Urban Villages, a leading real estate developer and environmental steward, recently began construction on Populus, the first carbon positive hotel in the United States. Opening in late 2023, the innovative, 265-room 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 AD100 architecture and urban design practice, 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 equivalent to nearly 500,000 gallons of gas and removing additional carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
“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 center 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.”
“We’ve created Populus to be a catalyst for change and to meet the increasing preference by today’s consumers to travel responsibly, experience places in an authentic way and connect more deeply with nature and each other,” said Jon Buerge, chief development officer and partner at Urban Villages. “An earth emergency demands that we strengthen our influence, and Populus is just the beginning.”
Revolutionary Strides in Sustainability
Further, real estate’s impact on the environment is dire and intensifying, with buildings currently accounting for 45% of greenhouse emissions in the U.S.–and this includes the development of new hotels. In fact, the world will add the square-footage equivalent of New York City every 35 days. 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 minimize its carbon footprint in the development stage using low-carbon concrete mixes, high-recycled content materials, maximizing structural efficiency, using fewer finish materials, minimizing waste, and more. This considers every stage of Populus, 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.
Populus will also follow U.S. Green Building Council codes and is targeting LEED Gold certification.
Architecture and Biophilic Design
“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 neighborhood, 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.”
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 recognizable 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 optimized to the program inside, with “lids” over each window extending slightly outward to shade the interior of the building and improves energy performance. These “lids” also neatly channel rainwater to keep the façade of Populus looking continually clean and bright. 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 rooms, 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 neighborhood.
Populus is a distinctive hospitality project destined to become an energetic new social center in downtown Denver. Featuring a daring yet tranquil design, the 13-story hotel is comprised of 265 modern guest rooms and dynamic social areas, including a signature rooftop bar and restaurant offering unobstructed views of the mountains, city skyline, and Civic Center Park.
Upon entry, guests will be greeted by an eclectic mix of eateries with the ability to evolve from a morning café to an evening wine bar. This unique, high-design space will function as a lobby without ever looking or feeling like one. A grand staircase extends the activated street-level experience to the curated second floor—a flexible area that can accommodate large business meetings, co-working areas, weddings and celebrations, or pop-up events. The top floor will feature a series of hospitality-style suites, bookable for private social or corporate events.
Still, the most coveted gathering space will be the signature rooftop bar and restaurant, which will enliven the neighborhood and entice a captivating mix of locals and visitors to watch, savor, and connect. The public rooftop will feature an expansive garden terrace planted with regional vegetation, which serves as a lush place to socialize and a visual representation of Populus’ green ethos while naturally cooling the building.