Denver International Airport Clips the Wings of Santiago Calatrava's Ostentatious Design

Rendering of the revised design for DIA's south terminal expansion project
(Courtesy AndersonMasonDale Architects)

Months after budget cuts prompted Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava to walk away from Denver International Airport’s South Terminal redevelopment project, DIA is still moving on without him. The airport unveiled a revision to Calatrava’s designs that is hewed down in both in size and cost, amended by Gensler Architects with Denver-based AndersonMasonDale Architects.

After the divorce proceedings last year — Calatrava’s firm described it as an “amicable” split — DIA kept the essentials of Calatrava’s plan: a 500-room Westin hotel and an RTD FasTracks commuter rail station. But the architect walked away with his signature flourishes, including his use of all-white steel and his customary delicate, birdlike frame.


The slimmed-down design, which is $150 million cheaper than Calatrava’s, has scant traces of his original plans. The façade retains a dip in the center, although it curves less dramatically. Much of the steel has been replaced with glass. The interior no longer feels like the insides of a ribcage, since the white arcs have been replaced with glass supported by scriss-crossing steel. The overall square footage has been cut, particularly in the train station, and an entire floor has been cut from the hotel.

Calatrava left after DIA pared down its budget last year from $650 million to $500 million — an amount, Calatrava’s representatives said, that would have hindered his vision for the project. (Although DIA had already paid Calatrava $12.9 million for his work and ultimately a further $800,000 to continue to use his designs.) Similarly, in 2006, Steven Holl parted ways with the city and pulled out of Denver's $358 million Justice Center project, citing dissatisfaction with the budget, according to the Denver Post. Denver is not, however, lacking starchitecture; it still touts Daniel Libeskind's Denver Art Museum extension, Michael Graves's Denver Central Library, David Adjaye's Museum of Contemporary Art, and Brad Cloepfil's Clyfford Still Museum

Construction of the new airport terminal began in the fall of 2011. The hotel is scheduled to open in 2015.

To see more images of the Denver International Airport's South Terminal designs, before and after Calatrava's departure, click on the slide show.