Words by Sean O’Keefe
Seventeen years ago, Matt Cecere was a younger man, 4240 Architecture was a different firm and Denver’s Riverfront Park was kind of a swamp. Today, Cecere and 4240 are older and wiser, better for the experience, and Riverfront Park is a sparkling urban node that preceded so much of what surrounds it today that it’s hard not to think of it as a catalyst. Now this vibrant urban neighborhood patiently awaits the many new offices, hotels, restaurants, bars and residences racing to fill the void just across the Millennium Bridge to Union Station. Good development anticipates needs; great development raises expectations. Riverfront Park set an important high-water mark early in what now feels like Denver’s new central core.
“When I first started working at 4240, I remember looking out over a stretch of nothing between the river and railroad yards,” says Cecere, who is now a principal with the firm. “Now Riverfront Park is a fantastic urban community right in the heart of everything.” He suggests that 4240’s process of promoting an intense curiosity in the craft of architecture is grounded by listening to clients and asking what might be rather than arriving with a starting point.
4240 resides in office space at Freight in the River North District’s own catalyst, Taxi, just a bit further downstream from Riverfront Park. Like its groundbreaking work with East-West Partners, which resulted in the first three buildings along Riverfront Park, 4240 remains vibrant as well. Along with Cecere, two of the firm’s other six principals, Andy McRae and Lou Bieker, sit in a conference room looking out over a grey stretch of the South Platte River for a conversation about design in Colorado and how they fit in. Bieker, who’s been a leader at 4240 since the earliest days from predecessor, Urban Design Group, admits the firm is something of an enigma in Denver’s architectural scene. Flying under the radar is a feeling Bieker shrugs off with quiet confidence.
“We like to think of our designs as stylistically agnostic – we don’t have a signature. Instead we try to look at place and purpose and nurture the design’s organic growth within the owner’s ambitions,” says Bieker. “We have been privileged to align ourselves with some visionary clients who have provided us with some really spectacular sites to start the creative process.”
One such set of sites currently on the boards is the Saint Paul Collection, a mixed-use project that encompasses two separate buildings straddling St. Paul Street in the heart of Denver’s most prestigious shopping district, Cherry Creek North. Being developed as top-of-the-market leased residences, the Saint Paul Collection ties together 4240’s diverse experience and its core commitment to creating places that compel an emotional response in users. Building on its extensive experience in the hospitality sector where impressions – first through last – are everything, the Saint Paul Collection will strive to offer more than expected in urban living for the luxury rental market.
The Saint Paul Collection comprises 210 St. Paul and 255 St. Paul, which will combine to offer a total of 165 units in one-, two- and three-bedroom configurations and a premium amenities package available to both properties. Sleek, sophisticated and timeless, the buildings each rise from their highly animated street-level base to a height of eight stories capped by rooftop community lounges featuring pools, hot tubs, and incredible views of the surrounding cityscape and mountains beyond. Units that live large and premium finishes like stone waterfall countertops, rich wood floors, and high-end appliances are enhanced by concierge services and housekeeping to make the resident experience more in line with a five-star hotel than typical apartments.
“The Saint Paul Collection represents a premium living experience for the tenant, but it also takes a step toward anticipating the future of the area in much the same way Riverfront Park did,” says Cecere, who led the design by working closely with developer BMC Investments to create for-lease homes that take advantage of community amenities surrounding the site. In an area known for high-end fashion, jewelry, dining and expectations, Cecere believes that the Saint Paul Collection will respond to the existing urban fabric while also anticipating changes on the horizon by reinforcing a connection to the patterns, personality and prosperity of the district.
Like its work on Riverfront Park and the Saint Paul Collection, where its work helps shape a sense of place, 4240 is also involved in Continuum Partner’s massive redevelopment of the former University of Colorado Health Sciences Center campus at Ninth and Colorado. In total, the Ninth and Colorado development will encompass some 26 acres spread over 12 blocks with a combination of restaurants, retail, office, residential, hospitality and parking. 4240 has so far been tasked with designing three blocks of pedestrian-friendly infill on the site including the adaptive reuse of the iconic Research Building spanning Ninth Avenue.
McRae leads the design team on the Ninth and Colorado properties and acknowledges that a primary challenge on any master-planned, multibuilding community is to support an overall sense of continuity in places that may not yet be well defined while shaping future context and uses.
“In any great community of buildings, like a campus, all four sides of the building should be articulated without an exclusive front or back to the design,” shares McRae. “While helping to develop each owner’s long-range vision, we design porous buildings that encourage community engagement by activating the ground floor.” These sentiments are not only reflected in 4240’s work for developments like Ninth and Colorado, the Saint Paul Collection and Riverfront Park, but also for higher education opportunities in which the firm an equally strong portfolio.
On the Colorado State University campus, for example, 4240 has authored more than a dozen different commissions over the last decade ranging from student centers to academic buildings, and dining halls to graduate housing. 4240’s focus on an engaging and inviting user experience, born from its deep roots in hospitality, has helped the CSU keep pace with the changing needs of tomorrow’s student body.
“4240 has always been about pushing our designers to reject complacency and explore new ground,” finishes Bieker. “We haven’t tried to become experts in a single building type or be the biggest firm in town, but 4240 will continue to build a density of experience and apply it to creating buildings that connect to an emotional core in owners and their users.” If the past and present make any predictions about the future, design will remain in good hands at 4240. \\