The Park Record editorial, February 15-17, 2012 | ParkRecord.com

The Park Record editorial, February 15-17, 2012

Kimball Art Center's bold choice faces tough challenges

The Kimball Art Center board did not pick the safe bet when it chose the towering design submitted by the Bjarke Ingels Group for the center’s major expansion project. Ingels’ design calls for an 80-foot-high twisting tower of stacked railroad trestles capped by a "sky gallery" at the corner of Main Street and Heber Avenue. The announcement already has local tongues wagging – some in outrage and others in admiration.

But the selection should be cheered by all for its ambition and commitment to thrusting Park City’s reputation as a cultural center onto the international stage.

It is important to note that the design as currently depicted was submitted as part of a contest in which the architect had no direct contact with the art center, a fact that both Ingels and Kimball Art Center Director Robin Marrouche are quick to emphasize. In fact, during his presentation to the jury last week, Ingels said he expects an "avalanche of modifications."

That said, we believe the Kimball has a challenging road ahead in order to ensure the design complies with or at least complements the city’s Old Town Historic District.

According to Ingels, whose firm is based in Copenhagen and New York, the design was based on an iconic structure from the city’s past – the Coalition Mine Building, which stood prominently on Park Avenue until it burned to the ground in 1982.

But it is unlikely that those who see the building when it is completed in 2015 will make that connection. Instead they will see an imposing edifice that does not look like anything else on the street.

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Which, if you are a small art center in a world-class destination resort town, could be a good thing.

For the last three decades the Kimball, whose low-profile building still reflects its modest origin as a garage, has struggled to draw in foot traffic from Main Street. The powerful new design, which shifts the entrance from Park Avenue to Main Street, will certainly draw attention from the top of Main to its lower reaches.

Whether it becomes a mere novelty and a notch on a celebrity architect’s belt or enhances the Kimball’s identity as a community art center remains to be seen.

Last summer, when the art center asked locals to jot their hopes for the new art center on a giant chalkboard, we don’t remember anyone asking for a signature piece of architecture. They asked for studios, for gathering spaces, and more opportunities to see and share art.

As the Kimball executives and the architect refine this exciting, but potentially controversial design, we hope they will keep those priorities in mind.