The Clyfford Still Museum is a single-artist institution devoted to the life and work of one of the 20th century’s most influential and enigmatic painters. The museum resides in the Civic Center of Denver, Colorado, a district inhabited by buildings of grand collective and cultural narrative. The museum mediates this setting with two acts of architecture. The first prepares the site by creating a grove of deciduous trees-a place of refuge from urban activity and the the intense light of Colorado. The design also provides a transition from the residential and commercial areas to the west and south. The second act looks to the earth. The building is conceived as a continuous form that is opened up by natural light from all sides. Walls of board formed concrete form the primary building envelope, interior walls and structural system. Within the museum, the ground level houses education, archive, open storage and administrative spaces. On the upper level, the visitor moves through a series of nine volumes where they encounter the work of Clyfford Still. Overhead, a lattice of structural concrete unites the body of the building and offers illumination and connection to the atmosphere of the city. One first encounters the museum through a grove of trees and landscaped forecourt, which provides a place of contemplation, decompression, and transition from the museum’s surrounding urban context. Through the trees, the structure of the building is visible, consisting of cast-in-place architectural concrete walls with a variety of surface relief and texture.
The façade features thin, vertical lines of concrete that project from the building’s surface in a fractured, organic, and random pattern, creating a rich surface that changes in the intense Denver sunlight and forms varied shadows across the building. The entry is revealed beneath a canopy of trees, and visitors are welcomed into the museum by a low, long reception lobby. Visitors rise from the lobby and reception area toward the natural light falling from the galleries on the second floor. The museum’s second level features nine light-filled galleries, totaling approximately 925 m2. Each gallery is distinctly defined and proportioned to respond to specific aspects and needs of the collection and helps trace the different phases of Still’s career in chronological sequence.
Gallery heights vary to accommodate changes in scale and media; those with 5.3 m ceilings showcase Still’s monumental Abstract Expressionist canvases, some of which extend to over 3.5 m tall and 4.7 m , while smaller galleries with 3.5 m ceilings create a more intimate viewing environment for the presentation of smaller-scale paintings and works on paper. Two outdoor terraces and an education gallery offer visitors a moment of reflection and investigation during the gallery sequence, and allow them to re-orient themselves with the surrounding and distant landscape. Moving between galleries, visitors are provided glimpses down into the collection storage and interpretive galleries on the first level. The visitor’s experience of the collection is enlivened by natural light that enters the galleries through a series of skylights over a cast-in-place, perforated concrete ceiling. The geometry of openings in the ceiling creates an even field of soft and changing daylight in the galleries. Diffusing glass, motorized shades, and electric light give curatorial flexibility to the gallery spaces, helping to support different gallery configurations and the museum’s rotating exhibition program. Upon completing the primary gallery sequence, visitors may descend back to the museum’s first level to explore the painting storage, archive, and exhibition spaces viewable from above. An open double-high corridor connects these facilities and serves as an exhibition hall allowing visitors to further their learning of the history and life of Clyfford Still. A “timeline” section of the corridor places the artist’s work in context with historic events and other artistic movements, and an “archive” hallway presents the everyday artifacts of the artist’s life and information about his painting technique and media. From this corridor, visitors are also able to view the collection storage rooms, and assess the number of paintings produced during the artist’s prolific career. A visible conservation lab and a research center offer visitors additional resources for furthering their knowledge of Still’s career. This open corridor speaks to the institution’s founding principle of unveiling this once-private and very personal collection to the public, as it invites a gradual immersion in the works of Still.
Brad Cloepfil studied architecture at the University of Oregon and earned an advanced degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture. Cloepfil founded Allied Works Architecture in 1994.
Cloepfil’s earliest influences lay outside the field of architecture. He drew inspiration from the vast landscape and monumental works of civil engineering in the Pacific Northwest as well as the simple yet profoundly resonant gestures of land and installation artists.
His work combines a research-intensive focus on the specific character of each project with an understanding of the profoundly affecting possibilities of building.