Denver Design Week Spotlight:

Preservation +design

Presented by Design Within Reach

To learn more about this
DDW session and to buy
tickets, visit here.

Images: James Florio

For those of you curious about the renovation of the Gio Ponti–designed Martin Building at the Denver Art Museum, which is set to reopen in stages starting next summer, the Denver Design Week presentation on Oct. 23 at Design Within Reach shouldn’t be missed. The session will be a discussion between two design nerds—Darrin Alfred, DAM’s curator of architecture and design, and Amy Auscherman, the corporate archivist at Herman Miller (and an expert on Mad Men-era furniture)—about architectural and archival preservation as a part of +design, Design Within Reach’s ongoing event series exploring the connections between design and the world around us. We spoke with Alfred about what to expect.
Q: How did the pairing of you and Amy Auscherman come about?

A: Design Within Reach wanted to bring Amy out here to Denver and thought it would be interesting if she had a conversation with me around the renovation of the Gio Ponti building, because there is a tie-in to the kind of work she has done at the Miller House in Columbus, Indiana. It should be very interesting because it’s a great juxtaposition between a very public building, the Denver Art Museum, and the Miller House, which is a private domestic structure. We’ll talk about how one goes about a renovation project, including the research that goes into a building itself, whatever the scale.

Q: What is your role in general and specifically with the DAM renovation?

A: It’s divided into two aspects: organizing exhibitions and taking care of the permanent collection. So overseeing collection building, caring for the collections, conservation, presentation, research—those sorts of things. With the renovation, I was part of a team that searched for someone to take on the project; we chose Fentress Architects and Machado Silvetti. I was also involved in a couple of little things at the beginning, like researching the tile that was used when the Martin Building was built—it will turn 50 in 2021—and we’re building out new galleries for architecture and design, so I’m heavily involved in that. 

Q: What were the reasons behind the facelift?

A: The Martin Building opened in October of 1971, and the projected attendance for the museum was something like 150,000. But for example, when the Star Wars exhibit was here, we had something like 800,000 visitors. So the building needs to accommodate a lot more people, by doing things like adding another bank of elevators and opening up the circulation stairwells. There were also a couple of departments that didn’t really have the proper space to exhibit their collections, including architecture and design. It was just time to bring the Ponti building up to the same level of quality as the Hamilton building, which opened in 2006. The Ponti building had been well loved over the years and it was time for a refresh.

Q: What sorts of archival and architectural preservation issues will you and Amy discuss? 

A: During the renovation, we have found materials we didn’t know existed, like communication between Ponti and James Sudler Associates and photographs from the time, so we will probably talk about archiving them. We are planning to do a small exhibition on Gio Ponti when my gallery is open, which will show the broad range of work that this renowned Italian modernist architect did, from flatware to skyscrapers. The museum was Gio Ponti’s only completed building in the United States; it was finished in the last decade of his life. It’s a building that people either don’t understand or find wild and amusing. Denver has really grown since the seventies in terms of architecture.