Blurring the Boundary between Nature and the Built Environment - by Paul Suter
When MA Yansong of MAD Architects toured the site of One River North, a new, biophilic-designed residential building in Denver’s lively River North neighborhood (RiNo), he wanted to blur the lines between nature and the built environment. Standing on the gritty, industrial city block, he looked out to the distant Rocky Mountains and wanted to bring that natural landscape into this part of the city, where the surrounding architecture of newly constructed buildings mostly mimics the industrial history of RiNo.
Working with a team that includes Saunders Construction, Davis Partnership Architects, along with multiple specialty subcontractors and tradespeople, this vision is becoming a reality for the building’s principal developers comprised of The Max Collaborative, Uplands Real Estate Partners and Wynne Yasmer Real Estate.
The developers challenged the design and construction team to build a structure that would be iconic for Denver, not just at the rooftop, but from top to bottom. That challenge, combined with MA’s vision of bringing nature into the city, was the inspiration for what will certainly become one of the most distinctive residential buildings in Colorado and throughout the nation.
“The nature inspired design by MAD Architects was influenced by Colorado’s legendary landforms and merges nature and architecture to inspire a well-balanced life. Its glass façade is likewise ribbed with louvers that regulate sunlight and soften its visual presence, shaping a serene retreat in the sky.”
The defining characteristic of One River North is the 10-story landscaped canyon that is carved into the building’s 16-story façade. It undulates and flows, recalling the experience a person might have while climbing a mountain trail. Ascending from the base of the canyon to what is emblematic of a mountain plateau at the building’s summit, residents and guests of One River North will enjoy a slice of nature that has been blended into an urban landscape. They will enjoy more than 13,000 square feet of open-air amenity environments, including rippling water elements and a landscaped, trail-like walkway that traverses across four floors. Along the way, individuals will also discover plant life and vegetation that is native to Colorado’s high plains climate, in peaceful, idyllic settings.
The organic language of the canyon won’t stay outside. Many of the natural elements will be evident in the building’s lobby and common areas, providing immediate and accessible connections to the great outdoors. Another important design factor for the canyon element is the lighting, which will highlight the surfaces of the canyon with uplighting to capture the artistic shapes and cascading shadows. A glass curtain wall will also enable people to enjoy views of the Rocky Mountains from the building’s upper floors and look into the rift that defines the building in which they live and makes One River North such a distinguished place.
Much of vision for One River North will become a reality based on intensive design (using a Rhino 3D Architecture models, which enhances a team’s ability to execute creative building forms), lengthy pre-planning sessions that began months and months ahead of the groundbreaking for One River North, rigorous value engineering, a teamwork approach that welcomed the thoughts, ideas and solutions of all the contractors and subs that would be involved in the design and construction process, and a literally hands-on approach.
The hands of skilled tradespeople will form the shape of the canyon, using a Fiber Reinforced Stucco that will be applied manually by a crew of approximately 15 people. The FRS plaster system provides the best opportunity to free-form and sculpt the canyon, because it can be molded like clay. A “chip” system, or pencil rod structure, will be built with a metal lath over the top. This will create a canvas-of-sorts to apply about an inch-thick coating of plaster by hand and swoop it into a canyon form. Needless to say, planning and building the scaffolding to access the jigs and jags of the chip system while coordinating it with the other trades is an engineering feat of its own. Coordinating and shaping this continuous curve through the front of the building, which appears as if part of the structure has eroded away over time, is the work and responsibility of DM Construction and KHS&S Contractors, two highly specialized and skilled plaster contractors.
Quality control and site logistics are also major focal points for the construction of One River North. Engineered soils will help to control the weight of the plantings; working with water proofing consultants Marx Ocubo will help to ensure that water doesn’t infiltrate the unique shapes and forms of the canyon; scanned concrete product will make sure everything is perfectly aligned; modeling will help to correctly and accurately plan for staggering the window and different size panels. The urban construction site has required not only a great deal of pre-planning, but also coordinating delivery schedules with general contractors working on adjacent construction sites.
The project broke ground in Fall 2021 and is slated for completion in Q4 of 2023. Situated at 40th and Blake Streets on the northeast edge of RiNo and near the 38th and Blake light rail station, One River North anchors a new wave of taller buildings shaping a bold new vision for Denver’s art-influenced RiNo district. It will include: 187 one-, two-, to three-bedroom for-lease units, ranging in size from 625-2,500 square feet (each will include a chef-caliber kitchen, floor-to-ceiling windows and private open-air terraces, and some will undulate to match the curves of the canyon); a 6,813-square-foot rooftop terrace, featuring a pool, spa and garden framed by dramatic Rocky Mountain views; a fitness center and yoga studio that connects to the outdoor space with city and mountain views; a lounge with workspace areas and a pet spa; and 7,995 square feet of ground-floor retail space.
“One River North is the model for how we should be living, surrounding ourselves in the natural environment, bringing nature into our homes and creating authentic, biophilic experiences coupled with modern comforts and conveniences,” said Kevin Ratner, co-founder of The Max Collaborative. “The nature inspired design by MAD Architects was influenced by Colorado’s legendary landforms and merges nature and architecture to inspire a well-balanced life. Its glass façade is likewise ribbed with louvers that regulate sunlight and soften its visual presence, shaping a serene retreat in the sky.”
“If we regard modern cities as manmade landscape on the earth, we need to design canyons, woods, creeks, and waterfalls, transforming concrete forests into second nature,” said Ma Yansong, MAD Founder and Principal Partner.
The ability to blur the boundaries between nature and the built environment at One River North is what will make it such a special addition to the downtown Denver landscape, and an extraordinary place to call “home”.