CSU Spur Campus Brings Together Complementary, Yet Distinct, Themes: Vida, Terra, Hydro

March 8, 2022

Ben Blanchard, Julie Zurakowski

Building Dialogue Quarterly, Colorado Real Estate Journal


The following is a excerpt from the March 2022 Building Dialogue Quarterly by Colorado Real Estate Journal.

Less than 3 miles north of downtown Denver, the National Western Center is an iconic local institution, rich in history and strongly connected to the region’s Western heritage. Visible off the northern edge of Interstate 70, the landmark Livestock Exchange building stands at the epicenter of the NWC, long serving as a primary regional hub for livestock trade. This building’s immediate surroundings are rapidly transforming into Colorado State University’s new Spur campus, a free, year-round public learning destination. Three highly innovative and complementary yet programmatically distinct buildings form the foundation for Spur, each providing unique immersive learning experiences for visitors. Vida, designed by Clark & Enersen, is now open and is leading innovation in animal and human health. Terra, designed by Anderson Mason Dale Architects, focuses on food and agriculture and will be complete this spring. Hydro, designed by Hord Copland Macht, is scheduled for completion the fall, providing a home for cutting-edge water research.

While each of the buildings is unique in purpose and mission, they were conceived collaboratively as one interconnected visitor experience. The Spur campus will provide field trip opportunities, summer camps and other public services to the community. The projects blend seamlessly into the unified, highly active public realm of the overall campus, with each building being responsive to its location and functionality, while complementing one another in materiality and scale. Material palettes honor the site’s history and legacy with a modern interpretation, and all three buildings are highly transparent at ground level, activating the public spaces and programs housed within each facility.

As an all-seasons destination, CSU Spur will also host entertainment, symposiums, community events, retail, dining and art, offering something for every visitor. The campus has taken a truly immersive approach to commissioned artwork, featuring eight large-scale permanent installations showcasing artists from around the world. Each piece celebrates and amplifies the cutting-edge research and learning opportunities hosted on campus. Spur also holds sustainability as a core value, given the profound impact of energy and water use on the Colorado economy as well as the larger Mountain West region. Each building employs a wide range of sustainable design strategies in service of achieving LEED Gold certification. The NWC has employed an ambitious districtwide approach to energy and water systems, investing in a long-range view that enables the campus to grow toward net zero energy and water use over time.

Spur Terra – Urban Agriculture

Located at the epicenter of the National Western Center’s transformational agribusiness redevelopment, Anderson Mason Dale Architects’ design of Spur Terra furthers CSU’s incredible programmatic mission of global impact in food and agriculture at the nexus of urban and rural communities, history and innovation. Terra integrates research, outreach and education into a single immersive environment, providing an interactive place for multigenerational visitors to learn from educators, researchers and industry partners. It celebrates and showcases unparalleled opportunities for urban agriculture.

Designed as an interconnected “discovery landscape,” science and technology are displayed openly to demonstrate approaches and methods to the community. Diverse programs associated with food and agriculture tell the story of modern innovation while connecting visitors to where their food comes from. Educational spaces focus on experiential K-12 programming, and the Agricultural Discovery Center provides rich, interactive educational exhibits for students of all ages. A teaching and culinary kitchen supports local small businesses, and food labs provide unique research opportunities for small entrepreneurs in food product development. A series of outdoor garden and terrace spaces, both at ground level and on the rooftop, promote outdoor education and demonstration, teaching community members how to safely grow, prepare and cook their food. The building will feature several one-of-a-kind agricultural environments: service laboratories for plant and soil testing, controlled-environment grow chambers and the transparent, gabled rooftop greenhouse visible from I-70.

Sited at the primary gateway to the Spur campus, Terra’s design celebrates innovation and technology while connecting with the history and pragmatic spirit of the NWC. Terra dramatically ascends northward toward the primary intersection, marking a visitor’s arrival with a glowing beacon to modern agriculture. As the building elevates vertically, inspiration is drawn from the highly technical and delicate structural forms found across today’s modern agricultural landscape. Textured wheat- and barley-toned brick masonry and glass fiber-reinforced concrete panels ground the building and express agricultural patterns and hues. Wood-toned soffit assemblies introduce warmth and connect the building with the history of wood structures in the agrarian landscape and at the National Western Center. Natural zinc wall panels express the precision and beauty of equipment, machinery and technology dotting agricultural vistas and evoking an identity of innovation.

The building’s vertical posture culminates at a dramatic rooftop terrace space elevated to capture sweeping views across the entire campus, westward toward the Front Range and southward toward the Denver skyline. The Agricultural Discovery Center occupies this highly transparent, prominent corner, celebrating the building’s educational mission and creating a unique identity rooted in food and agriculture. Ground-level glazing provides indoor-outdoor connectivity, engaging passersby in the rich narrative of food and agriculture innovation. Spur Terra is scheduled to open this spring.

Top Image Credit: CSU System

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