You are here

Denver International Airport

-A A +A
1995, C. W. Fentress, J. H. Bradburn and Associates. East of Denver on I-70 exit 284 to Peña Blvd.
  • Denver International Airport
  • Denver International Airport
  • Denver International Airport
  • Denver International Airport
  • Denver International Airport
  • Denver International Airport
  • Denver International Airport

The Teflon-coated fiberglass roof of the Denver International Airport terminal reflects both the snowcapped Rockies and Indian tipis that once occupied the site. Nautical illusions also are fostered, not only by the billowing white roof but by the crow's nests of its masts. The roof, draped on steel cables, borrows conceptually from the tensile structures of European architects such as Ove Arup and Frei Otto and from Kenzo Tange's fabric roof for Tokyo's Olympic Stadium, as well as San Diego's convention center and Vancouver Place in British Columbia. The translucent material admits diffused daylight and glows at night. DIA may be seen as a sculptural adventure in Expressionist architecture whose pedigree can be traced to Eero Saarinen, the Finnish architect who influenced John Dinkeloo and a Dinkeloo protégé, James H. Bradburn. Yet the tensile fabric roof “sculpture”—the largest fully integrated one in the world—also happens to be a cheap way to enclose such a massive space.

Reconciling the airy tents with the banal concrete bulwarks of the terminal, parking garages and concourse buildings presented an architectural challenge. Unharmonious shapes, colors, and materials mar this $5 billion “campus,” but it is enhanced by Denver's one-percent-for-art ordinance, which applies to construction budgets for new buildings costing $1 million or more. Much of the art is directional, including elaborate granite and tile floor patterns and “paper airplane” ceiling mobiles that point the way out of an underground people mover. The terminal building showcases local materials, including Colorado Yule marble and red sandstone.

In this artsy terminal the most animated and appropriate artifacts are house sparrows flitting about the tent tops and food courts. Budget constraints postponed plans for extensive landscaping with native plants and a resident herd of buffalo as well as a rail connection with downtown Denver. Nevertheless, this opened as the country's largest and most technologically advanced airport with its automated baggage handling and a 54-square-mile site that is larger than Chicago's O'Hare and the Dallas–Fort Worth airport sites combined.

Writing Credits

Thomas J. Noel


What's Nearby


Thomas J. Noel, "Denver International Airport", [Denver, Colorado], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

If SAH Archipedia has been useful to you, please consider supporting it.

SAH Archipedia tells the story of the United States through its buildings, landscapes, and cities. This freely available resource empowers the public with authoritative knowledge that deepens their understanding and appreciation of the built environment. But the Society of Architectural Historians, which created SAH Archipedia with University of Virginia Press, needs your support to maintain the high-caliber research, writing, photography, cartography, editing, design, and programming that make SAH Archipedia a trusted online resource available to all who value the history of place, heritage tourism, and learning.

, ,