Sunday, November 26, 2006

Denver Justice Center - Finally, Peer Review

Two pieces in this morning's paper (The Denver Newspaper Agency running both the Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News, operating under a JOA--Joint Operating Agreement) provide interesting contrasts--with regard to perceptions of its purpose--to the recently established peer review group that will contribute to the review of the design for the Denver Justice Center. You remember the Denver Justice Center? You remember Steven Holl's exit from the process?

Susan Barnes-Gelt, writing in this morning's Post, notes that " an attempt to reinforce confidence in the ability of local architect Brian Klipp to lead the courthouse design, the city last week assembled a peer review team to critique the project as it moves through it design stages..."

An editorial in the Rocky Mountain News provides that "James Mejia, the project's policy manager, said panel members [of the peer review group] should have an interest in assisting the design process, rather than merely critiquing it."

It's that word "critique" that seems to bother Mister Mejia. You may recall that it is most likely the unfortunate exit of Steven Holl from the project was Mejia's operational and political demands as opposed to the design and architectural passions of Holl. To quote Holl: "The director of the project under the Mayor effectively rejected our design. In fact, he says that in a sentence in one of the recent newspaper articles. Here is the problem focused. How can a city which invested so much effort in selecting an architect put the decision for the architectural design in the hands of those who were not partial to the ideas of the selection committee and not sympathetic to an intense work of public architecture?"

Barnes-Gelt quotes architect and Golden Triangle leader Dennis Humphries: "The Golden Triangle [area in which the Denver Justice Center will be built] neighbors made that suggestion three years ago [peer review], but it took the national Urban Land Institute site review team to persuade the city it was the right thing to do. I believe outside experts will be more candid in their criticism than a local review committee might be."

Barnes-Gelt reports that the peer review group will consist of three national and three local architects. Bruce Kuwabara, a partner with Toronto's Kuwabara Payne McKenna Bluberg; John Ellis, a principal with Solomon ETC in San Francisco; Laurie Olin, who teaches landscape design at the University of Pennsylvania.

Barnes-Gelt opines that, "If these three experts can help harmonize the relationships of the buildings in the justice center campus to one another, to the neighborhood and to the city, the extra time and money will be a wise investment."

What Barnes-Gelt didn't say was that it may be more difficult for the peer review team to get past Mister Mejia's aversion to that darned cumbersome, democratic concept embodied in the word "critique," than it is to provide a final plan for the Justice Center complex.

Mister Mejia is, by the way, a political appointee of the mayor. And, let it never be said I even suggested he's a wee bit out of his element here. Nope! Never said it!


Anonymous said...

what now, we need to worry about the self-esteem of this klipp fellow! funny. meija works for the Mayor and is likely just doing the Mayor's bidding on this project. george, fill us in on, if you can, on what, exactly, peer review entails in the archectural field. is it weak and advisory? is it cover for meija and the mayor to do what they want to do anyway? medical journal articles are peer reviewed. but archetechture is very subjective.

George said...

Anon: Desperately hoping that the concept of a "peer review" group will provide what George Hoover articulated:

"...From what I have been able to glean about the inner workings of the Justice Center project, the problem appears to lie neither with Denver's infatuation with internationally acclaimed architects, nor with a design unresponsive to Denver's needs. It lies with the inability of the individuals on this particular design team to work together as colleagues.

"...Ultimately, the greater good for our city as a whole can only be achieved if we as individual citizens are willing to be truly present for one another, to listen carefully to the heart of meaning inherent in one another's words and actions, to tell the truth without judging or blaming those around us, and to be open to and supportive of how things turn out - even though we may favor and hope for a different outcome.

"It's in this spirit that I suggest Mayor John Hickenlooper convene a small advisory group of experienced, diverse, flexible, committed and creative people who have been involved in projects similar to those that Denver has successfully built in recent decades.

"Such a group would assist him with the creation of a notable new Justice Center by finding a course of action likely to resolve the present short-term problem in a way that does not compromise Denver's long-term vision for excellence."

Than, again, this may prove to be yet another Hickster pirouette (...another opening, another show...) to simply redirect the heat away from those who fumbled this thing from the get-go. Political appointees with no experience in architecture, construction engineering, the intensity of design/build projects are, yes, still political appointees (kitchen cabinet, if you will) and it's doubtful the Hick will do anything to rectify that good-ol-boy network. The Hick, after all, must save face without giving anyone the impression that he's doing so.

Hope springs eternal.

George said...

Six paragraph: "Than," should read, "Then." Sorry. Thick fingers last night.