You know! The ‘Cash Register’ Building?

April is Architecture Month here in Colorado. It’s celebrated across the state by events like Box City, Delicious Designs and Doors Open Denver. We here at the AIA CO EP blog are saluting Architecture Month by featuring posts about our favorite buildings in Denver and how we appreciate them as young architects.

Kinda sounds like a “gimme” blog assignment, a book report about a building. But what we offer is the young architect’s eye: our experience, education and generational view on today’s built environment.

So to kick things off, I chose the keystone to the Denver skyline – The Wells Fargo Center.

Popularly known as ‘The Cash Register Building’, the Wells Fargo Center is the third tallest building in Denver (at 698 ft) behind the Republic Plaza and the Century Link building. So why does it look taller? Because the building sits on a hill, and like a girl in 5” heels, she’s going to be taller when she’s standing on a few inches! The building was completed in 1983 and designed by Phillip Johnson and John Burgee’s firm. Yes, THE Phillip Johnson. The same guy who designed The Glass House, The AT&T building and The Seagram building. Phillip Johnson is also the architect that made coke bottle glasses with thick black frames a signature look for the extremely eccentric architect. (I’m sure he donned the all black with red scarf look too.)

Why a cash register shape? Well I couldn’t find the exact answer to why but I can provide context. The building design is Post Modern, which means that the cash register shape is supposed to literally signify its context, whether occupant, site or history. What we do know is that its main occupant is the bank Wells Fargo and the building is located on 17th street, which is known as The Wall Street of The West. So when you see “the Cash”, think MONEY.

An unfortunate fact about this building: When it snows, the building maintenance crew has to close off the sidewalk next to the building to avoid injuring pedestrians from snow falling off of the curved roof, 52 stories up!

The floor plan is logical. By the looks of this floor plan provided by its owning company, it has a structural core and shell, providing maximum rentable square footage.

I appreciate the Wells Fargo Center purely for its iconic presence. Without it, that classic West-facing skyline shot of Denver in front of the mountains would be less remarkable. It is a symbol of Denver. As an architect, what I find interesting is that it is a symbol of the city, yet the public cannot experience the spaces it contains. So as a piece of architecture, what is its purpose?

Is it merely a place of business? Or by designing something so iconic, did Phillip Johnson strive to give the building public purpose by creating a form to identify the city and community of Denver?

I would love to know your thoughts.

One thought on “You know! The ‘Cash Register’ Building?

  1. As a Denver native, I’m showing my age by saying I remember when the United Bank building was built. A little controversial at the time, but it was pretty quickly adopted by the populace. I usually heard it called “the post office box building.”

    I don’t recall people being upset by it being nothing more than an office building.

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