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My Turn: Let's have a great new building in Juneau

Posted: July 25, 2011 - 7:56pm

ECI/Hyer Architecture & Interiors of Anchorage is designing a new State Office Building to fulfill existing needs in Juneau. Could Juneau people have more input in this planning?

The city of Juneau has the most dramatic setting of any city in North America — on one side a deep water channel that supports the transit of great ships, whales, other sea mammals, wild swans, wild geese and spectacular Arctic nesting birds in migration — and on the other side a high mountain cliff face affording views of magnificent waterfalls that vary daily depending on recent precipitation, with nearby resident mountain goats, black bears, soaring bald eagles, tumbling raven stunt fliers. And in the winter wild wind blown snow and spectacular snow avalanches.

Though buildings in Juneau afford glimpses of these wonders no tower has been designed to present the full grandeur of the site. I would like to see a tall functional building topped with an attractive, spacious reading room/coffee shop presenting a 360-degree view of our magnificent setting.

The reading room could be set up as a cultural center where school classes could visit. Ruth Allman, much loved raconteur, could elucidate the entire history of Alaska looking down Gastineau Channel from her porch at the historic Wickersham House — George Vancouver mapping and scattering names all over our coast more than 200 years ago, John Muir writing colorful descriptions that are still in print, the arrival of Alaska’s first gold rush in 1880, followed by the stampede to the Yukon that led to the exploration and settlement of much of northern Alaska, the development of the Alaskan Capital followed by events of World War II and so on.

More than one million visitors come up Gastineau Channel each year on tour ships, government ships, private yachts and fishing boats. Their first view of Juneau is of a community in an amphitheater backed by a spectacular, vegetated cliff. We have the opportunity to add a dramatic symbolic building to this scene. Would a tall office building patterned after one of Alaska’s historic light houses — symbolizing safety and guidance — enhance this scene? Could such a building go in space near the Douglas Bridge thus not obscuring views from other structures?

Could this be a project worthy of support by all Alaskans? Showing off the grandeur of our state and the role of Southeast in the exciting history of northern settlement can benefit the image of the entire state.

The designers of this building have an exciting opportunity and challenge.

• King is a 47-year resident of Juneau.

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