1144 Fifteenth: Birth of a Denver Icon
WORDS: Kevin Criss
PHOTOS: Michelle Meunier Photography
A gleaming, faceted gem has risen in downtown Denver and its arrival has been impossible to miss. As you move around the city, its shape changes, its skin shifts from reflective to translucent, and its unique roofline transforms from mirroring the foothills to the crown of a diamond.
Such is the shape-shifting splendor of 1144 Fifteenth, the $300 million, 40-story, 600-foot-tall, 662,000-square-foot, Class A skyscraper of shimmering glass and aluminum at the corner of 15th and Arapahoe streets. The building is slated to open in January.
It’s the tallest office tower to be built in Denver since the 1980s and the latest Denver addition from Hines, which brought us the legendary Wells Fargo Tower – also known as the Cash Register Building – in 1983.
And its latest lustrous gift to the Mile High skyline was made possible by the collaborative efforts of Hines Denver, Hines Houston and a team of architects at world-renowned Pickard Chilton, based in New Haven, Connecticut.
The high-rise will feature retail and lobby on level 1, state-of-the art fitness facility and a tenant living room on level 2, parking on levels 3-13 and offices on levels 14-40. There are also two levels of parking below grade.
Worth the Wait
Hines began working on 1144 Fifteenth in 1999. And if you’re Hines, you didn’t get to be a global real estate giant by rushing into construction. You study. Then study some more. You wait. And you don’t move until the time is right.
“We looked at a bunch of different data points and the most pointed fact was that if you took all the space in the central business district and added it up, it’s about 25 million square feet and the average age of an office building in that population of buildings is 33 years old,” says Jay Despard, Hines senior managing director. “So we saw 1144 Fifteenth not only as an opportunity to energize this high-rise space, but to make something iconic for the Denver skyline — to redefine the landscape of downtown Denver.”
The gravity of the opportunity to change Denver’s skyline for decades forward was not lost on Pickard Chilton Principal Tony Markese, FAIA.
“The chance to do something in a city that has such a great urban situation and have a significant, positive impact for years to come was something that really appealed to us,” says Markese.
So, Why the Delay?
“We really couldn’t quite get the cycles right. The project began, then the tech bubble hit. Then we picked it up again and the recession in ’08 hit,” says Markese. “We were pretty excited when the project kicked off again and Hines said they thought the climate was right, the landowner and the investors thought it was the right time to get launched and do the project essentially without any tenants.”
According to Markese and Despard, building on spec wasn’t much of a gamble because they saw an exploitable void in the marketplace for Class A office space. Their attitude became, “If we build it, they will come.”
“Part of it was that we found Denver was one of those towns where you really had to break ground, start construction and get a ways down the road in terms of the building being built for the market to respond,” said Markese.
A groundbreaking ceremony for the project was held June 10, 2015.
A Colorado Influence on Design
As you gaze up at 1144 Fifteenth, it’s readily obvious that this is not production architecture. The faceted taper of the tower, the cleave right down the middle, the aluminum fins, precise beveled edges in the soffits – they all speak to a design team at the top of its game.
According to Markese, the idea of a more sculptural building was something that Hines and Pickard Chilton pursued from the start.
“Part of our challenge was how do we take a classic skyscraper with a base, middle, and top and interpret in a new interesting way,” says Markese. “In order to reduce the bulk, the first thing we did was take a rectangle and shear it, split it down the middle and slide it a little bit. Then we began to look at ideas about faceting the surfaces as well as the top, so that it would catch the light and create a different perspective from multiple vantage points.”
“We did some really creative things at the top of the building, beveled the glass as it went around the building, offset the forward plates, so that from every different vantage point downtown you see a different building,” says Despard. “The Front Range was definitely an inspiration for the roofline and it is probably a building that you wouldn’t build in New York or San Francisco. There are lots of natural materials in the building that reflect elements of our state. So, that was the theme as we continued further defining the overall design.”
As Markese talked more about the design, he paused and remembered other key players in the process. “I’ve got to tell you, the city, and the organizations within the city, did a really good job of making sure that we delivered a quality building and they also allowed us to work with them collaboratively to come up with something that was visually interesting. We were impressed by that.”
The Key to Staying on Schedule
The fact that 1144 Fifteenth is on schedule, despite such a massive undertaking that sees 400 tradesman a day riding the hoist, is by design and process.
