Colorado and Denver have a rich history of Modernist architecture and landscape architecture. From large sites such as Herbert Bayer’s Aspen Institute, to the Denver Botanical Gardens designed by Garrett Eckbo, to the Cliff May houses and Googie-style Tom’s Diner, the growing city of Denver in the 60s was home to many modernist masterpieces. One of these was Lawrence Halprin’s Skyline Park, a three-block linear park in the heart of downtown. A significant part of the park was lost to redesign in the early 2000s and now the few Halprin remnants are at risk of being lost. The following is an article written by Annie Levinsky, Executive Director of Historic Denver, about the current status of Skyline Park.
– Ann Mullins, FASLA
Future Uncertain for Remaining Elements of Halprin’s Skyline Park
In 2020, the Department of Parks & Recreation launched a new planning effort to redesign Skyline Park, located between 15th and 18th along Arapahoe in Downtown. The park already has an unfortunate preservation history.
Constructed between 1972 and 1975, this one-acre linear park and plaza was a central feature of the Skyline Urban Renewal District. The park was designed by Lawrence Halprin, who subsequently went on to be one of the most lauded landscape architects of the later 20th century.
Halprin’s three-block design was sunken below street level and heavily planted along the edges. Concrete elements such as retaining walls, stepped seating walls, planters, and abstract fountains were the park’s most distinctive features. Each block included a major water feature, which were intended to invoke Colorado’s mountain setting.
Nearly twenty years ago, the City undertook a redesign and nearly all Halprin’s design elements were eliminated, leaving only a few pieces, including the fountain in the 1600 block. In March 2020, the concept plans unveiled by the city for the redesign did not include the remaining elements of Halprin’s design.
Numerous preservation voices, including Historic Denver, have expressed concern to the city. Incorporating Halprin’s work would not only preserve a piece of his legacy but help to tell the story of downtown’s evolution.
Annie Robb Levinsky (she/her/hers) is the Executive Director of Historic Denver, Inc.
Ann Mullins, FASLA, is Principal of wjmdesign, an Officer for ASLA’s Historic Preservation Professional Practice Network (PPN), and a member of the PPN’s Historic American Landscapes Survey (HALS) Subcommittee.
The reason for the redesign is that the sunken gardens and large concrete features have become a haven for heroin use and sales. The landscape no longer functions as intended.