Renderings for 'First Climate Positive Hotel in USA' Unveiled

John Hill
23. April 2022
Visualization: Studio Gang

Designed by Studio Gang for Urban Villages, Populus is a 13-story, 265-room hotel now under construction in Denver's Civic Center. The developer hopes the building is "an architectural landmark and milestone for sustainable travel."

How can travel be sustainable? This is the first question that springs to mind reading the Earth Day-timed press release about Populus, with its ambitious aims for sustainability in design, construction, and operation. Given that air travel has a massive carbon footprint thanks to fuels, and even the gains of electric cars are currently offset by the need to charge them from, in many cases, natural gas-fired power plants, sustainable travel is often achieved through offsets: planting a tree, for instance, to offset the carbon released from a round trip flight. 
 

The building sits on a triangular site at Colfax Avenue and 14th Street. (Visualization: Studio Gang)

Urban Village is taking a similar offset approach with Populus, which features "a substantial ecological effort offsite," according to the developer's press release, "including an initial commitment to planting trees that represent over 5,000 acres of forest — offsetting an embodied carbon footprint equivalent to nearly 500,000 gallons of gas and removing additional carbon dioxide from the atmosphere." Put another way, even though the hotel is sustainably minded throughout its design, construction, and operation — considering the origin of materials and the carbon footprint of creating and transporting them, minimizing waste, eliminating parking, and so forth — Populus cannot be "climate positive" within its own footprint; it needs to offset the carbon it produces to make such a boast, and it is planting trees, rather than purchasing carbon credits, to do so.
 

The ground floor of the building will have "an eclectic mix of eateries and retail," while the rooftop is where the hotel's restaurant and bar will be located. (Visualization: Studio Gang)

Setting aside the development's ambitious if questionable aim of becoming a "milestone of sustainable travel," the design by Studio Gang is clearly doing its part to become "an architectural landmark" in downtown Denver. Inspired by the Aspen trees native to Colorado, the building features windows that recall the trees' "Aspen eyes." Openings of different sizes and shapes give variety to the facades and subtly express the different programs within, while "lids" extend over the windows to shade the hotel rooms. The windows are set into fluted surfaces that give the three-sided building a distinctive texture.
 

The "Aspen eye" windows can be occupied by guests for taking in views of Denver and the distant mountains. (Visualization: Studio Gang)

Populus is currently under construction and will open in late 2023.

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