Context. Such a simple concept, yet completely ignored in the newly revealed capitol designs. Downtown Juneau, a quaint jumble of buildings from the mining days and buildings that echo the architecture, has somehow evoked a vision of the next Guggenheim or Rem Koolhaus's Seattle library. It seems to me that as innovative as these designs are, the architects have forgotten the fundamental design element of allowing context to influence their design. Instead, they have allowed conceptualization and abstract symbolism to be the design drivers. These designs show a complete disconnect from the people, history, culture, lifestyle, image and landscape of Alaska.
Conceptual architecture has found public admiration in other major cities; however, it does not mean that this is appropriate or even original. These architecture firms are talented, but they seem more concerned on creating the next project for their marketing brochure than in actually designing something that is comfortable and dignified for the Alaskans. The designs are wanna-be Frank Geary designs that aren't innovative, just trendy. Being victims of design trends makes for a long and sad future of being stuck with an unappealing and expensive building for decades to come. After the hype wears off, will these buildings stand the test of time and timeless taste? These designs seem to stroke the architects' egos rather than look at complementing the existing vernacular vocabulary of Juneau and enhancing the surrounding beauty of the mountains, forest and sea. This would be great in New York City or Seattle. For Juneau, it's pretty over the top.
Innovation does not have to translate to exterior design, but can be throughout the interior spaces to create more light, functionality and better circulation. An innovative building doesn't have to look like a giant ant-head. New leaps in sustainable architecture for building systems provide ways to recycle and dispose of waste and water and provide interior spaces that enhance productivity. Taxpayer money would be better spent implementing these elements of innovative design rather than on a profound and strange exterior.
These designs don't even try and make it comfortable for any Alaskans. Bottom line is, Juneauites are the ones who are going to have to live with it. The new capitol building shouldn't just provide an interesting marketing picture for visitors and newspapers, but be a place of civic dignity that everyone can be proud of.
Jenna Egusa Walden
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