Tuesday, October 10, 2006

From Libeskind to Holl - A Passion for "World Class"

I need not repeat my dislike of the Libeskind miscreation; the Frederick C. Hamilton wing of the Denver's Art Museum. The reports on the interior of the freakish Libeskind ghoulish juts are mixed. One report likened the interior to an amusement park's fun house. Others are quite ecstatic about the au courant "art for art's sake" frigidly stark interior of the place. I'm told the exhibits within are, on one hand, themselves quite ghoulish (one exhibit, I'm told, was created using the artist's blood); while, on the other hand, there are quite wonderful pieces, both modern and traditional. Yes, I'll visit the Hamilton wing once the crush--and it was a crush of, I believe, over 34,000 folks--have had their look -see.

Wondering now if I had had $20Million to contribute to the construction of the wing, would my name be up there instead of Hamilton's? Probably not. I would have packed Libeskind's suitcase for him and sent him back home before committing a dime. But, then, I didn't have $20Million and, well, the rest is history.

Steven Holl is/was the architect chosen to provide Denver with its next "world class" structure, a new Justice Center that will be just down the road a piece from the Libeskind mess. If you want to take a look at Holls vision, you can visit his website and download a little presentation on his vision for the said Justice Center. It's a large file, but--I thought, at least--quite worth it. Holl's vision pleases. It would have been a truly classy addition to Denver's rapacious appetite for "world class" status. (This "world class" thing is, for me at least, amusing. What does "world class" mean in practical terms? Another Paris? New York? This is Denver, folks. And, I'm quite fond of cows and the accoutrements associated with cows, thank you very much.)

Back to Holl.

Seems Holl has pulled out of the design for the Denver Justic Center. Holl--designated by Time Magazine in 2001 as America's best architect--explains:

"The project managers for the city of Denver effectively rejected this design and did not permit the collaboration necessary for great public architecture," according to the posting. "Without an advocate for public architecture on the city management side, the city's process did not allow Steven Holl Architects to move forward on the project."
James Mejia, Mayor Hickenlooper's Special Assistant tasked with coordinating the entire Justice Center project responded (with Holl's partner-in-charge answering) :

Mejia bristled at the statement and vigorously defended the city.

"The design that he showed came with five options, none of which had our entire program in budget," he said.

Mejia said Holl's proposal was about $30 million over budget. Unlike museums and libraries, Denver's courthouse will have no post-budget private fundraising, he said.

"We can't do that for a courthouse," he said. "We just can't do it."

Chris McVoy, who was partner in charge of the project for Holl, said Denver officials came to Holl's offices in New York on June 26 and liked the preliminary design.

A month later, he said, "they said there was a broad consensus."

McVoy said representatives of the firm visited Denver on Aug. 10, and Holl presented further developments on the design, which he said was over budget but not by the amount the city is claiming.

The city asked to see a draft of the plans on Aug. 31 and for a presentation in Denver on Sept. 5, McVoy said.

"That's when the city said it was unacceptable and to come up with a new design," he said.

That's as far as it got, McVoy said. "We didn't feel it was a collaborative process."
Well, long story short, Holl has quit the project and, according to the Rocky Mountain News (from whence the above quotes have come):

The city of Denver will pay nearly $700,000 to an architect who quit the justice center project last week, but it will be unable to use much of his work.
Whoops! Story worth following. Indeed, will Denver ever become a "world class" city? Ever?


Anonymous said...

Look what happens when instead of assigning an EXPERIENCED engineer or architect to be the City's Project Manager, and letting the EXPERIENCED hands in the Dept. of Public Works handle the project, the Mayor's Office grabs control of it, and hands it over to a political hack who IS NOT AN ENGINEER OR ARCHITECT and who probably has not even built a doghouse in his life. No offense to Mr. Mejia, but I submit he's in over his head here.

Every damn administration at least since Pena has tried this approach and every damn time it's blown up in their faces. You'd think they'd learn.

Anonymous Secundus said...

Anonymous nailed it. City agencies have at least several dozen very talented folks whose expertise is never fully utilized, never consulted in any more than a perfunctory manner. There seems to be very often a certain antipathy against the City workforce, notwithstanding what the Hick and his dream team say for public comsumption. Of course though it's also complicated. A new administration comes in and can't get rid of the deadwood. Can be very frustrating.

But another point: What is this thing about being "World Class"? The Denver metro area is in the mid-twenties among cities. We are lucky to be a second tier convention destination. New York, Chicago, LA, San Francisco, etc. are "world class". Denver is what it is. Nothing more, nothing less. We are at the top of the heap between KC and Las Vegas, as long as you exclude Dallas and Houston. So, the point is an inferiority complex at the highest levels of government. I don't know, am I off target on this?

George said...

No, you're right on target. Let me just provide some comments from Susan Barnes-Gelt that appeared in the September 29th edition of the Denver Post: "Denver, it's time to build a city!"

"This week, Denver celebrates the grand opening of the city's newest architectural icon: the Art Museum's Daniel Libeskind-designed Frederick Hamilton Wing. And there are several more iconic structures looming over downtown's horizon.

"And the city awaits big-ego-architect Steven Holl's scheme for the new courthouse at the downtown Justice Center campus.

"Our charm bracelet is full. Now Denver should pause and attend to the strong, durable links necessary to weave this urban eye candy into a coherent, human-scaled whole.

"It's time to build a city. The opportunity is front and center with the imminent selection of the master developer for Denver's Union."

Um, I thought we already had a "city." My mistake, Susan. Sorry. (Shall we talk about who's got the "ego" issue?)