Breaking ground on Populus: America’s first carbon positive hotel

A collaboration between real estate developer Urban Villages, and architecture and urban design practice Studio Gang has started construction on Populus, a hotel in Denver Colorado that plans to be both an architectural landmark and a milestone for sustainable travel…

Populus by Studio Gang will be america's first carbon positive hotel

Real estate developer Urban Villages is at the forefront of sustainable hospitality at a time when consumers around the world are recognising and standing up to environmental challenges that impact our lives and economy, and travellers are increasingly wanting to positive difference to the places they visit. To design Populus, Urban Villages partnered with architecture firm Studio Gang, due to their shared commitment to sustainability and inspiring approach to creating spaces that connect between people with each other and their environments.

Slated to open in late 2023, the 265 key hotel will include a rooftop restaurant and bar offering spectacular views of the mountains and city skyline, distinct retail destinations and event spaces, and an iconic Aspen tree-inspired design by Studio Gang. Urban Villages is developing Populus to be carbon positive thanks both to its sustainable design and construction features as well as a substantial ecological effort offsite, including an initial commitment to planting trees that represent over 5,000 acres of forest – offsetting an embodied carbon footprint and removing additional carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

aerial view of Populus hotel in Denver with a view of the roof garden and terrace

Image credit: Studio Gang

“To truly impact our earth, carbon neutral developments are no longer enough. Populus will be entirely carbon positive starting with its construction and continuing through to its ongoing operations while acting as a vibrant social centre for locals and visitors,” said Grant McCargo, Urban Villages’ Co-Founder, Chief Executive Officer, Chief Environmental Officer, and Partner. “Not only will Populus be the country’s first carbon positive hotel, but it will be a stunning architectural landmark by Studio Gang that will forever alter Denver’s skyline and contribute to the architectural legacy of the entire Mountain West.”

With real estate’s impact on the environment intensifying, and buildings in the United States currently accounting for 45 per cent of greenhouse emissions in the country, which includes the development of new hotels, Urban Villages is responding to this immediate crisis, in part, with Populus, which will surpass its carbon footprint by implementing green practices derived from extensive research and scientific studies. Urban Villages has calculated the carbon footprint of Populus and made a long-term commitment to be carbon positive. Instead of purchasing untraceable carbon credits as many others do, Urban Villages is accomplishing Populus’ carbon positive status by proactively planting and growing trees to make a tangible impact.

Populus will also minimize its carbon footprint in the development stage using low-carbon concrete mixes, high-recycled content materials, maximising structural efficiency, using fewer finish materials, minimising waste, and more. This considers every stage of the building process, beginning with the origin of materials, as well as the carbon footprint of creating and transporting them. Populus’ ongoing operations will also be carbon positive, so that the hotel’s overall use (operational carbon) along with every guest stay will be offset in addition to the building’s embodied carbon.

interior render of guestroom design at Poplus in Denver by Studio Gang

Image credit: Studio Gang

Inspired by nature, Studio Gang’s design for Populus was informed by studying the characteristic patterns found on Colorado’s native Aspen tree – Populus Tremuloides – an instantly recognisable symbol of the state. The building’s distinctive windows echo the ‘Aspen eyes’ while also designed to perform efficiently in Denver’s varied climate. The texture and rhythm of the façade is optimised to the program inside, with ‘lids’ over each window extending slightly outward to shade the interior of the building and improve energy performance. These ‘lids’ also neatly channel rainwater to keep the façade of Populus looking continually clean and bright.

street view of Populus hotel in denver with design inspired by leaf shape

Image credit: Studio Gang

“Improving the resiliency of our cities has never been more urgent—and it includes reducing carbon emissions as well as strengthening community bonds,” said Jeanne Gang, founder of Studio Gang. “We’ve designed Populus to be a new destination in downtown Denver that combines these environmental and social ambitions. With its distinctive aspen eye windows, the building cultivates a lively pedestrian scene in its neighbourhood, while simultaneously connecting you with views of the natural wonders beyond the city limits. The windows and façade are also tuned for high environmental performance—self-shading, insulating, and channeling rainwater—as part of the architecture’s larger green vision.”

On the interior, the windows changes in size to reflect the public or private nature of various spaces, with windows up to 30 feet high at the building’s base that frame entrances and views into the lobby and amenity spaces. Inside the guestrooms, hotel guests have immersive mountain and city views through windows, which also become occupiable, transforming into seats or desks that further connect occupants with the outdoors. The result is a stunningly beautiful, sustainable design that is deeply connected to nature and its surrounding neighbourhood.

Main image credit: Studio Gang