Local stone reflects Colorado mountainscape

October 1, 2005
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Originally designed in the 1970s, the concrete and brick architecture of Skyline Park in Denver, CO, deteriorated over time due to the region's harsh freeze/thaw climate. As a result, the firm of Thomas Balsley Associates of New York was called in to redesign the area, with the objective of making it a public space that could benefit the entire community.

The design team was led by Landscape Architect Thomas Balsley along with Project Manager Mark Minkley. The local firm of David Owen Tryba Architects and Weitz Construction, General Contractor, were also involved with the project.

“The reason that the whole park was redesigned was that over time it had failed as a public park,” said Balsley. “It failed in its ability to serve as a civic space. It was designed with sunken areas and no sidewalks along Arapahoe Street. It was designed as an urban sanctuary and less as a civic space. Unfortunately, many urban sanctuaries become sanctuaries for the homeless, runaways and drug addicts, and that's what happened here. A concerted effort for its revitalization as a civic space was made by the community and downtown civic partnership. They conducted a nationwide search for a designer, and selected us for our work in downtown areas.”

According to Balsley one of the primary objectives for the project was to utilize regional materials. And although limited by budget constraints, sandstone, granite and marble are staples of the design.

“We redesigned the space with certain goals in mind,” explained the landscape architect. “It would have to be a great open space with plazas and lawns that could easily adapt itself for festivals, exhibits and celebrations. It had to be able to hold very big downtown activity. In doing that, we wanted to make sure it fit the beautiful Colorado environment. We fought hard for the use of native stone that would give [the space] a sense of identity - even on our meager budget.”

Utilizing local resources

Colorado Red sandstone comprises the majority of Skyline Park's paving. Approximately 15,000 square feet of the material was supplied by Colorado Custom Rock of Boulder, CO. The sandstone was quarried in Lyons, CO, and fabricated and installed by the Denver Marble Co. of Denver.

Named for its view of the Denver skyline, Skyline Park is part of a downtown pedestrian area, complete with retail stores, restaurants and office buildings. As well as being aesthetically pleasing, the textured sandstone paving offers durability in this high-traffic area, and is able to withstand the harsh weather often experienced in Colorado.

The pieces of sandstone measure roughly 30 x 30 inches and were sawn on four sides. They have a natural cleft finish.

While local marble and granite were also used for accent pieces in the design of the park, granite from Virginia and China also had to be used to keep costs down. “We wanted to use local material as best we could,” said Balsley. “In the end, the granite was not [from the area], but it works. There was such a huge swing in cost.”

Jet Mist granite, which was quarried in Virginia, slabbed and finished in Italy and cut and fabricated by Denver Marble Co., was employed in a large circular pattern, forming a focal point on the walkway. This is surrounded by Colorado Rose Red granite with a waterjet finish - quarried and finished by Colorado Rose Red Granite in Lyons, CO.

Benches and water feature elements throughout the park are made of Colorado Yule marble, which was quarried at a site in Marble, CO. The blocks of marble were sawn by Rock and Company of Brighton, CO, and finished and installed by Denver Marble Co. In addition, a small amount of Colorado Yule marble was applied as wall veneer on a seat wall at the raised courtyard.

Moreover, 1,000 cubic feet of St. Andrew's Grey granite from China was employed for dimensional pieces such as curbing, walls, steps, water features and some paving. The material was supplied by Architectural Stone Products, Inc. of Fort Collins, CO.

“My supply of the granite from China lowered the cost of materials enough to allow the city to complete all three sections of the park,” said Mike Cozart, owner of Architectural Stone Products. “Also, because of the lowered cost, three times more labor was required for stone installers, and thereby put three times more money back into the Denver economy. If the materials had been purchased domestically, the local stone industry as well as the city would have realized only one-third of the benefits of the project.”

In total, it took about three months to install the stonework. According to the landscape architect, the project ran very smoothly. “The sandstone was very cooperative,” he said. “There were no surprises at all. It was a very good process. We had a good set of initial drawings and a good set of shop drawings.”

Construction on Skyline Park, which included more than seven years of public process and studies, began in May 2003, and a Grand Opening was held on July 22, 2004. While the new design ties in Colorado's true environment, it also preserved several signature elements of the original design by Lawrence Halprin. Among these are two fountains and a row of honey locust trees along Arapahoe Street.

“We wanted to make a nice clean statement,” said Balsley. “We wanted a very sophisticated and elegant civic space. I think the city of Denver is very pleased with this space, and that it went the extra mile to have local material.”

Credit Box

Skyline Park
Denver, CO

Original Landscape Architect: Lawrence Halprin
Redesign Landscape Architect: Thomas Balsley Associates, New York, NY
Local Architect: David Owen Tryba Architects, Denver, CO
General Contractor: Weitz Construction, Denver, CO
Stone Quarrier: Colorado Rose Red Granite, Lyons, CO (Colorado Rose Red granite)
Stone Suppliers: Architectural Stone Products, Inc., Fort Collins, CO (Andrew's Grey granite); Colorado Custom Rock, Boulder, CO (Colorado Red sandstone)
Stone Fabricators: Colorado Rose Red Granite, Lyons, CO (Colorado Rose Red granite); Denver Marble Co., Denver, CO (Colorado Red sandstone, Colorado Yule marble, Jet Mist granite)
Block Cutter: Rock and Company, Brighton, CO (Colorado Yule marble)
Stone Installers: Denver Marble Co., Denver, CO (Colorado Red sandstone, Colorado Yule marble, Andrew's Grey granite)

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