I think Republic Plaza is one of the most handsome buildings on the Denver skyline. A simple geometric form, Republic Plaza was designed by Donald Smith of Skidmore Owings and Merrill, also known as SOM, and was built between 1983 and 1984. Not only is it Denver’s tallest building, but it is reported to be the tallest building in the Rocky Mountain region.
Republic Plaza has very little ornament and almost no surface texture. Signage is applied above the triple-height first-floor level, and there are two short mechanical floors horizontally dividing the building into thirds. Each façade is also divided into vertical thirds by thin metal-framed expansion joints that run from the ground to the roof.
Many people think Republic Plaza is a boring white box, but I think its simplicity results in an understated, elegant building. It was built using Sardinian granite veneer panels surrounding square windows, which in turn have pale gray frames. The polished granite panels are pale cream speckled with light gray and some black grains.
When seen from afar, the granite reads as an even, cream-colored façade, while the windows reflect the sun, the clouds, and even adjacent buildings depending on where you are standing and the angle of the sun. As a result, the building’s appearance changes over the course of each day. It is this reflectivity that makes Republic Plaza so spectacular to me, especially when you catch it reflecting a crimson sunset. And because it is the tallest building in the area, downtown Denver’s skyscrapers can be in shadow while Republic Plaza still glows with the last glimpses of the day’s light.
Due to its height, Republic Plaza can be seen from all over the city. It was built on the diagonal street grid of downtown Denver, while the rest of the city is set on a grid matching the cardinal directions. This lets you see two sides of the building reflecting different features.
Not only is the exterior simple and elegant, but the interior lobby also reflects the exterior’s understated elegance. The lobby has no interior partitions other than the Vermont verde marble-clad elevator banks. This elegant design brings to mind the mid-century designs of Skidmore Owings & Merrill, such as the glass, jewel-box Manufacturers Hanover Trust Building designed in the 1950s by Gordon Bunshaft.
My admiration of Republic Plaza will likely be derided by many preservationists who fought hard to stop the 1981 demolition of the original Republic Building. Although I appreciate the design of Republic Plaza, the demolition of the Republic Building is a real shame. This earlier building was a beautiful buff-brick and terra-cotta clad office building designed by G. Meredith Musick, a master of Art Deco design in Denver. Historic photographs of the building can be found on the Denver Public Library’s Western History Collection website. My favorites are this detail of the entrance and this overall photo of the building.