Location Denver
Size 200,000 ft² (approx)
Completed 2012 (Phase I)
Program Public exhibits, artifact collections, offices

The experience begins as soon as visitors set foot in the first-level atrium. Guests of the new History Colorado Center in Denver step onto a 40-foot by 60-foot terrazzo state map made of recycled materials. “It invites you to explore Colorado under your feet,” says Kathryn Hill, chief operating officer of History Colorado, previously known as the Colorado Historical Society. Visitors then go on to enjoy a number of hands-on, interactive exhibits geared toward families. “It’s not just an array of 800 arrowheads,” Hill says.

The new building celebrates Colorado fully: from the outdoor terrace, a visitor can see from Pikes Peak to Mount Evans on a clear day, and the building’s most noticeable design feature, its cantilevered roof, is a nod to Mesa Verde, one of the state’s most recognizable natural formations.

History Colorado’s primary mission is to engage people in Colorado’s heritage. Its new home in Denver fulfills that goal while promoting another of the organization’s focus areas: sustainability. “We thought about our role as a gathering space and a hub of civic engagement,” Hill says. Previously, exhibits primarily were housed in an underground space; now, they are above-ground and thematically organized and inviting. The upgraded design, sustainable features and all, seems to be working—a typical year saw 45,000 visitors at the old space, and yet more than 30,000 people came through the new facility in its first three months.

The educational aspects of the eco-friendly elements within the History Colorado Center are expected to earn a LEED innovation credit.


Client History Colorado
Architect Tryba Architects
General Contractor Hensel Phelps
Developer Trammell Crow

Hill says the organization wanted the building to evoke the spirit of Colorado, including the building’s environmental impact. The facility is projected to attain LEED Gold status, and locally sourced materials helped in that effort. “We were very thoughtful about where materials came from,” explains Amy Fisk, director of communications for project architect Tryba Architects. The studio used beetle-kill pine for the ceilings and strand-woven Aspen for the millwork, and there’s actually not a single type of wood in the building that isn’t Coloradan. One notable exception to the incorporation of local materials is the Indiana limestone used in the façade, but even that choice was a sustainable one considering its durability in comparison with Colorado sandstone.

Sunlight is everywhere, which doesn’t exactly make it local, but it’s certainly renewable. The building is mostly open and lit by daylight and contains few perimeter offices, and though History Colorado initially had concerns about the cost, the organization eventually agreed to add a skylight to the atrium. The skylight was custom-made by Skyline Sky-Lites of Colorado Springs and has a sawtooth design that lets daylight pass through without permitting the sun’s rays to penetrate the building. “They get the light, but they don’t get the damaging rays of sunlight,” Fisk says. Vertical and horizontal fins manufactured by Kawneer North America, along with Viracon glazing were included to control the sunlight. Eventually, the center will install solar panels on the roof to continue to maximize the sun’s resources.


Certification LEED Gold (expected)
Site More than 20% is vegetated open space
Materials All woods native to Colorado, recycled-content materials (steel, terrazzo), 85% of construction waste diverted from landfills
Water 45% reduction in use via low-flow fixtures and other strategies
Energy 24% energy cost savings via consolidated mechanical and HVAC systems
Landscape Native Colorado plantings, aspen trees shade school-bus drop-off

The building’s program presented a significant challenge in pursuing LEED. “Museums often make for difficult LEED projects because they tend to have very demanding and precise requirements for temperature and humidity control, as well as extensive lighting requirements,” says David Tryba, Tryba Architects’ lead design principal. He and his team were able to overcome the obstacle by stacking programmatically similar spaces to maximize climate-control efficiency. For example, all of the collections containing fragile samples and artifacts are housed in one area of the center.

When it came to the HVAC requirements, the center was able to consolidate its mechanical systems and incorporate them in a nontraditional fashion with the help of MKK Consulting Engineers. The system should contribute to energy cost savings of more than 24 percent in comparison with other similar buildings.

As of summer 2012, roughly one-third of the gallery space was open to the public; History Colorado will keep opening new sections between now and 2015, and yet that will only be the beginning. “We were really thinking about the building’s life cycle,” Fisk says. “It feels like it’s a place that’s meant to be around for a long time.”