Denver Art Museum’s New Interactive Spaces Let You Sit Over Art

The Denver Art Museum has worked steadily and strategically to enhance its design portfolio over the past decade, adding significantly to its long-neglected collections of furniture, textiles, fashion, graphics, and architectural objects from all kinds. The museum now has tens of thousands of colorful works, from desk chairs to dinner plates to cocktail dresses, spread across its various collections.

The moves were transformative, both for the museum itself — it became a national leader in 20th-century American and European design — and for its constituents. The amount of space devoted to fashion and furniture has doubled or tripled in recent years, and visitors have the refreshing pleasure of walking through more than 15,000 square feet of exhibits that include such things as outfits evening dress Yves Saint Laurent and Charles and Ray Eames lounge chairs.

But DAM, to its credit, also recognizes that context matters. A credible design showcase must be incredibly self-designed, and the museum has succeeded in this regard with the scheme it recently unveiled for its main interactive spaces, both the central “creative hub” (located in the atrium of its main building) and the learning center used mainly by school groups (located on its lower floor).

For both spaces, DAM turned to Mexico City-based Esrawe + Cadena, one of that country’s leading design teams, which developed entire environments for its classrooms and communal work areas, encompassing everything from bespoke furniture to wall coverings to pendant lamps.

All of the tables, chairs, benches, fixtures and worktops are sleek and sophisticated yet practical, as well as comfortable, for the most part. They do what good design does best: represent the tastes and habits of the present day while being fully functional and durable.

One object, in particular, stands out as a centerpiece: a stackable chair system that allows DAM to store unused seats on yellow school bus upright poles. The piece, which DAM leaves on display in the atrium, is original and innovative, and its design rivals some pieces in the museum’s existing collection.

Provided by the Denver Art Museum

Ignacio Cadena (behind) and Hector Esrawe on the outdoor installation “La Musidora,” which their design firm Esrawe + Cadena created for the Denver Art Museum. (Provided by the Denver Art Museum)

All furniture is portable and convertible; light enough to be picked up and placed at will, or mounted on casters so it can be moved around and reconfigured. Tables act as chairs. Benches can be used for storage. The pieces totally reject the idea of ​​furniture as static objects; they are intended to serve a contemporary museum on the move. Today, museum visitors don’t just look at the objects; they also try their hand at painting, weaving or interior decorating – whatever they are doing that day – and this furniture gives them an inviting place to settle down.

Esrawe + Cadena created the entire package for DAM, and that’s exactly what they’re known to do in Mexico. The team – which effectively combines the talents of separate studios led by Héctor Esrawe and Ignacio Cadena – have created iconic retail spaces across this country, including two famous coffee chains, Cielito and Tierra Garat, which are due to much of their success to their avant-garde interiors.

The team, which has been collaborating for 12 years now, has no signature style but they have a unique way of approaching projects, which involves combining architecture, furniture design and graphic design in a way that not only creates a look, but also a brand. Dozens of retail and restaurant spaces have copied their habits.

Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post

DENVER, CO – MARCH 18: Chairs are stacked on the tower to save space at the morgridge creative center in the Lanny & Sharon Martin Building at the Denver Art Museum in Denver, Colorado on Friday, March 18, 2022. The chairs are organized by the tower with crank. Custom designed modular furniture allows flexibility in creating a different style space. (Photo by Hyoung Chang/Denver Post)

Esrawe is best known for its architecture and Cadena for its graphics, but both are versatile and their functions depend on the project at hand. They are not your typical design company.

“We say we’re more of a think tank,” Esrawe explained during a recent interview at his bustling headquarters, a cavernous, converted maker space in Mexico City’s hip Roma Norte neighborhood.

“It’s never about what we want or what we like,” he said. “We try to promote good design, but it’s always about what the project needs.”

Or what the designers themselves find interesting. Separately and together, they have worked on everything from office buildings to residential homes to designing temporary exhibitions. Esrawe runs a respected art gallery in Mexico City called Masa. Together they also have a popular fragrance line called Xinú – fabulously packaged, of course, in spherical bottles – which they will soon be bringing to the United States.

The company prides itself on building long-term relationships with clients rather than accepting one-off jobs, and does a lot of research ahead of a project, often spending months on concepts before producing drawings. real.

This was the case with DAM. The designers and the museum have an existing relationship that dates back to 2019, when the museum commissioned Esrawe + Cadena to make an interactive piece for its outdoor plaza. The result was La Musidora, a set of 20 woven chairs that emitted musical sounds when gently rocked.

They followed that up with the design of DAM 2020 “Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera and Mexican Modernism”, an exhibition that could have been a blockbuster if not for the general anxiety caused by the coronavirus pandemic at the time. .

The relationship paved the way for greater collaboration on new learning spaces. Esrawe + Cadena spent considerable time working with museum educators to identify needs. The project lasted about three years, though much of that time was slowed by the lingering pandemic and the limits it placed on both travel opportunities and building material acquisitions, Esrawe said. .

But the result is motivating, both for the young creatives who use the spaces and for design in general in Denver. Children’s bedrooms with their miniature coffee tables and chairs are particularly attractive, appearing alternately as playful, olive-green play areas and as serious places to get down to serious coloring or paper-pasting work with museum staff.

In typical Esrawe + Cadena style, walls, floors and ceilings are integrated into a single theme. For example, the company created round seating and storage spaces, but then took that same shape to wall graphics and overhead lighting, and even a set of round, free-standing lockers where children can store. their backpacks and lunches while they occupy the space. The center is cushy, where it counts, to keep kids safe, but refined in a way that youth-oriented spaces rarely are.

It is important. If museums want to inspire children to take art and design seriously, they must demonstrate personal engagement and illustrate how it enriches everyday life. They also need to create impactful moments that young visors will remember and enthuse as they develop their own tastes and habits.

We want a city that values ​​good design, a city full of beautiful buildings, bridges, parks and schools that make life more enjoyable. It can only be sustained if the public craves it. And that can surely be helped by an art museum that shows – and is itself – quality design.

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Mildred D. Field