have completed cultural, commercial and residential projects including the Contemporary Art Museum in St. Louis, the University of Michigan Art Museum, the Dutchess County Residence Guest House, and the National Music Centre of Canada in Calgary, Alberta.
Dean Sobel (Director of the Clyfford Still Museum), essay in Allied Work Architecture: Clyfford Still Museum; clyffordstillmuseum.org; museum fact sheet; Mary Voelz Chandler, Guide to Denver Architecture; David Anfam (Adjunct Curator of the Clyfford Still Museum), Denver Post article: September 30, 2012.