Curtis Fentress, FAIA, RIBA (born 1947), an American Architect, is the Principal-in-Charge of Design at Fentress Architects, an international design studio he founded in Denver, Colorado, in 1980. Fentress Architects also has studios in Los Angeles, California; San Jose, California; Washington, D.C. and London, U.K.
Fentress’ DIA (Denver International Airport), Incheon International Airport (Seoul, South Korea) and his in-progress modernization of LAX (Los Angeles International Airport) et al., have garnered recognition (see background below) worldwide for design excellence and outstanding “airside-to-curbside” traveler experience. Focused on the public process, Fentress’ works are in the genres of airport, museum and public buildings. A protégé of I.M. Pei, Fentress has developed a reputation as a hybrid architect, developing iconic design reflective of the region’s culture, within the cost and budgetary confines associated with high profile public architecture. He is known among students of architecture for his observations on the process of large scale design.
Highest Award for Public Architecture: Curtis Fentress was honored in 2010 by the American Institute of Architects with the highest award for public architecture, the Thomas Jefferson Award. Fentress was also honored in 2010 with the Silver Medal Award, the highest award given to an architect from AIA Western Mountain Region for their contributions to the region.
World’s 4th Tallest Building Completed in 2009: Fentress is the designer of the world’s 4th tallest building completed in 2009—Arraya Tower in Kuwait City, also the tallest in Kuwait.
Curt Fentress was born “between two wide spots in the road -- Summerfield and Oakridge, North Carolina” to a poor sharecropping family on a tobacco farm. His boyhood home was a sturdy two room log cabin with “outside accommodations”.
Fentress earliest memories are of playing in a sandbox in the shade of a large Umbrella tree. “I was an easy kid to watch. My grandmother was always hovering by that sandbox and I just built incessantly.” Fentress found his calling in high school where he gravitated to drafting courses. “I just ate up anything related to building - the teacher didn’t know what to do with me,” remembers Fentress, “I was through with the year’s drafting projects in two months - it gave me a clue as to what I was meant to do.”
In college, Fentress secured a summer job as a draftsman, but constantly lobbied to be allowed into the architectural division. Finally he was given his first design project: site adaptations for 23 Krispy Kreme locations. Curt Fentress graduated with honors in 1972 from North Carolina State University’s College of Design, School of Architecture where he received a Bachelor of Architecture degree.
After graduation, Fentress interviewed at the offices of I.M. Pei in New York city and won the job. “I went to work the next morning, Thursday, and put in 70 hours by Monday morning” Fentress remembers. It was at Pei’s office where Fentress first became fascinated with large scale public projects; “Many buildings at that time wound up being impersonal 50’s modernist boxes. I took it upon myself to battle to make these buildings more humanistic.”
Fentress went on to another New York based firm, KPF (Kohn Pedersen Fox) Architects, continuing his interest in large scale public and private buildings. KPF had an approach that factored in context as Fentress was finding his own distinctive voice.
Fentress went to Denver, Colorado as the KPF’s Project Designer for the Rocky Mountain Headquarters of Amoco in downtown Denver. Attracted by the natural beauty of the area, Fentress struck out on his own selecting Denver as the base for his new firm, C.W. Fentress and Associates with James Henry Bradburn. In 2004, Bradburn retired and, in 2007, the firm’s name was abbreviated from Fentress Bradburn Architects to Fentress Architects. Today, the firm maintains studios in Denver, CO, Los Angeles, CA, Washington, D.C. and San Jose, CA.
Fentress Architects became internationally recognized after designing the iconic DIA (Denver International Airport), known not only for its unique, white canvas peaked roof suggesting the snow-capped Rocky Mountains but also for its streamlined “curbside to airside” design and position as one of the “greenest” airports in the world. Fentress took a revolutionary approach to DIA by “flipping the building upside down” to create the largest canvas roof on any structure at that time – this has since become a much imitated architectural technique.
Fentress is known among students of architecture for his statement:
"I don’t begin with a preconceived notion of what a building should be – it is not a sculpture. I prefer to patiently search through extensive discovery until I find a seam somewhere, crack it open and discover the art inside." - Curtis Fentress
Those who have worked alongside Fentress over the years are familiar with his “patient search” – a meticulous discovery process that Fentress and his team follow in order to integrate the culture and character of the region into their project design.
Asked once, if the mark of a successful architect is great three-dimensional thinking, Fentress answered; “An architect must think in, at the very least, seven dimensions. Every decision has a dimension of time. Then construction and manufacturing enter in – how do the phases flow together. Money – where do you conserve, where do you splash to make a statement? You have to think wind loads -- many sorts of stress – structural, seismic and personal. All the while you must stay aware of the human experience you are creating.” Those interested in further exploring Fentress’ unique perceptions on architecture will find his Seven Touchstones of Design published in the book “Architecture in the Public Interest” Edizioni Press. See also Further Reading below.
Perhaps Fentress’ most noted observation on public architecture is the following: “The real art of iconic public architecture is getting people to see their own greatness in a building.”
Fentress Architects has been recognized as a pioneer in sustainable design since the early 1990s. The firm’s green practices were acknowledged first in 1993 with the Architecture and Energy Award for the Natural Resources Building in Olympia, Washington. It was the first project to ever set indoor air quality improvement as a goal at the onset of design, which established a standard for the industry. Fentress also designed DIA (Denver International Airport), one of the largest daylit facilities ever built. The firm’s sustainable design for the California Department of Education Headquarters Building – Block 225 created the largest LEED 2.0 GOLD rated building in the world, which became the second project in the world to achieve LEED EB Platinum in 2006. The majority of the firm’s licensed architects are LEED accredited professionals. Fentress recently ranked among the Top 25 Green Design Firms by Engineering News-Record magazine, a leading publication in the design and construction industry.
All our texts and many of our images appear under the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike License (CC BY-SA). All our content is written and edited by our community.