Four visions for Alaska's next capitol

Finalists' designs unveiled in Juneau, to tour the state

Posted: Friday, February 18, 2005

After three and a half weeks to create a design, four architectural teams revealed their visions of a new Alaska capitol for the first time on Thursday, at the Baranof Hotel.

A nine-member jury selected the four teams from a field of 43 applicants, which entered a capitol design contest launched by Juneau's Capitol Planning Commission last year. Mayor Bruce Botelho spearheaded the project in an effort to secure the capitol in Juneau. He hopes to dedicate the building by 2009 to celebrate Alaska's 50th anniversary.

All designers who made the final cut addressed transparency and accessibility.

Thom Mayne of Santa Monica, Calif., envisions a capitol with a dome, whose glazed interior is etched with words from the state's constitution. Inspired by the glaciers, the two silver layers of the building flow to Juneau's waterfront.

The design of Moshe Safdie of Somerville, Mass., suggests a dome with two steel and glass structures that house the two chambers of the Alaska Legislature. A wood partition could be lifted between the chambers for a joint session.

Mehrdad Yazdani of Los Angeles created a design in which certain zones of the site would represent the five regions of Alaska. The landscape plan features outdoor and indoor gardens dedicated to each of the regions.

Richard Dallam and Steve McConnell of Seattle designed a capitol with two chambers protruding out of the hill. Between the chambers is a central forum as a civic gathering place. Rain gardens course through the main hall.

Juneau Assembly member Merrill Sanford, a member of the Capitol Planning Commission, said each designer worked with Alaska professionals and listened to Alaskans' ideas.

"One of the citizens said the building should scream that I am your capitol," Sanford said. "I think each of them has achieved that."

The four designs will be displayed in Fairbanks on Feb. 21 and Anchorage on Feb. 22. The jury will consider citizens' input and hear presentations from the designers Feb. 28. The jury will select a final winner March 1.

At their first public viewing of the contest entries in Juneau, design professionals and residents expressed diverse views on the proposals.

Paul Voelckers, an architect for 25 years, said he is not convinced by any of the four designs.

"There are strong aspects to all of them but how the pieces - the inside and outside aspects of the building - hold together needs some work," Voelckers said. "Telephone Hill is a challenging site. To put a lot of facilities on such a small site is a daunting task. The four designs could create the danger of creating too strong a presence."

James Bibb, a local architect, said it is inspiring to see other people's interpretations of the Alaska capitol.

"I was born here so you don't have that objectivity," Bibb said. He said he likes Yazdani's design best because of the meandering stairs that lead to the building. "It feels most Alaskan and organic."

Jeff Reitter, a state employee who took a look of the design during his lunch break, said all the designs seem to belong to the 22nd century. He said the NBBJ design reminds him of the Star Trek movies.

"You can see the Enterprise crash on the rock," Reitter said.

Catherine Fritz, chief architect of Juneau, said all the designs can be considered a piece of art.

"Some people will have an immediate reaction. But it takes time to appreciate them and understand them," Fritz said.

To see more sketches of the finalists' concepts, go to

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