Curtis W. Fentress

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Curtis Fentress
AwardsMore than 400 Awards for Innovation and Design Excellence
PracticeFentress Architects
BuildingsDenver International Airport, Colorado Convention Center, Incheon International Airport, Arraya Tower, National Museum of the Marine Corps

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, UK.

Fentress' work on Denver International Airport, Incheon International Airport and his modernization of Los Angeles International Airport have garnered recognition 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.

Early history and education[edit]

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."[1] 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, Colorado, Los Angeles, California, Washington, D.C. and San Jose, California.

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.

DIA was voted the "Best Airport in North America"[2] and the fourth "Favorite American Architecture" landmark completed in the last fifteen years,[3] ahead of the Getty Center, TransAmerica Building and the Guggenheim Museum.

Fentress also designed Incheon International Airport in Seoul, South Korea, voted the World's Best Airport.[4]

Fentress-designed Incheon International Airport in Seoul, South Korea was voted "World's Best Airport" by Skytrax's 2009 World Airport Awards, a survey of 8.6 million international travelers.[5]

In May 2008, Los Angeles selected Fentress Architects to modernize LAX (Los Angeles International Airport), the fifth busiest airport in the world.

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.[6] Arraya is one of 14 high rises in Fentress' design portfolio in the Persian Gulf.

2009 Tourism Hall of Fame Fentress will be inducted into the 2009 Denver Tourism Hall of Fame. The Tourism Hall of Fame serves as the highest award for Denver's travel industry. Fentress designed three of the most important landmarks in Denver, transforming the skyline.[7]

Denver International Airport was voted "Best Airport in North America" the past four consecutive years. Fentress designed the Colorado Convention Center, winner of 18 design awards. Sports Authority Field at Mile High is the home of the Denver Broncos. Fentress is also the architect for the new Colorado Judicial Center adjacent to the State Capitol.[7]

Fentress is internationally recognized for his innovative design portfolio, which includes $26 billion of architectural projects worldwide. Designs by Fentress have been featured in more than 1,200 national and international articles and books, and have been honored with more than 400 awards and accolades for design excellence and innovation.[7]

Highest Award for Public Architecture: Curtis Fentress was honored in 2010 by the American Institute of Architects AIA Awards website with the highest award for public architecture, the Thomas Jefferson Award.[8][9] The Jefferson Award recognizes Fentress for "a portfolio of accomplishments that evidences great depth while making a significant contribution to the quality of public architecture."[10] In the last 18 years since the Jefferson Award was first bestowed, only seven architects have been recognized in the 'private-sector architect' category.[11][8][9][12]

Curtis Fentress was inducted into the Colorado Business Hall of Fame by Junior Achievement-Rocky Mountain and the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce in 2017.

Architectural approach[edit]

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.[13]

— Curtis Fentress, FAIA, RIBA

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's 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."



Government Buildings[edit]

  • California Department of Education Headquarters, Sacramento, California, USA
  • City of Oakland Administration Buildings, Oakland, California, USA
  • Clark County Government Center, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
  • Sacramento City Hall, Sacramento, California, USA

Office Buildings[edit]

  • One South Church, Tucson, Arizona, USA. Original designs called for a pair of twin towers; one tower was completed in 1986, while construction on the remainder has been on hold indefinitely.
  • 1999 Broadway, Denver, Colorado, USA




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.

