Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art

Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art

Denver, CO, USA - Build completed in 2018
Courtesy Kirkland Museum

Project Description

Olson Kundig as Architects

Most striking is the brilliant Kirkland Museum cladding of glazed terracotta bars in four shades of yellow, punctuated by transparent glass “baguettes” backed with shimmering gold. Together, these elements sparkle in the sun, evoking the scenes from Vance Kirkland’s paintings. Additional glass elements were added in the form of hand-cast, amber-hued fins which project, louvre-like, perpendicular to the façade, framing the entrance. Further punctuating the walls are vitrines that serve both as a visually connection to the exterior and as display cases for additional artifacts, which can be seen both from inside and outside the museum.

More from the Architects:

Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art is a two-story museum in the heart of Denver’s arts and cultural district, the Golden Triangle. Located across the street from the Denver Art Museum and the Clyfford Still Museum, the new 38,000-square-foot museum has a bold presence. At the same time, it stays true to the intimate atmosphere for which Kirkland Museum is known, offering visitors an enhanced salon-like experience. Designed by architect Jim Olson, the new building highlights both the artistry and craft of Kirkland Museum’s internationally renowned decorative art collection and its singular collection of art by Colorado artists.

The museum is named for Colorado artist Vance Kirkland, whose historic studio building is part of the museum. Kirkland Museum’s collection comprises over 30,000 works, including the nation’s largest repository of Colorado art, and the International Decorative Art Collection, which is considered one of the most important design collections in North America. The new museum has 65% more gallery space than the previous building, with a total of thirteen galleries. While the elevations are calm and the layout is straightforward and easy to navigate, the materials cladding the exterior are full of energy. A key element of the design is a rich and vibrant façade inspired by the lively mix of art and craft in the collection. Luminous terracotta bars in an array of yellow hues, punctuated with rectangular glass “baguettes” backed in gold, enliven the building’s public face, sparkling in the bright Colorado sunlight, recalling the energy of a Vance Kirkland painting. A series of vitrines mounted onto the exterior of the building also showcase select objects from the museum’s collection, extending the galleries to the neighboring sidewalks and streets. Hand-crafted reddish glass “fins” delineating the museum entrance further enliven the façade. The building itself becomes a sparkling jewel box that expresses the vibrant examples of artistry and design housed within. 

“Designing a new museum in Denver’s Golden Triangle near the Denver Art Museum and the Clyfford Still Museum is a great honor and a serious responsibility. My goal was to make an artistic statement that is uniquely appropriate to Kirkland Museum and inspired by its amazing collection.” ― Jim Olson, Design Principal

Project Team: Jim Olson, FAIA, Design Principal; Kirsten R. Murray, FAIA, Managing Principal; Crystal Coleman, LEED® AP, Project Manager; Daniel Ralls, Project Architect; Naomi Mason, IIDA, LEED® AP, Interior Design; Bryan Berkas, Motomi Kudo-King, Clay Anderson, Misun Gerrick, Jarri Hasnain, Martha Rogers, Project Staff

Contractor: Shaw Construction

Facade clad with terracotta glazed baguettes

NBK CERAMIC as Ceramic tiles

The 5,666 baguette-shaped terracotta tiles that clad the Kirkland Museum have been double-fired glazed, including all four sides, for extreme weathering abilities. In combinations of four different shades of yellow, in a composition of varying widths and depths, the brilliant tiles create a dynamic interplay of colour and form that is designed to attract attention to the museum while respecting the scale of the surrounding structures, as well as the patterns of the neighbouring façade. The choice of ceramic as a material is a tribute to the decorative objects on view within.

More from the Manufacturers:

NBK TERRART glazed baguettes clad the Kirkland Museum—5,666 in all. The terracotta was double-fired glazed, including the ends of the baguettes. Installed vertically, these bars form a spectrum ranging from bright yellow to deep gold, which is interspersed with glass bars backed by gold foil, all custom. The four different shades of golden yellows pay homage to Denver's Golden Triangle Creative District.

The brightly saturated façade is also a tribute to the vibrant colors, especially yellow, that Vance Kirkland used in his work. Being in a hub of art museums, it was important for the façade to both complement the design of the surrounding buildings (the vertical grooves of the nearby Clyfford Still Museum influenced the vertical character of the tiles on the Kirkland Museum) while standing out amongst the gray exteriors of neighboring museums.