“I think what makes Hines more successful is that we’re very focused on quality design, complete design, 100 percent design construction documents before we ever put a shovel in the ground,” says Dave Klebba, vice president of construction for Hines. “We also had 100 percent of our subcontracts executed before we ever broke ground and that’s kind of unheard of in the industry.”
According to Klebba, the only real challenges he faced were the ornate crown system and the glass enclosure of the parking levels, a relatively unheard of move by a developer.
“One thing that’s pretty challenging on this project is the coordination of the crown system and how you work through the crown design and basically maintain the building,” says Klebba. “We created a BMU (building maintenance unit) on top of the building that will cantilever out and drop scaffolding down either side of the building for window washing and other maintenance.”
“And you don’t normally see above-grade parking levels clad in glass,” says Klebba. “The challenge was to make the glass look consistent as we transitioned from the parking garage up through the office tower because one is laminated and the other is not. So, making a visual consistency was pretty challenging.
“You should see the size of the mock-ups we built to get it right,” Klebba adds. “These were full, 30-foot-tall mock-ups to get the visual understanding of the glazing transition from the parking garage to the tower. And we got it right because you can’t tell the difference.”
And according to Kurt Seeman, operations manager for Hensel Phelps, the staffing shortage that afflicts many GCs in the Denver area were never a real problem for them.
“With the Denver market being extremely busy, manpower was definitely a concern,” says Seeman. “However Hensel Phelps has very strong relationships with the subcontractor community and it was through those relationships that we were able to manage the required manpower for the project.”
Designed from the Inside Out
Considering that 1144 Fifteenth was spec built, Hines and Pickard Chilton focused on providing features and amenities that prospective tenants not only desire, but also demand. That began inside with unique floor plates, floor-to-ceiling glass that not only offers stunning views but also allows more natural light to flow deeper into the interior, free-flowing and flexible work environments, tenant lounge and fitness facility, and a host of other features attractive to modern commercial tenants.
“We’ve heard time and time again from every tenant who’s signed up for this building that they value their employees, their wellness,” says Despard. “It’s a great recruiting and retention tool because it’s a phenomenal looking building outside but we designed it from the inside out.
“Office space used to be a means to an end for companies to provide space to do their business, but now it’s focused on more of the people actually using the space rather than the companies themselves,” Despard says. “That is a big change.
“I think this building will provide employees the opportunity to feel a little bit more connected and feel a little more pride with where they work every day.”
Where the Glass Meets the Street
So, how do you transition a glass tower to street level? According to Markese, his team was very focused on weaving the building into the urban fabric of downtown Denver.
“For us it was important that the building meet the ground in a strong meaningful way. Part of the challenge was, how do you bring this glass tower down, how do you link the limestone columns and the canopy to the tower,” asks Markese. “Part of that for us was in the form of the building, the facets, the sheering of the building. The metal knits the glass in with the stone so it allows the tower and the base to be stitched together in a nice way.”
A plaza will draw pedestrians into the lobby, a grand and warm welcome. Ash ceilings, fumed Aspen walls, dark brown Eramosa stone flooring and a striking orange glass wall give the space warmth, despite its massive size.
“We want it to feel welcoming, feel like it’s part of Denver,” says Markese. “Hopefully they’ll find it to be refreshing, but also feel like it’s already a part of the city — a part of the streetscape.”
What This Means for Denver
With leasing now at 90 percent, and big names like Optiv and Gates already signed to move in, Despard feels the message that 1144 Fifteenth sends is as clear as the Interpane glass that skins this gem.
“Denver’s arriving — I think that’s the biggest takeaway here,” Despard says. “It also says a lot about Denver from an evolution perspective. This city is absolutely growing at an incredible pace.”
Seeman agrees that 1144 is more than just another office tower. “This is a symbol of the growth that our area is going through,” he says. “I believe the architecture of the building will be a challenge to all of us in the industry to design and build buildings with as much elegance as 1144.”
As a Colorado native, Klebba exudes pride and hopes that 1144 leads to bigger things. “I’m proud we’ve been able to deliver such a marquee building to Denver. I hope that this will spur future quality development within the city and that people will look at architecture a little bit differently now.”
And the architect Markese ponders the longevity of the design. “One of the advantages of a building that’s transparent and has such a sculptural quality is that I don’t think it’ll outdate itself. I think 12 years, 24 years down the road it will still feel as good and as fresh as you see it now.
Published in the December 2017 issue of Building Dialogue