As new homes and hotels go up every day across the U.S. in a sustained construction boom, despite rising materials costs and supply chain disruptions, another reality must also be considered: Buildings currently account for 45% of greenhouse emissions. While carbon-neutral construction has increased in recent years, it is not enough to slow climate change. Enter environmental real estate developer Urban Villages, whose Populus, the first carbon-positive hotel in the U.S., has just broken ground in Denver, Colorado.
Slated to open in late 2023, the 265-room Populus will include a rooftop restaurant and bar with stunning views of the mountains and city skyline, along with retail and event spaces. But it’s the visual aesthetic of the building that will attract the initial buzz. Designed by AD100 architecture firm Studio Gang, the building’s exterior is inspired by the beautiful and beloved aspen trees inextricably associated with the American West.
Studio Gang’s founder, MacArthur Fellow and one of Time magazine’s top 100 most influential people Jeanne Gang, says, “The distinctive shape of the windows is informed by the growth process of aspen trees, which are so emblematic of Colorado’s ecology. As the trees grow taller, they leave behind dark, eye-shaped marks on their trunks as they shed their lower branches. The pattern of the windows works with the rhythm and texture of the façade – each vertical scallop is the width of a single hotel room — to give the building its dynamic and welcoming appearance.”
The eco-conscious design plan includes a commitment to plant trees equivalent to over 5,000 acres of forest, offsetting a carbon footprint that equals nearly 500,000 gallons of gas and removing additional carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
The hotel’s window shapes, which indeed read as the familiar aspen growth pattern, create a sculptural façade that is tied to the building’s function — the windows are specifically constructed to perform efficiently in Denver’s wide-ranging climate. On the exterior, each window extends slightly outward according to solar orientation, which shades the interior of the building and improves its energy performance. These window “lids” also channel rainwater to keep the exterior clean and bright. Taken as a whole, at least from renders, the building evokes a Gaudi-esque grandeur while fully occupying the 21st century.
Grant McCargo, Urban Village co-founder, CEO, chief environmental officer, and partner, says, “Not only will Populus be the country’s first carbon-positive hotel, it will also be a stunning architectural landmark by Studio Gang that will forever alter Denver’s skyline and contribute to the architectural legacy of the entire Mountain West.”
Carbon footprint will be minimized in the development stage using low-carbon concrete mixes and high-recycled content materials, both of which will maximize structural efficiency, using fewer finish materials and minimizing waste. Every stage of the process, beginning with the origin of materials and the carbon footprint of creating and transporting them, will be considered. And because Populus’ ongoing operations will also be carbon-positive, the hotel’s overall use, along with every guest stay, will be offset in addition to the building’s embodied carbon. Populus will also follow U.S. Green Building Council codes in order to achieve LEED Gold certification.
Denver is the headquarters of Urban Villages, so it makes sense that this ambitious project would be launched here. McCargo observes that, “In recent years, Denver has been consistently ranked among the country’s best cities to live and is continuing to attract residents and visitors at a record-breaking rate for its leisure activities, sports venues, arts and cultural institutions, and vibrant food scene, which are coupled with a new convergence in public and private investments.” The goal with Populus is to contribute to the revitalization of Civic Center Park while having a positive environmental impact. McCargo says, “Denver has a true appreciation for nature, and this is reflected in all aspects of Populus, from its aspen tree-inspired design to its unobstructed mountain views, and to being carbon-positive and setting a new precedent for sustainable travel everywhere.”
Gang adds, “We were drawn to this project for its environmental and community ambitions and for its prominent site in downtown Denver. It has great potential to be an energizing connector for the neighborhood: The triangular lot is on a corner that’s across the street from a major park and civic buildings, and blocks away from the convention center and outdoor pedestrian mall. We designed the building to greet the neighborhood equally on all three sides with bold, arcing windows that form inviting entrances on the ground floor and give you immersive views of the mountains and city from the hotel rooms.”
Jon Buerge, chief development officer and partner at Urban Villages, sums up the project’s forward-thinking vision: “We’ve created Populus to be a catalyst for change and to meet the increasing preference by today’s consumers to travel responsibly, experience places in an authentic way, and connect more deeply with nature and each other. An earth emergency demands that we strengthen our influence, and Populus is just the beginning.”