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Turner Construction tops out Meow Wolf at Interstate 25 and Colfax

The lower floors are wrapped in a dark concrete masonry face that eventually will be covered in murals by Meow Wolf’s selected artists.

Turner Construction recently celebrated the placement of the final steel beam to the future home of Meow Wolf, a 101,000-square foot interactive art and entertainment museum located west of downtown Denver near Interstate 25 and Colfax. With this milestone, the team is one step closer to bringing the Santa Fe-based company to Denver area residents and visitors.

“The location, tucked in between overpasses, has created a unique challenge,” said Construction Executive Aaron Laird, reflecting on the project, which began in November with the demolition of an existing industrial building. “The other unique aspect is the intricate detail of the steel structure. There are a lot of radiuses and elevated walkways, so the engineering is quite impressive.”

According to Shears Adkins Rockmore Project Architect Ryan Meeks, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, design inspiration was abundant.

“There was no lack of inspiration from the people at Meow Wolf themselves, so our task was to create a building that was honest to their identity while also meeting the aspiration of this groundbreaking, new concept,” Meeks said. “A flashy building or a self-conscious building was not going to be appropriate, so our design is intentionally a bit mysterious and intriguing in a way that supports the discovery of the immersive world inside.

“In that aspect, it continues the unexpectedness of their Santa Fe exhibit, but this is very much a pioneering concept and, of course, a resourceful use of land, reflecting Denver’s unique spirit,” Meeks continued. “When visitors arrive at the front door, they will have already had an arrival experience by coming in under this spaghetti of roads and infrastructure. Through this, we hope the building feels like a discovered gem and people are already warmed up for the amazing, surprising experience they will find inside.”

Materials incorporated into the project include the envelope of white, solid fiber cement facade that sits tightly between the viaducts and extends up above the road level. The lower floors are wrapped in a dark concrete masonry face that eventually will be covered in murals by Meow Wolf’s selected artists. The arrival side of the building has several arched, glass windows at the main entry, retail, and café areas as well.

“While designed to be a simple palette, the use of curves and rounded detailing adds a unique aspect to these common materials utilized in the modern, often linear, designs of today’s era,” said Meeks.

When asked about the unique design features visitors will find, Meeks starts with the obvious.

“The placement of the building is by far the most unique feature,” he said. “But then there are also some special moments when you arrive at the building.” The main entry is specifically framed between the massive columns leading to Auraria Parkway above. “Here, the lower walls curve in from the wrapper above and we hope this is a place people pause to smile and build a tinge of excitement before they have even moved inside. And inside, of course, is where all the best stuff is happening, but that all has to stay a surprise. I recommend driving by the building before we close up envelope in a few months so you can admire the incredibly unique steel constructions that will host Meow Wolf’s creations.”

Meow Wolf Denver is a year out from completion as the project team transitions to enclosures and interior trades. Upon opening its doors to the public, the building will include a theater, dining area, retail space, lobby and kitchen. The remaining space will be dedicated to art exhibits and is specifically designed to maximize the variety of exhibits and ways they connect to one another.

“The challenge here is truly doing something for the first time,” Meeks said. “From the site, to the client, to the city, to the art – every aspect of the project has started from zero, we’ve asked very basic questions and thoughtfully built up to the solutions. And it is because of starting in this way that the solutions were arrived at honestly, team members know their roles, and the vision has generated enormous buy-in. This has been the most technically challenging projects I’ve ever worked on, but also the easiest because of that high level of trust and clear vision.”

One of Meow Wolf’s objectives is to bring the arts to a wider audience and to show that artists have great value within our society, according to Meeks.

“Our whole building team has been incredibly impressed with Meow Wolf’s way of working, creativity, and providing leadership. We are seeing the impact artists bring to society, up close and personally, when they get to unleash their skills at this kind of scale!”

The project team also includes Revesco Properties and KL&A.

Published in the Aug. 7-20, 2019, issue of CREJ.

Kris Oppermann Stern is publisher and editor of Building Dialogue, a Colorado Real Estate Journal publication, and editor of CREJ's construction, design, and engineering section, including news and bylined articles. Building Dialogue is a quarterly, four-color magazine that caters specifically to the AEC industry, including features on projects and people, as well as covering trends…