Architects willing to adjust capitol plans

Jury to announce a winner of the design contest today

Posted: Tuesday, March 01, 2005

The four architectural teams selected to design Alaska's new capitol said they are willing to take citizen's suggestions and modify their projects.

Since they revealed their concepts on Feb. 17, the four teams have received harsh criticism from the public. Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho, who spearheaded the design competition, has faced mockery and skepticism not only from some legislators who don't want to keep the capital in Juneau, but also from many local residents.

The four teams presented their designs to a nine-member jury Monday. The jury will choose one team as the winner and announce its decision at noon today at the Juneau Assembly chambers.

Richard Dallam and Steve McConnell of the Seattle-based NBBJ said instead of having the legislative chambers jutting out of Telephone Hill, they might ground one and pull the other back. They said they might move the location of a sail beacon at the west side of the building.

"Connection is the essential human experience," McConnell said. "We want to create a place where the public has a genuine opportunity to engage with their legislators."

Moshe Safdie of Somerville, Mass., said although people have made fun of the two glass cylinders he proposed, he believes the two structures adequately addressed two central issues of the project.

"What is the image and character for the seat of government for the 21st century? How does the design resonate with the image of Juneau?" Safdie said. "We set out to satisfy the yearnings but we don't want to reproduce what is familiar and comfortable."

Aware of people's desire to have a dome, Safdie created what he calls "a ying-and-yang dome," which sometimes looks separated and sometimes appears joined, depending on the viewers' angles.

Mehrdad Yazdani of Los Angeles, who created a fluid transparent glass capitol, readily answered all the technical questions posed by the jury, ranging from how to hold the structure together to how to clean it. Struck by the similarity between the shape of the site and Alaska, Yazdani divided the building into five regions of Alaska.

"To design it, build it and make it stand is the easy part," Yazdani said. "To open people's mind and reach a consensus is the challenging part."

Thom Mayne of Santa Monica, Calif., created a giant shimmering dome as the central piece of his capitol.

"A dome is the singular way of signaling a capitol," Mayne said. He said he might consider moving the legislative chambers under the dome.

"Some people call the dome an egg or a nuclear reactor," Mayne said. "People have to understand that architecture is a process. You cannot do it in two weeks. If I have more time, it will be integrated."

How the architects presented their works showed their different personalities.

NBBJ demonstrated great team spirit. Dallam and McConnell finished each other's sentences and bounced ideas back and forth. Safdie sat at ease in his chair, masterfully explaining his design philosophy as if it were a lecture. Yazdani presented his design systematically from the origin of his concept to its materialization. Mayne showed so much enthusiasm that competition adviser Don Stastny had to remind him that he was running out of time.

Resident Rosemary Gruening said all the designs gave her a sense of hope for the future of Alaska and Juneau.

"Any of the four designs can set a tone for where we go and how we further develop our town," she said.

Marshal Kendziorek, a member of Juneau's Capitol Planning Commission, said he would be thrilled to have any of the four designs, but he doesn't think the Alaska Legislature will be willing to fund the $100 million project.

"The majority of the people are expecting a more utilitarian building than an exciting design," he said.

Juror Edward Feiner, chief architect of the U.S General Services Administration, asked each team how they would revise their designs based on the public's input they have received.

"We want to make sure the designers will modify their designs based on the dialogue," Feiner said. "The best design is a true collaboration between the designer and the client."

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