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ElGobernador

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  1. Architects Are Selected By a Federal 'Bake-Off' By ALEX FRANGOS Staff Reporter of The Wall Street Journal From The Wall Street Journal Online In the parlor of a quaint Victorian hotel in Anniston, Ala., teams from five small architecture firms listened anxiously to the competition rules. Each team had exactly 11 hours to design this depressed Southern city's first significant new building in decades -- a $25 million federal courthouse. Such a high-profile commission could put the winning firm on the map. This "Survivor" for architects is part of a federal government program -- Design Excellence -- to improve the architecture of public buildings. It usually takes the General Services Administration, the federal government's landlord and developer, years to build a courthouse or other major buildings. Yet on a crisp December day, it picked an architect for such a project in the equivalent of a bureaucratic millisecond. The GSA used the same frenzied, one-day bake-off for much larger courthouses in Nashville, Tenn.; Austin, Texas; and Toledo, Ohio. The one-day competitions were created to help small firms, which can't spare big teams for several months to produce designs for typical architecture competitions. Whoever gets top nod from the jury, which judges the entries the day after the competition, usually gets to design the actual building. Old courthouse is architectural gem but unsuitable for today's needs. The competition rules are strict. "On your honor this is a paper-and-pencil competition only," Karen Bausman, a New York architect hired by the GSA to run the competition, says at the outset. While nearly all architects design on computers, the teams here are limited to colored pens and pencils, tracing paper and rulers. "Old school!" shouts out Craig Hodgetts, one of the older architects in the room, in delight. Each team knows that Ms. Bausman will collect its entry -- drawn on four 40-inch-by-30 inch presentation boards -- at 6 p.m. With the rules outlined, Ms. Bausman leads the 20 architects -- four on each team -- on a short walk to the building site, a single square block containing piles of gravel, a couple of aluminum sheds and a row of parked police cars. Across one street is a city park shaded with giant oak trees. Across the other is a rundown and shuttered train depot. The architectural squads -- three from the Los Angeles area, one from Chicago, and one from Atlanta, soak in the atmosphere. "It's time to turn on our antenna," says Mr. Hodgetts, principal of Hodgetts + Fung Design & Architecture, a Culver City, Calif., firm. The GSA picked the five firms for the final competition from a crop of dozens who submitted portfolios and relevant qualification documents. Anniston, located two hours west of Atlanta, sits in the foothills of the Appalachians. It has suffered in recent decades as a major Army base closed, textile factories fled and industrial pollution was discovered in its water supply. Locals see the courthouse as a chance to reinvigorate the city. The new courthouse will replace the current 1906 building, an elegant three-story marble-clad jewel box. Inside, conditions are unfit for working, says James Sledge, the presiding judge. Back at the hotel, the architects sequester themselves in their rooms, which they have transformed into makeshift studios. Beds have been removed and replaced with drafting tables. Teams brought their own art lamps for better light. Aerial photos of the site, given to each team, are pinned to the walls. The architects are stressed but invigorated by the pace of the work. "It's like getting fresh vegetables off the vine," Mr. Hodgetts says. "It's so rare for architects not to overmasticate ideas." Most of the teams begin the day talking through concepts and doing rough sketches. Then they start to prepare their final presentations, though many still have kinks to work out in their ideas. Architects in a one-day contest to get contract for a new courthouse in Anniston, Ala. By midafternoon, the floors are covered with wads of crumpled yellow and white tracing paper. The air smells of Magic Markers, uneaten pasta salad and sweat. Asked how things are going, Merrill Elam of Atlanta's Mack Scogin Merrill Elam Architects, replies: "I just need a little aspirin." Another team leader, Jeanne Gang of Chicago's Studio Gang Architects, retorts: "Ask us in two hours. We don't have time to think about it right now." Two hours later, at 6 p.m., as the teams scramble to finish, Ms. Bausman collects the presentation boards. Mr. Hodgetts's crew has just glued its sketches to the boards. The smell of spray adhesive and the rush to completion seem to make him giddy. "It's like sniffing glue in here," he says. Each team's drawings show a modern-looking building, most of them with hints of classical courthouses. Many include street maps of the area, emphasizing how the new courthouse could enliven the neighboring blocks. The next morning, a jury made up of two architectural writers and one practicing architect chose the winner -- Mack Scogin Merrill Elam Architects' boxlike vertical courthouse. The winning scheme was "highly original, satisfied all the criteria of a good courthouse and a good architecture," said Joseph Giovannini, a juror and architectural critic. "It was iconic, dignified and original without being an afterimage of a classical temple." Wolf Architecture, Malibu, Calif., came in second, followed by Hodgetts + Fung, Studio Gang and Predock_Frane Architects of Santa Monica, Calif. But it's not the jury's decision to make alone. A separate evaluation board made up of Judge Sledge, GSA representatives from Washington and Atlanta, and an outside architectural adviser met later that day to make the official selection. The evaluation board is meant to incorporate the jury's evaluation into a larger score card that also takes into account personal interviews with the architects and their overall portfolios. But in this case, the board effectively ignored the jury's rankings, did its own evaluation of the competition boards and chose the winner, three members of the panel said later. The new winner: Studio Gang, the team that came in fourth place with the jury. Two members describe the decision as unanimous, another as mostly unanimous. Judge Sledge says being able to look at the competition boards "gave us a chance to compare the answers we got in the interview and the portfolio with what we saw on paper." Casey Jones, of the GSA's Washington office says design boards were a good "informal benchmark" in their evaluation. Another member, Steven Davis, a partner at Davis Brody Bond in New York, said the panel discussed the boards "ad nauseam" before giving their own A through E rankings. Marilyn Farley, who oversees the program for the GSA from Washington, but who wasn't in Anniston, says it's usually clear from the presentation boards who the architect should be. "In this one, it sounds like there was a difference of opinion," she says. The selection wasn't made public until this past Monday -- and came as a surprise to the competition jurors, who were informed of it by a reporter. "I find it puzzling that they called a jury of experts and then don't take our advice or don't follow the process," said Deborah K. Dietsch, a juror and architecture writer. "I'm rather dismayed because we picked an excellent firm with experience." Speaking after finding out the jury's pick was overruled, Mr. Giovannini, the juror, called the jury's choice "clearly superior to the other contenders." In dozens of other similar competitions the GSA has held, the jury's top pick has gotten the commission every time but one. The competition aside, it's not clear if the courthouse will even be built. Congress appropriated more than $4 million to start the design and acquire the land. But the courts have yet to give the go-ahead. Ms. Gang says she was told to be prepared to wait two years for a contract. Mack Scogin, who was chairman of Harvard's department of architecture in the early 1990s, is philosophical about losing the commission to Ms. Gang, a former student. "I couldn't be more proud," he says. "One more mark for me
  2. I've known about Anniston's new federeal courthouse project for a while now, but what I didn't know was that it would cost $26 million! That has to be the single most expensive building in the city's history. And aside from a couple road projects, may end up being the most expensive project period. I can't wait to see renderings of this thing. It will definitely help out my small hometown.
  3. Chicago architects to design Anniston's new federal courthouse By Matthew Korade Star Senior Writer 02-02-2005 All their 140-plus years of architectural training had come down to this: Create a winning federal courthouse design within 24 hours or lose a potentially career-making commission. This was no reality TV show, but the work of the General Services Administration, manager of the federal government
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