Sugar Cube / KPMB

Architects: KPMB – Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg Architects
Location: Denver, USA
Project Team: Bruce Kuwabara (design partner), Shirley Blumberg (partner-in-charge), Bruno Weber (project architect), Myriam Tawadros, Javier Uribe, Bill Colaco, Jose Emila, Richard Wong, Roland Ulfig
Structure: Halcrow Yolles
MEP: ABS Consultants
Civil Engineering: MB Consulting
Building Envelope: Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates
Landscape: MP Consulting
Acoustics: D.I. Adams Associates Inc.
Client: Urban Villages, LLC
Project year: 2008
Construction area: 13,460 sqm
Photographs: © Tom Arban

This mixed-use development project introduces a new strategy for making contemporary architecture within Denver’s historic Lower Downtown Heritage District (LoDo). The design responds to the precise urban design guidelines for LoDo, while helping the local Review Board to expand its guidelines to include contemporary buildings within its historic context. The architectural solution balances a larger vision of the building in the evolving context of LoDo with a specific contemporary response to the adjacent, heritage 1904 Sugar Building, the most important historic building in the district.

The client’s specific functional and performance goals included building for longevity as a form of sustainability, achieving cost savings with energy efficient systems and enduring design, and creating an active street-related base to contribute to the revitalization of the district. The program is broken down into three distinct volumes and organizes retail space at street level, offices from the second to the fourth floor, and residential space from the fifth to the tenth floor. The design establishes relationships to the adjacent historic Sugar Building in the dimensions and proportions of the massing, masonry piers, and punched grid of windows. The glazing composition varies at different levels of the façade to create vertical emphasis, shadows and depth within the grid of the masonry.

The project is located on the 16th Street Mall, a major public pedestrian thoroughfare that runs through the city of Denver. The building features a central ten-storey volume in manganese-coloured , and two building volumes wrapping around it at its base, one rising 4 storeys and one six storeys, both in buff . The six-storey volume on the 16th Street Mall wraps around the base volume in a way that relates specifically to the wrapping of the adjacent Sugar Building’s ornamental façade around the corner against the laneway and then brought to a full stop, establishing a clear hierarchy through the articulation of a zone addressing the main street. The transition between commercial office and residential uses at the top of the fourth floor is marked by deeper setback of operable glazed windows within the 16th Street masonry façade. The 16th Street façade in turn references one of the mid-bands within the façade of the Sugar Building. The top of the parapet of SugarCube is set at a height that aligns with the underside of the upper cornice of the Sugar Building. The roof of the masonry base buildings on the 16th Street Mall and Blake Street provide generous outdoor terraces for residential units on the 5th and 7th Floor.

A cubic brick volume rises through the centre of the two wrapped volumes, and is set back from the base on all sides. The darkness of the cube’s brick and the way it interacts with Denver’s strong light creates a dramatic contrast with the lighter masonry volumes, and inserts an iconic, modernist form on the Denver skyline. The scheme explores alternatives to conventional balconies associated with residential developments to create drawer-like projections from the building, three of which project beyond the building to create views around the corner and create an unusual interplay of form against Denver’s brilliant blue skies and distant views of the Rocky Mountains.

Cite: "Sugar Cube / KPMB" 11 Apr 2009. ArchDaily. Accessed 25 May 2015. <>
  • Mr. Cheap

    I think the idéa is obvious and has potential, but the execution is poor. This is also obvious in the text, where the dark section is stated to be the iconic part, but in the execution it is fobbly with lot’s of grammar and details and the windows are all shifted around, while it actually is the lower white section that is iconic and serious in it’s expression.

    I think architecture in the USA, often falls short because there are functional and cultural requirements that always come first, like big windows, large balconies or specific type floor plans. The idéa get’s lost along the way and the project becomes mediocre.

    • B1FF

      I love this comment by Mr Cheap! Hilarious! What a wag!

  • arturPL

    the design is really amazing, love it. unfortunatelly the location doesn’t seem to be atractive, maybe because i got used to our european reality.


    Yes . . . Very Nice

  • Lucas Gray

    It seems to be a nice response to the historic surroundings. I don’t think the aesthetics are that interesting though. It seems to look like a pretty generic mixed use project.

  • sullka

    Excellent project!

    Guys only missed to use the rooftop, top notch PH units with huge terraces would had sell like hot cakes.

  • plots

    i’m with on this one, this largely reminds me of a much less interesting version of the porter house. The balconies really throw it off but I’m sure even fixing those would have saved it. Kind of a shame because it seems like it’s approaching a good solution but really needs another big push to get there.