Yazdani ponders topographical dilemma

Posted: Thursday, January 20, 2005

Iranian-born architect Mehrdad Yazdani, an artist with paintings in the New York and San Francisco museums of modern art, has a reputation for illustrating how public buildings can be both functional and beautiful.

In Las Vegas, his award-winning Lloyd D. George United States Courthouse, an eight-story geometrical complex dominated by a 160-foot pillar, sits across Las Vegas Boulevard from the very-modular, very-1960s Foley Federal Building. The juxtaposition, he might say, illustrates where government has been, and where it could go.

"Alaska has the rare opportunity to really find, through architecture and urban design, a new definition of what a state capitol can be," Yazdani said. "In the last few years, and certainly in the last couple of decades, we've gone through refinements of the relationship of people to government. The neo-classical structures that you see in other state capitols go back to the old Romans and Greeks, and some of those are not relevant representations of what this country is about."

The Yazdani Studio of Cannon Design, based in Los Angeles, has worked on numerous public and civic buildings for states and municipalities. Its goal in Juneau is to create a design that encompasses the history, landscape, climate and culture of Alaska, while remaining "open, accessible and inviting."

"The community must feel connected, or feel like they're affecting their senators and their legislators," said team member Kristina Feller. "Architecture can promote that. It can certainly enhance that."

The Yazdani team is known as a leader in "green architecture," the use of sustainable design concepts. The group hopes to incorporate light and views into a civic campus that connects with adjacent public buildings and the city's plans for the waterfront and any potential civic center development.

"Since the Oklahoma bombing, the issue of security is extremely important," Yazdani said. "Does that result in a bunker, a solid building that protects the occupants but disconnects itself from the city? Our solution in Las Vegas was an invisible security, and a building that is open, has a lot of glass. You can see your representatives. When a building has that kind of individual accessibility, people are more inclined to go in."

"Here, the (State Office Building) atrium gets used for various events because it's covered and has plenty of light," he said. "It's great to step out and look into views. When the building becomes more accessible, it becomes more linked to the community."

Telephone Hill, with its sudden change in topography and its firm bedrock foundation, will play a big part in that connection.

"The topographical challenges are also its greatest asset," said team member Mary Margaret Jones. "We would find a way to use those challenges, and then using bridges, piers, overlooks and open spaces to connect to the surrounding neighborhoods. The (Telephone Hill) side of Main Street is dead, and the lower-level developments could address Main Street coming back to a commercial life."

"We think it's one of the most wonderful locations in Juneau for a state capitol in terms of its visibility, its connectedness to the various parts of town, and the opportunity to weave various parts of the city together through the design solution," Yazdani said.

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