Architecturally, 2010 will go down as the ambitions of the year count as much as the success of brick and mortar. It was a rare moment when big ideas got us talking about architecture in Colorado, as well as the handful of beautiful buildings that somehow opened up in the midst of a painful economic downturn.

Ambition is the most impressive part of Kim Day, the boss of Denver International Airport, to stare at the naysayers and invite revered Spanish designer Santiago Calatrava to make another icon on our busy runway. And ambition is at the root of Christo’s reactivated plan to hang 5.9 miles of translucent cloth over the Arkansas River near Salida.

Both projects are both architecture and art – international attention grabbers – and we would be lucky if they actually happened.

High hopes and confidence in the new also gave reason to appreciate several of the buildings completed in the past year. The architect Michael Brendle of Denver’s RNL design took a great opportunity and considered what an office building with its green, syncopated chess board called the 1800 Larimer could be. It was the city’s most talked about structure of the year.

At the same time, Spire, which finally opened its doors in the summer, relied on the ability of our region to see itself as a modern metropolis and not as Fort Denver. The fate of high-rise buildings across the West may depend on whether or not their condos sell.

And with such confidence, those projects that lacked ambition stood out like a sore thumb. Or in the case of the 45-story Four Seasons Hotel, which today avoids the fourth-tallest skyscraper in the city center, like a very long, aching thumb.

No doubt 2010 had its problems. The construction business suffered badly. But there were plenty of reasons for design enthusiasts to celebrate. Among them:

Lindsey-Flanigan Courthouse

West Colfax Avenue near Fox Street

Architect: klipp

Signature: an angular glass facade

The biggest salvation of 2010. The local company klipp took on the design after the renowned Steven Holl left the project and went boldly ahead to create a self-actualized home for the 21st century city courts.

Regional headquarters of the Federal Criminal Police Office

East 36th Avenue near Syracuse Street

Architect: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill

Signature: The waterfall-shaped concrete tape that flows over the entrance

The FBI’s gleaming Colorado hub, a blue-and-green glass block on the edge of the Stapleton neighborhood, added a stylized sophistication to a groundbreaking new urban neighborhood that can seem a little too cozy.

Boulder County Fire Training Center

Off the Diagonal Highway near 51st Street

Architect: Roth + Sheppard

Signature: A huge red roof wedge

The best proof that buildings should aim high everywhere. Of course, it takes an enlightened civic unit and a capable design company to turn an 18,000-square-foot shed into a show stopper. Roth + Sheppard is AIA-Denver and AIA-Colorado company of the year.

Denver B bike rack

Different places

Architect: Designed and built using Boulders Crispin Porter + Bogusky advertising and Louisville’s kiosk information systems.

Signature: That ubiquitous capital letter B.

These gray luggage racks stocked with candy red bicycles strike a balance between polish and utility, and make getting into a two-wheeler look both inviting and practical. The racks were versatile enough to fit in a rough downtown corner or in front of a fancy store on Cherry Creek.

1800 Larimer

18. and Larimer Strasse

Architect: RNL Design

Signature: Multi-tiered metal glass panes randomly layered on the outside of the black glass

Xcel Energy’s new, 22-story headquarters is so advanced that we may not get it in the years to come. But we will never stop trying. Cheers to the risky developers.

tower

14th and Champa streets

Architect: RNL Design

Signature: It’s all in shape, 41 stories long and slim.

In any other city, this could just be another glass tower. But in an inner city where so few skyscrapers have risen lately, this is a brilliant reminder that we are indeed a modern metropolis and that downtown is the place to be.

Hotel and train station

(Map) Denver International Airport

Architect: Santiago Calatrava

Signature: Two huge wings of hotel rooms and the sacred interior that would flank them

Calatrava built his reputation on a personable kind of beauty and elegance, and his design for a mellow and sprawling 15-story hotel and transportation hub would provide a place for impressive landings and graceful exits at DIA.

Lindsey-Flanigan Courthouse

West Colfax Avenue near Fox Street

Architect: klipp

Signature: an angular glass facade

The biggest salvation of 2010. The local company klipp took on the design after the renowned Steven Holl left the project and went boldly ahead to create a self-actualized home for the 21st century city courts.

“The Architecture of Patterns”

by Paul Andersen (of Denver! Ndie Design) and David Salomon (WW Norton, $ 24.95) David Carson designers

Signature: Smart words, well served

Whimsical, thoughtful, and surprising, this softcover book is a work of art in itself thanks to its intelligent observations and clever design. The authors find the patterns of the 21st century – in weaving mills, on manhole covers, on the underside of sneakers – and argue them as an inspiring starting point for building planning.

McNichols Building Rehab

Denver’s Civic Center Park

Architect: Albert Randolph Ross, 1910

Signature: A row of ferns crowning the classic exterior columns, a subtle sign that something interesting is happening inside

This long-shuttered Greek rebirth treasure was brought back to life for a month as the host of a whimsical art exhibition in the heart of the even more whimsical America’s Biennale in Denver in July. The courage and potential of the once great Carnegie Library was evident to all. The show only lasted a moment, but it created a lasting legacy for the Denver Cultural Affairs Office under Erin Trapp.

Posh

1430 Larimer St.

Designer: Shop owners Alex and Cindy Ollig work with their creative and concept guru Luc Hughart

Signature: Simple Comfort, Safe Style

This timeless and versatile gift shop blends seamlessly with Denver’s timeless and versatile advertising strip. The 6 month old shop seems to have been there for a century. Interior details like old street lamps, tape wall drawings and oversized pendants blend gently into the inconspicuous merchandise – you can’t tell whether something is for sale or whether it is decoration. A perfect network all round.