When the Kimball Art Center chose to host a contest to create a design for its expansion project, the organization's leaders knew it was an unconventional approach. And when they selected the most radical entry as the winner -- one that proposed a tower nearly three times as tall as the allowable height on the parcel -- they must have known there would be resistance.
We hope, though, there is room for compromise.
The Kimball Art Center is one of the city's most treasured cultural institutions and, overall, we applaud its effort to push the architectural envelope. We also support the center's need for additional space for its growing slate of community programs.
But the proposal to build an 80-foot-high structure in the heart of Old Town is drawing well-deserved criticism. Unless the art center's leaders can prove the height is essential to its objective, they should modify the design.
This week, the Park City Planning Commission indicated it is unwilling to allow future height exceptions in Old Town. The commissioners are understandably concerned that bending the rules for one property owner would set a dangerous precedent that would compromise Old Town's strict guidelines.
The Kimball Art Center may still appeal to the Park City Council to accommodate the architect's vision. However, that would essentially send a message to other developers that the Land Management Code, which is supposed to preserve the city's historic character, is negotiable and the Planning Commission is no more than a paper tiger.
Unfortunately, the nature of an architectural contest encourages architects and property owners to disregard existing design guidelines in an effort to stand out among other contestants. However, in most contests of this kind, it is assumed that the winning design will be modified to accommodate local land-use guidelines.
The design, as submitted by Bjarke Ingels Group, has many impressive qualities. Its use of native railroad trestles, like those used at the Soldier Hollow Olympic venue, and bold modern features could contribute to a striking artistic landmark at the base of Main Street. But the height as currently proposed makes a defiant statement that runs counter to the scale of Old Town.
Certainly a world-renowned architect and a community-minded art center can find a way to mitigate that impact and still achieve the recognition and space that they need, and deserve within the Park City's vibrant historic district.