201 W. Colfax Avenue
Sat and Sun 10AM–4PM
Architect: Smith, Hegner and Moore with G. Meredith Musick; David Owen Tryba Architects and RNL
Style: Postwar International; Neomodern
Date complete: 1949; 2002
Designation: National Register of Historic Places, LEED Gold
The Wellington E. Webb Municipal Office Building embodies the distinctive characteristics of the International Style including its stair towers and the ribbon windows and the use of the cantilever. The style was inspired by the Bauhaus and featured flat roofs, light colors, and cubistically arranged rectangular construction.
Built for use as classrooms for the University of Denver School of Commerce, the Civic Center Classroom was to be a part of a downtown campus, but it was the only building realized. It was designed to relate to other Civic Center buildings such as the Voorhees Memorial and the Carnegie Library (now the McNichols Building). The building is clad in the same Bedford limestone as the nearby City and County Building. As it occupied the full length of the Cleveland block between Fourteenth and Fifteenth, it served as a kind of sight stop between the Civic Center and commercial downtown Denver.
The methods of construction help give the building architectural significance. The more than 3,000 window panes in the building were custom made in the Pittsburg Plate Glass factory. Other pre-fabricated components, like the modular walls, were typical of International style buildings. The mortar joints of the stonework are finely executed and are nearly invisible, following the principles of the style: functionalism and reductionism, resulting in a building of simplicity and elegance. Functionalism required the analysis of how the building was to function and building toward that goal; reductionism tended to reduce the elements in a building design to its most basic expression.
This simple style is expressed by the walls with no eaves, the ribbon of metal casement windows emphasizing the horizontality of the building, and cantilevered elements like the eyebrow window shades and rooftop overhangs. The frame of the building was constructed with a reinforced concrete frame. Modular walls on the interior were intended to create flexibility. All the walls are finished in a smooth and uniform way. Though it had been standing for only 41 years, its significance as an example of the Functionalist style led the State Historical Society to assess it for designation by the National Register in 1999.
The City and County of Denver later converted the building into city offices and called it Annex I and later still incorporated it into a new City and County building, when it was named Wellington E. Webb Municipal Office Building. At the cost of about $131 million, the neomodern structure features the horizontal International style of the Civic Center Classroom Building along the Cleveland side and a vertical, near ship-shaped tower on the opposite side. This building has an open atrium that blends the new and established structures. Large works of art are displayed in the atrium. This building has a LEED Gold designation.
Smith, Hegner and Moore worked with the firm of G. Meredith Musick to design the University of Denver Civic Center Classroom Building. Musick’s firm was brought in for technical assistance after the preliminary design stage and throughout the drawing stage due to their having more experience. Musick was known for moving away from historical revival styles and embracing Modernism, designing buildings in Art Deco, Art Moderne, and the International styles. J. Roger Musick and James Sudler were brought in for technical advice from the elder Musick’s firm, Sudler serving as on-site supervisor.
Dudley Smith had been recognized for his work on Historical Revival Style homes and had been established as a Denver architect since pre-war times. He joined with Casper Hegner after Hegner returned from World War II service in the United States Marine Corps. Hegner had corresponded with Smith and Thomas Moore, another Denver architect with a reputation for buildings in the International style, resulting in their partnership.
The trio received their first large-scale, high-status commission, the Civic Center Classroom Building, in 1947. Thomas Moore left the firm in 1950 for a solo career on the western slope. Smith and Hegner designed other significant buildings, especially schools, such as Gilpin School and Thomas Jefferson High School, until Hegner left Denver in 1962.
The original concept for the Civic Center Classroom Building came from Casper Hegner, who determined that the building should be the same material, color, and height as the City and County Building across the street. He came from a prominent Denver family and studied at Princeton and Yale. Hegner closed his Denver office in 1937 to join the well-known Denver firm of Temple Buell, leaving there in 1940.
Thomas Moore was responsible as the chief designer of the Civic Center Classroom Building. He attended Yale, and like Hegner, was a friend of fellow student Eero Saarinen. After a brief association with Earl Chester Morris, he started his own practice in 1938. After returning from a few years in Grand Junction, he returned to Denver and taught at Colorado University. His work after his years with Smith, Hegner, and Moore reflected his interest in experimental building technology and was more visually dramatic and theatrical than those of his former firm.
National Register of Historic Places, U. S. Department of the Interior; History Colorado, Office of Archaeology and Historic Preservation; Denver: the Modern City by Michael Paglia, Rodd L. Wheaton, and Diane Wray; Guide to Denver Architecture by Mary Voelz Chandler.