Architects take a look at Telephone Hill

35 designers tour site of proposed capitol as others join in by phone

Posted: Wednesday, November 17, 2004

One of 40 people who toured the Alaska Capitol on Tuesday with cameras and notebooks in hand might be the one to design its replacement.

Since Juneau's Capitol Planning Commission announced a design competition for a new capitol in early November, the project has attracted architects from Alaska and well beyond. Some from Norway, England and Spain have registered in the competition.

In an informational meeting on Tuesday, 35 architects came to Juneau to meet the competition's advisers and visit the proposed downtown capitol site, Telephone Hill. Thirty-five more architects from as far as Germany participated in the meeting by phone.

Many are attracted by the project's challenges.

"Telephone Hill is a beautiful site. The views from that site are gorgeous in all directions," said Erskin Rhoades, lead architect of Design Alaska in Fairbanks. "But there are going to be interesting design challenges because of its grade and elevation."

Frederick Wilmers, an architect from New York, said Telephone Hill is a prominent location for the capitol.

"The challenge is how to bring the public into the building and connect the building with other state office buildings," said Wilmers, director of Rafael Vinoly Architects.

The site is not the only challenging part of the project.

Architects have to follow a tight timetable.

Designers need to submit their portfolios Dec. 1. A nine-member jury will pick eight designers who will be eligible to enter stage two of the competition. Their names will be announced Dec. 15. The eight designers will submit their team descriptions and other documents by Jan. 7. The jury will elect four of the eight designers to enter the competition's final stage.

Competition adviser Don Stastny said the architects should incorporate openness of the government into their design.

"Some of the problems with the current Capitol is that the public space is really small," Stastny said. "The galleries of the chambers are not big enough."

The architects saw that during their tour. The 40 people had trouble squeezing themselves into the chamber galleries.

Mic Steinmann, another competition adviser, said, the capitol should not just be a place where the governor and legislators go to work.

"This building is for the public," he said. "When the Legislature is not in session, the building should be used for other public events."

Capitol Planning Commissioner Sarah Lewis said the building should not only fit the political context but also the context of Juneau. Lewis encourages the architects to consider the various elements that make Juneau special, including the Tongass National Forest, tourism, cultural diversity and its mining history.

Architects said they look forward to the competition but they expressed concerns about the funding.

Juneau plans to issue revenue bonds to finance the project. But the Legislature must agree on a long-term lease of the building from Juneau so the city can use the lease payment to cover the bond debt. It is uncertain whether the Legislature will support it at this point.

"I hope the design will be compelling enough to make the Legislature support it," said architect Wilmers.

• I-Chun Che can be reached at ""

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