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More Dogs on Main

The September 10, 2012, issue of The New Yorker has a long article about Danish architect Bjarke Ingles. It caught my eye because Ingles is the architect who won the competition to design the addition to the Kimball Art Center. In the article, the decision to enter the competition and winning the bid several months later, kind of bookend the profile of Ingles. Ingles has gained the station of a rock-star in architectural circles. He has outgrown Denmark and relocated to New York.

My frame of reference for Park City is still frozen in about 1970 in a lot of ways. I ski at Deer Valley, I made a good living working on projects there, and was involved in making Park City what it is today. But I still don’t completely believe it. Unless I’m actually standing there looking at Deer Valley, it’s about as likely for me to picture it with sheep grazing around the ruins of old mining facilities.

The same is true of Old Town, which was pretty much the whole town, with unpaved streets, some pretty decrepit buildings, and a lot of optimism that frankly didn’t seem well placed at the time. I guess that’s a natural thing, despite seeing and participating in the changes. I’ve got a nephew who was deeply involved in the space shuttle program. People relied on him to make critical engineering decisions. I still think of him as being about nine.

Anyway, it is always a jolt to see Park City mentioned in a context other than the ski industry. The New Yorker described Park City as "the ski town that hosts the Sundance Film Festival." They still identified it as "Park City, Utah." I suspect that when referring to Aspen, there is no need to identify the state. Maybe we’re still on the "B" list in that respect. But there it is, in The New Yorker, discussing the Kimball as if it were the Guggenheim or MOMA, and Park City in a way that sounds like we are culturally significant beyond skiing. The context is that anybody in the art world would know Park City, and that skiing was one of those things the arts would just have to tolerate.

The profile gives the impression that Ingles has a skyscraper-sized ego typical of all rock-star architects. The article quotes him as saying, "BIG (Bjarke Ingles Group) is not a service-oriented company that does whatever people ask us to do. We often give the client something they hadn’t imagined, but is still what they want."

The firm is a kind of loose place where, on Fridays after work, employees are encouraged to dress in costumes and "drink like Vikings." They are working on huge projects all around the world. The Kimball addition is like a phone booth compared to what they typically work on. If the Kimball were in any other town, no firm of that size would have returned the phone call. But this is Park City. They competed to get the job.

None of us had imagined an 80-foot tall IKEA project towering over the intersection of Main and Heber. Despite Bjarke Ingles’ major-league seal of approval, it’s not at all clear that it is what we want. The challenge with the Kimball design, he said, is "Can you do something new in Park City without being alien?" I’m sure there will be a lot of discussion about that in the coming months.

The project is in the earliest stages, and will spend months before the Park City Planning Commission and Council working out a variety of problems, not the least of which is that it is 80 feet tall in a zone with a 45-foot maximum height. But this being Park City, no rule is absolute.

There will be plenty of time to get into that. I’m still trying to get my brain wrapped around the idea that Park City, and more specifically the Kimball, are the linchpins of a 12-page article in The New Yorker. I’m just not used to seeing it in that way.

There is a "South Park" episode that does a nice send-up of Sundance. Last winter, the hosts of CNBC were arguing the merits of a stock, and one of them described his experience shopping at the T.J. Maxx store at the junction while on a ski trip here. Deer Valley is mentioned in "30 Rock" scripts, and the audience is expected to know what it means.

People who couldn’t find Utah on a map know Park City. Sundance, the Olympics, the reputation of the ski areas, particularly Deer Valley’s number-one ranking, and before long, we have Viking architects competing to do a project on Main Street.

In hindsight, I’m not completely sure that paving the streets was such a good idea.

Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.


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