A design for controversy

Published:

Critics of the design for the planned public safety building on Second Street werent much appeased last week after meeting with Florida architect Keith Reeves.

Local architect Jamie Wigglesworth and historic preservationist Scot Walters in particular are critical of the stacked design of the building and its horizontal windows. They had submitted to Reeves suggestions for changes in the design they believe make it more suitable for the historic area of South Frankfort.

Reeves, however, adopted only one of their suggestions a wall separating the buildings parking area from the sidewalk and street. He insisted the design is in keeping with standards developed for such buildings in the aftermath of the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

The building is, then, the bunker its critics have accused it of being.

It is important to remember that not all public buildings in this captal city are built of marble and granite, with towering columns and classical pediments. The Capital Plaza complex is very much 1960s modern architecture, and the YMCA and John Watts Federal Building look as if they could survive a frontal assault by a tank unit. The Human Resources Building on East Main is itself mainstream 1970s architecture, and the new Transportation Building on Mero is 1990s post-modern in many aspects.

The aesthetic problem with the public safety building design is that it is utterly general and could fit nicely on any street corner in Florida or Montana and probably already does. Apparently, nearly $10 million and perhaps $600,000 or more in architects fees dont buy much in the way of design distinction.

Reeves says a delay for redesign would cost an additional $900,000, and Mayor Bill May Jr. is adamant about moving the project ahead.

At this point, the cost of starting over again in designing the building is probably too high.

In the future, however, local officials should learn from this experience and either open up the design process to a competition to get the best design possible or turn to architects more closely in tune with the community and its historic structures, old and new. They also should avoid springing a bunker on an unsuspecting public and insist it is too late to do anything about it.

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