The use of terracotta was a fitting acknowledgement of the decorative ceramics and glass objects that the museum houses inside, so in this way the building itself becomes part of the collection. The golden terracotta tiles coupled with glass fins and display vitrines helps create an art experience that’s instantly felt from the streets by passersby. 

14 custom glass fins

Kerry Johnson Glass as Custom Glass panels

To extend the craft on view inside the museum to its exterior, Olson Kundig commissioned 14 sculptural glass fins with transparent ridges and frosted panels, a pattern conceived by the architects. Hand-made by Kerry Johnson Glass, each panel comprises a thick piece of clear glass fused, inside a kiln heated to 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit, to a slimmer sheet of amber-coloured art glass. Each 11-foot-tall slab weighs up to 500 pounds; positioned outside the entrance as a focal element, they are backed with a resin designed to expand and contract through temperature changes in harmony with the glass.

More from the manufacturers:

The 14 glass fins which adorn the facade of the Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Arts in Denver were designed by Olson Kundig and handmade in our Seattle studio. They are approximately 11 feet tall and weigh up to 500 pounds each.

One side of the panels is made of a ¾" thick piece of solid, clear glass while the other is made of smaller individual pieces of handmade, amber art glass. The cast glass sections are made by first crushing sheets of amber glass into broken shards called cullet. The cullet is put into molds where it is heated in a kiln to 1,500℉ until it is fused together into thicker slabs. The rough texture of the panels comes from the bottom side of the casting picking up the texture of the lining of the molds. The fused sections with the linear patterns are made by fusing strips of glass together in a kiln. Each strip is hand-cut from a larger sheet of glass and painstakingly layered with others to get the desired pattern. After all of the pieces are cast, they are cut to size and laminated to the solid backer glass using an amber-tinted resin. The resin is specially designed to flex and contract with the glass in case of temperature variations.

Vitrines that act as windows

Emmett Culligan Design as Armatures, Window vitrines, Door pulls

In addition to fabricating the armatures that support the hefty glass fins on the museum exterior and the custom door pulls at the main entrance, Emmett Culligan Design also created the vitrines that act as windows to provide sightlines to the exterior, serving as the primary connection between indoors and out. These vitrines are designed to project from the building façade, like shadow boxes, and provide enough added depth to securely display additional pieces from the museum’s collection. Double-sided, the vitrines give museum visitors an up-close view of their contents, and serve to advertise the museum’s collection to passersby.

More from the Manufacturers:

Emmett Culligan Design was contracted to design, fabricate and install numerous items on the Kirkland Museum project, bringing the architects’ vision to reality for these high visual impact items. Working through the owners design intent to come up with the best design, fabrication method and material selection was key to the success of these items on this project. 

ECD supplied:

·       (4) custom exterior vitrines. These units presented a unique challenge, as they had to be weather proof, air-conditioned/heated, highly secure and aesthetically pleasing. Units were fabricated from aluminum plate and bar material and utilize a custom protective glass window assembly. The door and hinge mechanism on these units can be described as ‘vault doors’! All were powder coated with a custom two-tone color scheme. 

·       Custom fabricated aluminum frames to encase the custom art glass panels on the exterior and interior display window areas and entrances. These units were unique in that they had to ‘float’ to allow for any natural movement between the foundation and the building structure caused by thermal expansion/contraction. All frames were powder coated with a custom color.

·       Custom fabricated ‘fin’ assemblies at the (2) entryways. Fabricated from solid aluminum plates and bar. All uniquely designed and custom fit to mesh seamlessly with the store front and door components.  All frames powder coated with a custom color.

·       Custom full height door pulls on main entry doors. Fabricated from stainless steel bar and tubing. Fit with hand shaped South American hardwood handles. All metal surfaces powder coated with custom color. Wood handles finished with hand applied sealer. 

Project team
Armatures, Window vitrines, Door pulls
Custom Glass panels
Ceramic tiles
Products used in this project
Product Specifications
Emmett Culligan DesignArmatures, Window vitrines, Door pulls
Kerry Johnson GlassKerry Johnson GlassCustom Glass panels
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