Clyfford Still Museum

by | 13. Jul 2012

Cultural | Feature

Photo Jeremy Bittermann courtesy Clyfford Still Museum

Considered one of the most important painters of the twentieth century, Still was among the first generation of Abstract Expressionist artists who developed a new, powerful approach to painting in the years following World War II.

The museum reintroduces Still’s body of work to the public for the first time in over three decades and further establishes Denver as an international center for art and culture.

Situated in the heart of Denver’s Arts District, near the Denver Art Museum, the Denver Public Library, and History Colorado, the Clyfford Still Museum is a dense, cantilevered two-story building of richly worked concrete.


Photo Jeremy Bittermann courtesy Clyfford Still Museum


One first encounters the museum through a landscaped forecourt, which provides a place of transition from the surrounding urban context.


Photo Raul Garcia courtesy Clyfford Still Museum



Photo Raul Garcia courtesy Clyfford Still Museum

The structure of the building, consisting of cast-in-place concrete walls with a variety of surface relief, is visible through the trees. The facade features thin, vertical lines of concrete that project from the building in a fractured, organic, and
random pattern, creating a rich surface that changes in the intense Denver


Photo Jeremy Bittermann courtesy Clyfford Still Museum

The entry is revealed beneath a canopy of trees welcoming visitors into the museum by a low, long reception lobby. A wood staircase leads from the lobby to the second floor galleries. Natural light filters into the museum through the clerestory on the second floor.


Photo Jeremy Bittermann courtesy Clyfford Still Museum



Photo courtesy Clyfford Still Museum



Photo Raul Garcia courtesy Clyfford Still Museum

The museum’s second level features nine light-filled galleries, each proportioned to respond to specific needs of the collection. Gallery heights vary to accommodate changes in scale and media; those with 18- foot-high ceilings showcase Still’s monumental Abstract Expressionist canvases, some of which extend to over 12 feet tall and 16 feet long, while smaller galleries with 11 1/2 foot ceilings create a more intimate viewing environment for the presentation of smaller-scale paintings and works on paper.


Photo Raul Garcia courtesy Clyfford Still Museum



Photo courtesy Clyfford Still Museum

Natural light 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.


Photo Raul Garcia courtesy Clyfford Still Museum

Two outdoor terraces and an education gallery offer visitors a moment of reflection and investigation. Moving between galleries, visitors are provided glimpses down into the collection storage and interpretive galleries on the first level.

The primary purpose of this building is to hold the work of Clyfford Still,
to make room for the voice of a single artist. As a museum it is a
particular and intimate experience. Yet the site for the museum resides in
a monumental context; at the intersection of prairie and mountains, in
the Civic Center, a cultural district inhabited by buildings of grand collective and cultural narrative.

All set against an urban neighborhood of parking lots, historic housing and new condominiums. The new Museum mediates this setting with two distinct acts of architecture. The first act prepares the site by creating a dense grove of deciduous trees – a place of shadow and light, a place of refuge from the endless summer sun.

The second act of architecture looks to the earth, the weight and stillness of it. The new building derives its presence from the earth, pressing down into it, being held by it. The Museum is conceived as a solid, a mass of concrete, crushed granite and quartz – a single construction that is opened up by natural light. The body of the building becomes the source of light for the art. Light is amplified, diffused and obscured by each surface of the building.

The exterior facade merges with the shadows of the grove and the stark intensity of the sky. The entrance, beneath the canopy of trees, presses the visitor to the earth. The darkness of the lobby provides an interval, a place of transition, before rising to the galleries. In the upper level galleries, the visitor moves through a series of luminous rooms where they encounter the work of Clyfford Still.

The galleries respond to the art, changing scale and proportion, varying the intensity of light. The museum continually collapses into itself, a concentration of experience that offers an inescapable immediacy with the work of Clyfford Still.

/Brad Cloepfil
Founding Principal, Allied Works Architecture

Sketch courtesy Allied Works ArchitectureConcept Sketch


Sketch courtesy Allied Works ArchitectureStudy Model



Photo courtesy Allied Works ArchitectureModel



Drawing courtesy Allied Works ArchitectureSite Plan



Drawing courtesy Allied Works ArchitectureEntry Level Plan



Drawing courtesy Allied Works ArchitectureGallery Level Plan



Drawing courtesy Allied Works ArchitectureNorth South Section


Drawing courtesy Allied Works ArchitectureEast West Section

The Clyfford Still Museum was founded to promote public and scholarly understanding of the late artist’s work through the presentation and preservation of the Clyfford Still and Patricia Still estates, donated to the City of Denver in 2004 and 2005.

The collection represents nearly 94% of the artist’s total creative output, making it one of the most comprehensive single-artist collections in the world. The collection encompasses approximately 2,400 works created by Still from 1920 to 1980, the majority of which have never been exhibited.


CITY Denver, Colorado
ARCHITECT Brad Cloepfil