Denver’s favorite bright yellow sculpture just gained a new sibling with the unveiling of Four Chromatic Gates, the first posthumous work by Colorado’s Bauhausian son Herbert Bayer built in 35 years. 

Words: Katie Grogan
Photos: Kyle Cooper

The signature sculpture of the Denver Design District, Articulated Wall (or you may know it by its other popular monikers the “I-25 French fries” or “the Post-It Notes”), gained a new family member this month with the unveiling of another Herbert Bayer sculpture at the nearby Broadway Park development titled Four Chromatic Gates.

Both the 85 foot-tall canary-yellow sculpture and Broadway’s park newest addition began life as maquettes—a sort of miniature 3D blueprint for a sculpture or architectural work. While the Articulated Wall maquette resides at the Denver Art Museum, D4 Urban—the firm leading the redevelopment of Broadway Park—found the piece that inspired Four Chromatic Gates amongst 57 other Bayer-designed items at the Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art.

Both Articulated Wall (left) and Four Chromatic Gates were designed by Bauhaus student-turned-master Herbert Bayer. Photos by James Florio (left) and Kyle Cooper.

Herbert Bayer, a Bauhaus student-turned-master who brought the principles of the German art school movement to Colorado, was the subject of our Summer 2019 issue’s salute to the Bauhaus. A true artistic polymath, Bayer was accomplished in the realms of graphic design, typography, painting, photography, environmental and interior design, and architecture. Through projects like his design of the 40-acre campus of the Aspen Institute, Bayer put his visionary stamp on Aspen, where he lived for over 30 years, and created iconic works in Denver and beyond.

Bayer created the balsa wood maquette that inspired Denver’s newest monument in 1982 as part of a series of sculptures inspired by gates he had encountered while traveling in Morocco. Kirkland Museum Founding Director & Curator Hugh Grant acquired the piece in 2010 and, as proper stewards of Bayer’s legacy, the museum staff labeled the piece four chromatic gates maquette, honoring the typographer’s belief in universal typefaces that forgo capital letters. Bayer made more than 50 maquettes during his life, intending each to become a monumental installation. However, very few were actually realized so when D4 Urban went hunting for another sculptural concept in Herbert Bayer’s archive for RTD’s Alameda Station, they had plenty to choose from. 

The maquette from which the new sculpture is based is housed in the Kirkland Museum of Fine and Decorative Art, where it is labeled four chromatic gates maquette in honor of Bayer’s belief in universal typefaces. Photo courtesy of the Kirkland Museum.

Once selected, the 3 x 4.5 x 3 inch wood maquette began its six-year journey to its final form, which due to Bayer’s thorough design process, involved relatively little guess work. Like many of his works, Bayer included photos and notes relating to the dimensions, color scheme, and other specifics for the erection of Four Chromatic Gates.

The wooden maquette was first translated into a 3D model, which local design-build firm Perspective Design Fabrication used to bring the monument to life. Throughout the process, collaboration with the Kirkland Museum, the Herbert Bayer estate, and Bayer’s step-granddaughter local artist Koko Bayer ensured that the final form would fit the late Bauhaus master’s exacting standards.

The final result is a celebration of the Bauhaus and Herbert Bayer’s legacy. The four nesting 16 foot-tall stainless steel gates are classically Bauhaus in their geometric form and primary color palette. Concrete benches surround the monument for viewing from any angle, but in classic Bauhaus form, also doubly function as protection from meandering maintenance vehicles and the like. Just above, Bayer’s universal typeface is incorporated into the branding of the Denizen Apartments, completing the effect. 

However, the completion of Four Chromatic Gates doesn’t mark the end of Herbert Bayer’s influence on Broadway Park, in fact, it’s only the beginning. D4 Urban Development Partner Dan Cohen says, “The more we have come to appreciate Bayer, to understand the depth and breadth of his work, and recognize his mastery across so many types of media, we have realized that he is, in fact, the perfect artist to draw inspiration from for the myriad of design challenges that are inherent within the mixed-use urban redevelopment of the nature that we are undertaking.” As such, everything from the logo design, signage, streetscapes, architecture, open spaces, public art, and building interiors is inspired by Bayer and the German art school movement to which he devoted his life’s work.

An additional Bayer sculpture is already in process and will be completed in 2022 in Broadway Park’s Mercado, a future hardscape plaza. Additional tributes to Bayer are also in the works elsewhere in the state with the future Resnick Center for Herbert Bayer Studies in Aspen, currently being designed by Rowland+Broughton, projected for completion later this year.