Arts Installation Breathes New Life Into Denver’s 16th Street Mall

  • Oct 7, 2016

From time to time we feature our employees who are contributing to the communities where we live and work. Benton Grismer, Architecture Project Manager, in our Denver office was recently part of 2016 Downtown Denver Partnership Leadership Program and had the opportunity to revitalize one of the city’s public spaces. Here’s his experience:

As a participant in the 2016 Downtown Denver Partnership Leadership Program, I had a unique opportunity to work alongside ninety-five classmates to help breathe new life into Denver’s 16th Street Mall and help transform this public space. As part of the class we were charged with researching all aspects of Denver’s16th Street Mall to make observations and recommendations to ensure the Mall’s success and popularity continue for years to come.

Originally designed by famed architect I.M. Pei, the 16th Street Mall in Downtown Denver opened in 1982 as a mile long pedestrian and transit mall. Since its inception, the space has been a successful pedestrian promenade linking people with downtown sites and establishments.

Fast forward to 2016. The 16th Street Mall represents a gathering place in a state of transition, at times plagued by homelessness, drugs, crime and a sense of insecurity.

Focused on the 800 block of 16th Street, between Stout and Champa, our 2016 Leadership Class ultimately created an artistic overhead installation specifically for the Downtown Denver Meet in the Streets weekends.  The installation was centered on the concepts of tactile urbanism; short term, low cost changes to the built environment with the goal of long-term change.

Through refinement the final design focused on an artistic overhead installation. Ultimately branded the Urban Tangle, the design and installation was composed of 22,600 feet of red paracord rope. Covering the full length of the block, the installation produced a series of dynamically formed triangular wings between various anchor point vertices and grommeted slacklines spanning the trees and light poles.

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The installation was intended to unify chaotic activities occurring along the very linear Mall by drawing attention upward.  As an instrument to encourage people to “Meet in the Street”, spun chairs were added beneath the installation to allow people to stop and appreciate various perspectives of the installation overhead.  Though the spun chairs were not the emphasis, the chairs provided a dynamic experience that broke down barriers for adults and children alike.

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After wrapping up five successful Meet in the Streets weekends, the Urban Tangle installation has been so effective for the partnership, and the Mall, that the installation has been expanded in an effort to keep the temporary installation in place until the Holiday Season.  Waterproof, solar-powered LED lanterns added beneath the red rope wings provide an additional layer of interest to the installation, the block and to the overall 16th Street Mall.

Read more about the transformation of this public space.

All photos: Courtesy of Downtown Denver