Maria Cole, of Denver-based architecture firm Klipp, worked with a diverse group of stakeholders from the Denver Museum of Nature and Science to develop programming for the $56.5 million Morgridge Family Exploration Center expansion. Encompassing 126,000 square feet, the project adds early learning space, studios, additional third floor gallery space, and significant increases to the collections storage capacity of the museum.
As with any civic institution constructed through gradual accumulation of building materials around a collection of artifacts, it can be difficult to distinguish exactly where one structure stops and another starts, and this addition is no different. The design team at Klipp has treated the addition as an interstitial space, mediating the boundary between the vast greenery of City Park to the South and the assemblage of historical structures that make up the museum. The thin addition clings to the older structure, fearful of encroaching on the valuable green space. “The building really feels like it is part of the park,” said Cole. It is clear the design team was considering the creation of exterior and fluid spaces, but the south patio suffers from an extensive southern exposure, with all the glare and heat that entails. Other outdoor rooms are more successful, and hopefully the space will be activated come summer.
On the ground floor, the new spaces are located at the end of a circulation corridor that runs through many decades of history before spilling visitors into a four-story atrium, which, like all things in the addition, is outfitted with projectors, screens, micro-phones, and color-changing lights designed to create an immersive experience for children. Technology-laden exploration studios occupy the south facade, and the spaces find expression as the volume of the studios twists out of the monolithic limestone and brick mass of the second and third floor spaces. The glass facade of the studios is protected by a computer-controlled louver system, while the west wall is treated with electrochromic glass. The high-performance building features continue with soundproof glass in the studios, and an environmental control system that is the penultimate step in modernizing and updating the building envelope, enabling the numerous artifacts to be stored in optimized conditions. “Tight humidity control requires a lot of energy,” said Tom Otteson, motivating Klipp to labor over the performance of the building envelope. All of this technology and planning, including a solar-thermal hot water system and a pilot reclaimed water heat exchange initiative, is expected to net the addition a LEED Platinum score.
The public-facing renovation is a well-considered civic building, balancing effective circulation and sight lines with the difficulty of integrating a new structure with the 11 previous constructions on the site. Below grade, the 63,000-square-foot Rocky Mountain Science Collections Center excels in different ways. Klipp provided vast spaces for artifact storage, outfitting each room with tracks that allow massive cabinets and containers of artifacts to glide effortlessly across the floor and to be rearranged at will. The workspaces and curatorial laboratories are no less impressive, with integrated systems and sanitary surfaces designed for research work—the kind of spaces a postgraduate fellow dreams about.
Klipp is working with a surplus of goodwill and trust from the steady upward development of the Denver cultural and civic landscape in the past decade, in which Cole has had an especially large role. With projects underway, including a renovation of the historic Sage building, Denver and the region will keep coming out ahead on her projects.