Recap: DAF + Denver Modernism Week | Pei, Kiley and the Mesa: A Tour of NCAR

About the tour: DAF patrons explored landscape architect Dan Kiley‘s modernist design for the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), I.M. Pei’s iconic Boulder structure. We began at the bottom of Table Mesa, learning about the history of the NCAR campus and its modernist architectural concepts. We then caravanned to the top of the mesa to experience the intentional design elements of the mile-long drive, including a grand reveal of the fortress-like building. We walked the grounds to understand how Pei’s sandstone and glass structure is complemented by the design of landscape architect Dan Kiley, creating a modern masterwork well-suited to its surroundings. Tour-goers further explored the exterior of the building through historic photographs and drawings as well as special access to the Kiley Garden, normally closed to the public. This tour, presented in partnership with Docomomo US/Colorado, was part of Denver Modernism Week.

About the site: The National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) is one of the great architectural masterpieces of the modern movement. Also known as the Mesa Laboratory, the 1966 complex is the most intact example of architect I.M. Pei’s work found in Colorado and the breakout design of his career. Working in collaboration with prominent landscape architect Dan Kiley, whose original design is less intact, the two created a complex that is deeply integrated into its spectacular natural setting. From plazas, courtyards and pathways, Kiley’s design offers strategic perspectives of the Table Mesa site, capturing views of the surrounding mountains and prairie. 

About the tour guides: Josh Robinson, Lead Project Designer, KEPHART Architects, is also President of the Colorado chapter of Docomomo US, a non-profit organization dedicated to the documentation and conservation of buildings, sites and neighborhoods of the modern movement. Josh is a founding partner in Denver Modernism Week and is known for his talks and activities relating to modern architecture across the city and state.

Chris Dunn, Principal, THK Associates, is a landscape architect and urban designer. He has experience in the planning and design of public institutions, municipal facilities, and resort and master-planned communities worldwide. He is the son-in-law of the late Dan Kiley and worked with him on many projects, allowing him a unique, up-close perspective on Kiley’s work. Dunn toured NCAR with Kiley in the early 1980s to discuss his site visit with I.M. Pei and their design process.

Please Note: To fully experience NCAR’s landscape design, the tour will begin at Bill Bower Park. Attendees will drive separately to the top of the mesa where the tour will resume.

Accessibility: This tour will consist of a moderately easy walk on pavement, stairs, ramps, woodland and open field trails. Some sections may not be suitable for wheelchairs.

COVID-19: All attendees will be required to sign a waiver of liability and answer a COVID-19 questionnaire prior to the in-person tour. 

Photograph by Atom Stevens.