  • More than 60% of Fentress' projects under construction or completed in 2009 were LEED certified or pending certification.[16]
  • 2003 LEED Gold 2.0 award for California's Department of Education Headquarters Building, which received Platinum certification in 2006 by the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system. It was featured as a case study in the Fall 2009 issue of High Performing Buildings.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Direct Fentress quotes takes from interview series conducted from June 2008 to May 2009 by Andrew Cleary for "The Patient Search" project.
  2. ^ Business Traveler Magazine's readers' survey, for four consecutive years, 2005–2008.
  3. ^ As reported in an American Institute of Architects (AIA) survey conducted by Harris Interactive, 2007
  4. ^ Airports Council International's (ACI) Passenger Quality Survey of 200,000 world travelers every year for five years, 2005–2009
  5. ^ "Skytrax World Airport Awards". 2009-06-09. Archived from the original on 2013-08-05. Retrieved 2012-04-16.
  6. ^ "CTBUH website". Retrieved 2012-04-16.
  7. ^ a b c "Denver Press". Archived from the original on 2012-05-27. Retrieved 2012-04-16.
  8. ^ a b "AIA Jefferson Award recipients". Retrieved 2012-04-16.
  9. ^ a b "AIArchitect website". 2009-12-18. Archived from the original on 2012-02-19. Retrieved 2012-04-16.
  10. ^ "AIArchitect This Week | Three AIA Members Honored with 2010 Thomas Jefferson Awards". 2009-12-18. Archived from the original on 2012-02-19. Retrieved 2012-04-16.
  11. ^ "The American Institute of Architects – Recipients of the Thomas Jefferson Award for Public Architecture, Awards". 2011-12-13. Retrieved 2012-04-16.
  12. ^ "Silver Medal Award". Design Team Information. Archived from the original on 2011-10-02. Retrieved 2011-07-05.
  13. ^ "Curtis W. Fentress Quotes :: Quoteland :: Quotations by Author". Quoteland. Retrieved 2012-04-16.
  14. ^ "Travel & Leisure website". Retrieved 2012-04-16.
  15. ^ "Travel & Leisure website". Retrieved 2012-04-16.
  16. ^ "The 2009 Architect 50: Our First Annual Ranking of Top Architecture Firms – Architects, Business, Sustainability". Architect Magazine. 2009-07-27. Retrieved 2012-04-16.

Further reading[edit]

  • The Master Architect Series III, Fentress Bradburn Selected and Current Works (Australia, The Images Publishing Group Pty Ltd., 1998)
  • Curtis Worth Fentress (Milano, Italy: L'Arca Edizioni spa, 1996)
  • Fentress Bradburn Architects (Washington, D.C.: Studio Press, 1996)
  • Gateway to the West (Australia, The Images Publishing Group Pty Ltd., 2000)
  • Millennium, Fentress Bradburn Selected and Current Works, Images Publishing, 2001
  • Architecture in the Public Interest, Edizioni, 2001
  • Civic Builders, Wiley-Academy, Great Britain, 2002.
  • National Museum of the Marine Corps, North Carolina State University College of Design Publication, 2006
  • 10 Airports — Fentress Bradburn Architects, Edizioni Press, 2006.
  • Portal to the Corps, Images Publishing, 2008
  • Closed Mondays, Elizabeth Gill Lui, Nazraeli Press, 2005
  • Touchstones of Design [re]defining Public Architecture, Images Publishing, 2010
  • Public Architecture: The Art Inside, Oro Publishing, 2010
Newspaper/magazine articles
  • "Civic Minded Centers," Facility Manager, August/September 2006
  • "The Seoul Experience: Incheon International Airport," Airport World, summer 2006
  • "Airport Architecture Taking Flight," International Airport Review, July 2001
  • "Humanistic Architecture Yields Economic Benefits," Passenger Terminal World, June 2004
  • "Airport Architecture: a blueprint for success," Passenger Terminal World, May 2004
  • "Los Angeles International Airport: Designing a 21st Century Gateway," Architecture Technique,(Chinese Edition) May 2009
  • "Making an impression: Raleigh-Durham International Airport's new Terminal 2 celebrates the airport's role as a gateway to North Carolina," Airport World, Dec/Jan 2009 (UK)
  • "Outside the Box: Contemporary Convention Centers," Urban Land Institute, February 2009
  • "Civic Icon," Passenger Terminal World, November 2008 (UK)
  • "Los Angeles International Airport redesign images unveiled," Building Design, December 9, 2008 (UK)
  • "Fentress Architects, Incheon International Airport, Seoul," l'Arca, May 2008 (Italy)
  • "Designed for passengers: RDU," Passenger Terminal World, November, 2007 (UK)
  • "Active Service: Theatre of War," Museum Practice magazine, Spring 2007 (UK)

External links[edit]