Jim Olson’s gleaming, golden Kirkland Museum opens in Denver

Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art – exterior

The new Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art opens tomorrow, March 10, in Denver’s growing museum district. “I wanted Kirkland Museum to play off its neighbors–international icons like the Denver Art Museum building by Daniel Libeskind and the Clyfford Still Museum by Allied Works–while continuing my larger architectural philosophy of always trying to create a greater unified whole. For example, the vertical grooves of the Clyfford Still Museum influenced the vertical random character of the facade tiles on Kirkland Museum,” said architect Jim Olson of Olson Kundig.

However, Olson saw the neighboring buildings’ neutral facades as an opportunity to make the Kirkland shine, quite literally. Clad in striking yellow terra-cotta bars by NBK and gold painted glass tiles by John Lewis Glass, the 38,500-square-foot museum truly lives up to the museum district’s moniker, the Golden Triangle.

The Kirkland Museum contains approximately 30,000 works from Colorado artists, as well as the International Decorative Art Collection, which is comprised of over 20,0000 objects. It is named for Vance Kirkland, a seminal 20th century Denver-based painter known for his surreal and abstract works. The collections were originally housed in Kirkland’s former educational space and studio. Part of the construction challenge involved relocating the Vance Kirkland Studio, built in 1911, from its location downtown on Pearl Street to the new building about one mile away. “It was the soul of the whole project,” Olson said. “Rather than trying to blend the new, modern building with the old, we decided to let them just stand side by side, each its unique self. I thought of the buildings as two artifacts in the decorative arts collection. We broke down the scale of the new building into smaller segments, which helped bring the old building into the total composition.”

This layout approach also helped Olson achieve the client’s directive of making museum visitors feel as though “they are visiting a grand residence filled with art and beautiful objects;” more like a salon and less like a formal museum. Olson maintained the density and scale of the original Kirkland studio throughout the new space, but created an easy-to-navigate floor plan with a central promenade and color-coded wayfinding throughout the galleries. He extended this inviting ambiance to the street through a series of windows and art-filled vitrines on the building’s exterior, allowing pedestrians to get a glimpse of the collections inside, as well as the outdoor sculptures.

“The horizontal overhangs on the building help to create a more human, residential scale,” Olson explained. “The glass facade tiles are handmade, and the colored glass fins near the entry are also crafted by hand. The bronze-colored entry door has a steel and wood handle. We tried to relate to craft and human touch wherever we could. We wanted the building to feel personal and finely crafted, like the collections it contains.”

For more information on the Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art, visit the museum’s website.

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