Having founded in the year 1936 in Chicago, SOM has been significant influencers of modern architecture involving sustainable architectural practices. Their buildings and structures tend to be an amalgamation of art, creativity, and innovation, their plethora of skyscrapers stand as a testament to that fact. Every structure of the architect is built attending to all kinds of ecological and socio-economic challenges we face as a society. Their restoration and renovation project of the Denver union station between the years 2012-2014 is a great model study for transit hub-based urban development.


The terminal building dates back to 1881 when the station was first opened, with a renovation in 1914 after a fire broke out in the ladies’ restroom due to a chandelier malfunction. The façade had been restored, and a gigantic arch had been constructed to welcome the passengers. The arch had around 2000 light bulbs and eventually became a symbolic highlight of the station. Further, around the early 2000s, the plan of a second renovation started brewing, which included transforming the former 19.5 acres of railyards into a multi-modal transportation network. The idea was to make the station a mixed-use development where a lot of leisure activities fall into one place along with efficient transport facilities. 


Currently, the Denver union station houses the 112 room Crawford hotel in the upper wing of the terminal building with the hotel’s lobby, station’s waiting room, and public spaces in the 12,000 sq.ft lower-wing of the great hall. The 22,000 sq.ft basement contains 22 gate bus terminals and ten independent retail and restaurants. The open-air train hall residing in the former rail yards consists of many tracks to facilitate multiple train systems. The 19.5 acres of former rail yards host a variety of transport facilities such as light rail, intercity rail, commuter rail, bus routes, bicycle track, and pedestrian paths.

Denver Union Station (DUS) By SOM (2014): Beaux Arts masterpiece - Sheet1
Denver Union Station (DUS) By SOM (2014): Beaux Arts masterpiece - Sheet2
Denver Union Station (DUS) By SOM (2014): Beaux Arts masterpiece - Sheet7

Concept and design

The modern plan for the revival of the DUS focussed on three things: diversification, connectivity, and efficiency. The main agenda behind the renovation was looking at it as a mode of investment and development by building interstate and city transportation and expanding the station as a multi-purpose transit hub providing a holistic experience. The idea was to design a multi-functional experience offering retail, culinary and hospitality experience along with competent transportation. To execute this idea, the historic terminal building remained to be converted into a hotel, in addition to a waiting lounge for passengers. The other spaces were planned to be built around the building in the 19.5 acres rail yards. With multi-fold transportation facilities, enabling a smooth flow and transition between platforms and stops becomes important. Hence the 980 feet length terminal building acts as a central point of transition. The station also boasts a variety of sources bringing in abundant natural light and ventilation such as large windows, skylights, and glass pavilions. Space also successfully provides seamless connectivity and integration of the hub to the downtown district to the east and residential neighborhoods in south, west, and north. The renovation has a modernistic and sustainable approach with its choice of materials and structures without compensating its rich history and heritage.


The building can be divided into an upper wing, lower wing, and a basement section with a surrounding area of 19.5 acres of former railyards being converted into an urban transit district. The historic terminal building consists of tall narrow windows, rusticated stonework, and chandeliers. Asbestos replaced wooden benches to bring in heating during the 1914 renovation while the chandeliers remained. Any public space’s main goal is to achieve adequate ventilation and lighting through natural means which is greatly managed by the usage of tall windows in the terminal, skylights, and pavilions in the Train hall to help a sufficient amount of natural light enter during the day time with the chandeliers coming handy in terms of artificial lighting. The most famous open-air train hall structure consists of 11 steel arch trusses spanning nearly 180 feet clad in PTFE tensioned fabric offering strength, chemical resistance, and electrical insulation. The curvaceous canopy rises to 70 feet at the ends and stoops to 22 feet in the middle. 

Denver Union Station (DUS) By SOM (2014): Beaux Arts masterpiece - Sheet8 Denver Union Station (DUS) By SOM (2014): Beaux Arts masterpiece - Sheet9 Denver Union Station (DUS) By SOM (2014): Beaux Arts masterpiece - Sheet10 Denver Union Station (DUS) By SOM (2014): Beaux Arts masterpiece - Sheet3


Style & Aesthetics

The architectural style of the building has become a mix of beaux-arts, Romanesque revival, and classic revival over the years, given the multiple renovations and restorations that happened. The beige and tan look of the station was changed to an all-white theme for a brighter look. It is evident from the design, that the architects have opted for a non-conventional station look by choosing vivid colors and textures such as terrazzo floors and sparkling yellow glass tile work. Further to bring in ample natural light and ventilation, skylights and glass pavilions have been used. The use of these materials helps in creating a sense of spaciousness and mobility among passengers which is vital for any crowded public space especially a transportation facility.

Denver Union Station (DUS) By SOM (2014): Beaux Arts masterpiece - Sheet4

Denver Union Station (DUS) By SOM (2014): Beaux Arts masterpiece - Sheet5

Denver Union Station (DUS) By SOM (2014): Beaux Arts masterpiece - Sheet6



The renovation of the DUS in 2014, proves the importance of a resourceful transportation system and its influence on socio-economic conditions. Addressing all types of passenger needs and services for 24 hrs in one place has helped in relieving traffic congestion, improving air quality in addition to providing easy to access transportation facilities. The multi-functional use has helped in diversifying it into a tourist attraction as well as benefiting in the substantial development of the city. The rebirth of the DUS has helped in bringing a rejuvenated look full of potential and possibilities and is now a celebrated model of transit-oriented development.


Kamalavinayagam is a passionate designer and a self-taught writer whose interests also include films, food and music. She is an avid learner who is here to research, analyze and understand different fields of design and provide her take on how they influence the world.