Guest Editorial, September 26-28, 2012
We are part-time residents who arrived back in Park City this past weekend. I was a bit surprised to read about the opposition to the design for the Kimball Art Center. As an architect from Dubuque, Iowa, who has worked in communities with strong historic preservation efforts, I’ve noted this before, and I would like to offer a few thoughts based on my experiences.
First, Park City and Summit County are to be commended for the strong effort they put forward in so many critical aspects of planning. Among the most important are land use, maintaining visibility corridors to mountains, and historic preservation. All of these things are essential to maintaining the wonderful character and sense of place embedded here.
Second, the Kimball Art Center is to be commended for the exemplary design competition that it conducted during the past winter. My firm participated in several design competitions globally, but never in one so well conceived and executed. We attended the presentations made by the shortlist of five firms at the Egyptian Theatre last November. The credentials of all five firms were strong. In my opinion, the solutions presented by those five firms did not disappoint, as they were not only responsive to the program needs of the Kimball, they were creative and added to the energy of Park City and Old Town.
A point raised by those opposed to the design in the September 15-18 Park Record is that the proposed design does not comply with the Land Management Codes, and the Park City Guidelines for Historic District and Historic Sites. While that may be, I think it is important that this project be viewed as a unique and appropriate one-time opportunity to make an exception to those codes and guidelines. While it is critically important that the private commercial structures on Main Street adhere to those codes and guidelines, the Kimball is different in that, while private, it is a quasi-public facility, presenting a unique opportunity to place an iconic project in the heart of Park City. In my experience it is quite common for communities, particularly communities that have strong historic preservation districts, to make an exception for such projects, and they are all the better for it. Think for a moment about the strong historic character in these communities and the likely opposition that surfaced to the listed projects:
Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim Museum
The Kimball is presenting Park City with a similar opportunity. They selected a design by one of the world’s premier architects when they selected BIG. This is an opportunity for Park City that should not be missed. A creative contemporary design will add to the richness of historic Main Street in the same way the Vietnam Memorial adds to the richness of the historic architecture of the Mall. You may recall the resistance to the emotionally moving, shining black wall that won that competition. While there are no columns and pediments, this unique memorial has found its place among them and in the hearts of its visitors.
In closing, I offer this caution: Great design does not come from committees. As this project goes forward, it is important the Kimball and its architect be given reasonable latitude to pursue their design objectives. That is not to say they should be permitted to proceed unconstrained and without oversight, but simply to suggest, when push comes to shove on critical design decisions, that the community be cautious before imposing revisions to the design. In The Park Record article, Kimball Executive Director Robin Marrouche promised continuing opportunity for community input. That is important and seems well underway.
Gordon Mills is an architect with more than 40 years in practice. Prior to his retirement at the end of 2006, he was CEO and chairman of a 300-person architecture-engineering-construction-management firm that practiced across the U.S. and in Asia. In retirement he continues to do some consulting in architecture and design.
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