McNichols Civic Center

McNichols Civic Center

Denver, Colorado

Activating an Icon

Initially opened in 1910, as the Denver Public Library, this Carnegie-funded Greek Revival building was a marvelous tribute to learning. With its Corinthian columns, ceremonial entrance stair, and all-glass ceiling, it was also an architectural treasure. Unfortunately, when the library relocated in 1956, the building was transformed into municipal office space. The famous stair was demolished, windows were filled-in, and a new floor was inserted, compromising the former grand reading spaces. In the 1990s, the offices were closed, leaving the building in the dark for more than a decade.

City and County of Denver
33,200 SF

A glimmer of hope appeared in 2010 with the temporary reopening of the space for the Biennial of the Americas Art Exhibit. The event revealed a possible future, as a center for the arts. The vision coalesced around two primary goals: to activate the building for public use, specifically for artists and nonprofit cultural organizations, and to restore any remaining historic fabric of the building.

We engaged community members throughout the planning process; it was critical to gain consensus and work within the budget, the existing infrastructure, and the context of historic Civic Center Park. The rehabilitation included two phases. The first returned much of the building’s original exterior character through window and finish restoration. And the second created a new main entry, revealed and restored interior details wherever possible, and modernized mechanical and electrical systems.

Today, the Center is a celebration of the arts and artists. It’s open to the public, every day, for free, making it the only venue of its kind in Denver. Once dark and shuttered, it’s now bright and active, restored for new generations

Forecourt Entry

Six curved short steps, and two long graceful ramps invite visitors into the building, echoing the curved pathways found throughout the park. This dual-purpose forecourt acts as an entry for the Civic Center and an extension of the park, providing outdoor space for impromptu gatherings or planned events.

Neoclassical Elements

Remaining historic features were uncovered and preserved, including mosaic tile flooring and wrought iron detailing on interior stairs.


Double wood doors were recreated from original drawings. They open onto a small balcony with a glass railing, a perfect perch for a party host when addressing guests below.

On Display

The building displays its history and its structural details. Ducts, pipes, and brick walls are exposed.