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Designing Denver

Developers must embrace the challenge


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Denver continues to establish itself as a landmark in the West, across the nation and throughout the world.  It has many of the characteristics that attract people and businesses (an educated workforce, outstanding lifestyle, young population, invigorating city and mountain escapes), but voids do exist, and more can be done for Denver to achieve even greater heights.

As an architect who has worked on projects in large cities in the U.S. and abroad, including New York, San Francisco, London and Toronto, and in some of our country’s more rural settings, including Jackson Hole, Wyo., I see that Denver developers have the unique task of crafting innovative city spaces while considering Denver’s natural backdrop and color pallette.  Much is already being done (in places such as River North, the Highlands, Riverfront Park and Union Station).  There is still room, however, to explore Denver’s endless potential.

It is understood that developers must meet and exceed the expectations of their investors (in terms of the bottom line).  But, that doesn’t always require a “cookie cutter” approach.  In fact, imaginative plans and designs – that step outside conventional bounds – can indeed surpass even the most optimistic profit margins.  We are living in an ever-changing world, where people and companies want something new and different.  For cities, planners and developers who are willing to deliver exciting new vision and designs, tremendous opportunities exist.

These are thrilling – and essential – times in regards to the future of the Mile High City.  Approximately 15,000 housing units are being built in Denver right now, with another 15,000 soon to come.  Smart planning, creative development and contemporary design will be the formula for success as Denver continues to grow and attract new businesses and residents.  Now is the time for developers to bring groundbreaking and creative ideas to their projects.  The future of the city demands it.

The city is currently on a steep growth curve, with scores of cranes hovering above the metro skyline.  While the building boom advances, developers, city planners and architects must persist in providing quality projects, even as the demand for quantity continues to drive their business. 

It would be a shame to look back on all of today’s new projects 10 years from now, and feel that developers failed the city in regards to how they helped to shape and form Denver’s overall cityscape. 

Blend past success with future vision

Denver has done a tremendous job of maintaining its sense of history and place, which means that the steps that are taken into the city’s future must be strode with great care and forethought.  The success of the past cannot be trampled upon with ruthlessness and a singular focus on profit in the future.  While new structures are built, they must be designed to complement the outstanding purposeful buildings of Denver’s past. 

Be progressive

Denver can still step-it-up by taking additional risks with its design.  We live in a hip city, but there is ample room for more progressive and visionary development.  While these types of venues do exist (the Museum of Contemporary Art, The Source, TAXI, Olinger and others), Denver still has plenty of cavities to fill when it comes to modern and forward-thinking design. 

Attract varying demographics

There is little, if any reason, to limit the demographic nature of a building’s design.  People who live and work in the city want to be in an eclectic environment.  This means that townhomes and apartment buildings should provide much more than standard studio, one and two-bedroom residences.  Rather, they should provide a multitude of living options, that not only add to the excitement of the building itself, but also connect to the buzz and energy of the city.  Institutional design is boring, and Denver deserves better.

Denver is entering another critical juncture in its time.  The quality of growth and development will rest on the willingness of the city’s visionaries to not depend solely on what has worked in the past, but to also remain open to a promising future based on innovative and progressive ideas.

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Stephen Dynia

Stephen Dynia is Principal of Dynia Architects, a nationally acclaimed architectural firm with a Denver office that has been instrumental in new design and development in River North.  Stephen can be reached at 303-339-9910 or sdynia@dynia.com.

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