He may be best known for his airport designs, but Curt Fentress doesn’t readily accept that designation – or any other.

Denver International Airport
Photo by Ellen Jaskol
Denver International Airport
The firm’s portfolio includes the Jefferson County
Photo by Nick Merrick
The firm�s portfolio includes the Jefferson County Government Center.

He waters down the often-heard “airport architect” moniker with, “We are a firm that is good at many building types in the public realm.”

Fentress and his firm, Denver-based Fentress Architects, have been honored as a 2010 recipient of the Thomas Jefferson Award, the American Institute of Architects’ highest award for public architecture.

The firm’s portfolio includes an impressive range of local public projects, including the main terminal at Denver International Airport, the Colorado Convention Center, Invesco Field at Mile High, the Jefferson County Government Center and the soon-to-be-built Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Complex for the Colorado Supreme Court, which Fentress calls “a pinnacle of my career.”

Fentress Architects has a long history of both public and private design work. But Fentress shrugs off an invitation to share his fondest memory by saying there are “too many memorable moments” in his 30-year career. He gives credit to client savvy for his opportunities, as well as to the “we” in his firm. “There is a fantastic staff of dedicated people in this office who work in a collaborative way to create great architecture,” he says.

Regional Landscapes

Fentress, who began his career in New York City, chose the Mile High City as a home base after working on projects in Denver for I.M. Pei (United Bank building) and Kohn Pederson Fox (Amoco Building).

Enamored of the region’s landscape and clear, abundant light, Fentress put down stakes and began designing the spacious, light-filled structures for which his firm has become so well-known. The firm was founded in 1980 as C.W. Fentress and Associates, then became Fentress Bradburn Architects, with partner James Bradburn, now retired. The firm’s name was abbreviated to Fentress Architects in 2007.

C.W. Fentress and Associates, like many fledging design firms, worked initially on smaller projects and renovations until it took on Denver International Airport in 1995. The then-Fentress Bradburn studio had been designing DIA since 1990, but the airport was behind schedule and $75 million over budget, and so the city asked the firm to help it out with a new design – in three weeks.

Fentress presented a model that fused functionality, efficiency, surprising materials—cotton T-shirt material was used to represent the now-famous tented roof of the airport terminal—and striking forms. The airport project pushed the Fentress team into a new public arena.

In addition to DIA, the firm’s airport portfolio now includes Incheon International Airport in Seoul, South Korea; Seattle-Tacoma International Airport; facilities in Los Angeles, Sacramento and San Jose; and an airport in Qatar.