Capitol-design competition near

Planning panel's vision is that building should be prominent, enduring, dignified

Posted: Monday, October 04, 2004

Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho and the Capitol Planning Commission are about to move past 45 years of talk and draw a plan for a new capitol.

For the past nine months, Botelho and the Capitol Planning Commission - made up of Juneau Assembly members, state legislators and volunteers - have discussed how Alaska's new capitol should look.

The commission has developed a vision of the new building and is ready to solicit designers to execute that vision.

"Alaska's new capitol is our symbol of democracy," the vision statement says. "It should be prominent, enduring, memorable and dignified, yet convey democratic values. It should instill in all Alaskans a sense of civic pride and inspire confidence and respect for the democratic institutions housed within it."

The new capitol should also be designed for "the ages as one of our lasting cultural achievements, at once ceremonial, accessible and functional," the vision statement says.

The commission will announce a nationwide design competition in early November. The commission and the consulting firm it hires will select a nine-member jury to choose the design team. Seven of the nine jurors must be Alaskans, two of whom must work in the landscaping or architecture fields.

The commission will also set up a Web site for the public to submit suggestions.

"We want to engage all the state in the process," Botelho said.

The mayor said building a new capitol is necessary.

"The difficulty of the current Capitol is its lack of public space," Botelho said. "Depending on the hearing, people have to stand outside the chamber galleries. You cannot see all the legislators because the pillars block the sight. You cannot find a place to wait when you go to the legislators' office."

The current Capitol is a six-story structure built in 1929 as a territorial office building. The Egan, Sheffield and Hickel administrations all conducted studies on how to expand the current building or construct a new one. In 1984, Juneau donated $2 million, allowing the state to acquire the Telephone Hill land, where the new capitol would be built.

Alan Hantman, architect of the national Capitol, said in a letter to Botelho that it seems appropriate for Alaska to contemplate a new capitol that reflects the state's majesty.

"Perceptions of Alaska that come to mind for those of us living in other parts of the country are its immense natural resources, its vast land area, its natural beauty, and its hearty, proud and self-sufficient people," Hantman said in the letter. "Hopefully, your new capitol will reflect all of these great Alaska qualities."

Hantman said the biggest challenge in designing capitols is to strike "a right balance between the grandeur that people expect and deserve in their capitols and the utility of a modern facility."

"This is going to attract national attention because Alaska is the only state that doesn't have a capitol," said Maria Gladziszewski, city special projects officer. "We want to build democracy into the building."

What should a new capitol include?

The Capitol Planning Commission says a new capitol should reflect eight elements:

Encourage citizen involvement in government:

• Sufficient public seating in chamber galleries

• Unobstructed view from and of the floor

• Teleconference and video-conference equipment

Honor freedoms of speech and assembly:

• Steps, sidewalks and plazas in front of the capitol

• Power and cable feeds for the media

Incorporate a central space to promote community

• A place to display artifacts of history and culture

• A place for inaugurations, memorial services and holiday celebrations

Promote equality throughout the structure

• No segregated audience seating in the chamber galleries

• Main entrances and elevators open to the public

Incorporate a sense of transparency

• Grounds around the building open to the public

• Building maps, schedules and agendas available

Facilitate legislative deliberation

• Flat floor and wide aisles to encourage discussions

Articulate the separation of power

• Separate wings for the Legislature and the governor

Celebrate Alaska

• Use of traditional and indigenous elements

• Incorporate materials made in Alaska

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