AIA Convention 2013: Denver

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Invisible Bear wonders why you’re ignoring him.

I ran out of bear pictures, but not bear jokes.

My favorite thing about the AIA Convention is the opportunity to explore another city. This was my first time ever in Denver, and my first time anywhere between San Francisco and Chicago. I didn’t get to explore as wide an area of the city as I did last year in DC (no car this time around), but Denver was easily as entertaining nonetheless. I really didn’t even miss the lack of car being as how close by everything was, at least downtown. A big part of what makes downtown Denver so walkable is the 16th Street Mall. Designed by I.M. Pei, the 16th St Mall runs straight through the heart of downtown for over a mile and is closed to general traffic. A free shuttle runs from end to end. The middle of the street has lighting, shops, tables, greenery, artists and buskers. Each side of the street is lined with shops and restaurants for the entire length.

If you’ve ever parked downtown to go to a Pirate’s game or marched in a parade, you know how powerful the experience of safely sharing a road usually meant for cars with other pedestrians. I had read about instances where cities had reclaimed certain merchant corridors for foot traffic, but had never been to one. I don’t know what 16th St was like before the mall was built (way back in 1982), but I can say that today it’s enormously vibrant, especially when compared to downtown Pittsburgh, which is mostly vacant after 5pm. I have also heard tell that, when done carefully, streets that are opened to pedestrians in this way do not actually make vehicular traffic worse on other streets. If anyone knows how to make fancy economic-looking graphs, I’m thinking a conceptual proposal for Pittsburgh is in order. I got the pretty sketches and diagrams covered.

While I’m on about civics and culture, I should mention that I checked out the Denver Art Museum. Daniel Libeskind designed this somewhat obnoxious recent addition to the museum:

Denver_DAM Libeskind

I haven’t tried, but here’s what I think would happen if I tried to criticize Angela’s framing of the above picture.

Ray: I like how you got the “Denver Art Museum” signage in the bottom right, but by cutting off some of the actual building, don’t you think you kind of “missed the point”, so to speak?

Angela: Take your own damn pictures.

I’m getting married! Anyway, the DAM interior was way better (in my humble opinion) than the DAM exterior. I’m generally very skeptical of buildings that have extreme canted walls, because they usually create very awkward spaces on the inside. There were awkward spaces in the DAM, but they were utilized pretty well. They wouldn’t be great for displaying art, but they made for good little nooks that had kids’ craft areas and such. Also, the circulation core was really something to see:

Denver_DAM Interior

That panorama doesn’t really do it justice, but I spent so much time on it that I wasn’t going to not use it. Click to enlarge, it’s slightly better that way. And while we are on the subject of art, an interesting aspect of Denver is that developers must devote a portion of their budget to public art when they build on a piece of land downtown. This is what paid for that giant blue bear we have all come to know and love, and other art throughout the city, like this one outside the art museum.

Denver_Public Art Macro

I assume it also paid for this dry fountain that now serves as a lounge for people who are evidently not anxious about the water coming back on at any minute.

Denver_Dry Fountain

This picture was taken as Angela and I ventured off the beaten path. This was mostly ill-advised. People lazing around a dry fountain was our first clue that something was off, but we pressed on anyway. Ultimately we were handsomely rewarded for our somewhat unnerving walk through a creepy neighborhood when we came across a brewery that had a tap room and gave tours. After a tour and a few pints from the Great Divide, I happened to look out the window to see what might have been my favorite thing in Denver: a guy selling homemade ice cream sandwiches out of his bike/cooler.

Refreshed by beer and ice cream, we headed all the way back to the other side of downtown to check out Larimer square, where we bought hats.


I don’t usually wear hats, but Angela seemed convinced that I looked good in that one. Then we had dinner at Euclid Hall, where the beers were sorted by complexity of flavor, and each category was named for a branch of mathematics. I’m a nerd.

Denver_Euclid Beer

I picked the one that looks like a Scrabble disaster from the highest level of math that I’ve technically completed and it was delicious. It may be impossible to get a bad meal in Denver. Bad service, yes, or maybe a meal not worth the price, but a bad meal, no.

We finished off the trip by taking in a show at Lannie’s Clocktower Cabaret. Burlesque shows are way awesome, and it’s pretty depressing that the lowly strip club has more or less destroyed the market for them anywhere except for the biggest cities. I would emcee a burlesque show in a minute, so if any adventurous souls want to start one up in Pittsburgh and are looking for an inexperienced comedian and modestly successful blogger  to introduce the acts, I’d be so down.

Fun Denver fact: outside of the 16th St Mall, there is only one trash can in the entire city. Can you spot it?

Denver_Only Trashcan

I also noticed a certain specific modernist sensibility that I would guess to be native to the mid-1990’s. If I knew more about the history of Denver, I might be able to tell you why there are so many buildings that look like this around:

Denver_Style 1

Denver_Style 2

Denver_Style 3

That’s it for Denver, for now and for good. I hope you liked the tour because I have about enough energy for one of these a year. Kudos to the “professional” bloggers out there, because more than one post per week (while still having a life) is not as easy as it looks. I’ll have something new up on Monday, after which I’ll be taking a week-long nap.

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