Laurence Aurbach writes:
Recently a winner in the Alaskan State Capitol Building competition was announced, a wan yet overbearing decon/avant garde/what-have-you creation by Morphosis and mmenseArchitects. Soon thereafter, Thom Mayne, the principal of Morphosis, won the Pritzker Prize.
Now the talented Marianne Cusato has designed a counter-project for the capitol building -- "Alaska Deserves a Real Capitol Building, Not an Egg" -- using the historic precedent of Russian civic buildings built in the 19th century. Cuasato is a 3rd generation Alaskan, born and raised in Anchorage and Kenai.
Cusato's proposal -- which she has offered as a private citizen -- is far better than the Morphosis design for several reasons.
First, it creates and orders its surrounding spaces into accessible, functional parks and greens. Those spaces provide a suitably grand setting for the state's most important civic structure. They relate the building to the street in a pedestrian-friendly manner and also mediate a difficult, steep site with graduated terraces.
Second, Cusato's design provides a more legible point of reference in the city fabric. It creates a focal point for the main approach to the site. It uses near/far layering and axes to establish a dramatic setting in relation to the background mountainous terrain. It creates a distinct and comprehensible landmark for the city and its skyline.
Third, the design conveys meaning. It connects to the nation's heritage of state capitol buildings, while also being uniquely Alaskan. It demonstrates a sophisticated understanding of classical and traditional proportions, composition, and ornament -- one that conveys elevated values of order, propriety, balance and responsibility. By drawing upon enduring principles of Western civic building design, the proposal avoids faddishness and instant obsolescence. It promises to remain proud, relevant and well-loved, far into the future.
Modernists will object that a tradition-based design is "not of our time." They argue that new materials and construction methods mean that only un-ornamented, machine-like designs with a high novelty factor can be authentic.
But does technological innovation require that we abolish all references to our architectural heritage? Did the Romans abolish columns and pediments following the invention of concrete? Did the architect of the U.S. Capitol abolish domes and cupolas following the invention of cast iron? On the contrary, those materials were used to take traditional and classical design patterns into new avenues of expression.
Comments about the Alaskan state capitol design may be sent directly to the Alaskan State Capitol Planning Commission at email@example.com
Cupolas of Capitalism: State Capitol Building Histories is a resource of state capitol building images from around the United States. Trivia question: Did you know that 40 state capitols have cupolas?