Alaska Deserves a Real Capitol Building, Not an Egg
By Marianne Cusato
Alaskans disillusioned with the winning design selected
for the new state Capitol building in Juneau need to be heard. The building
designed by Morphosis, an architecture firm based in Santa Monica, California,
if built, will be a real mistake.
Rich with history and a diverse population, Alaska is arguably the most
beautiful natural environment in the world. Yet, in my opinion, the design
selected for the new Capitol building bears no relation to this Great
Land or her people.
A civic building, should be "of our time." But, does this mean it has
to be an unrecognizable form? Why can't a building be both of our time
and beautiful? Is it too much to ask to be able to find the front door?
Alternate vision for the Alaska State Capitol
Building. Design by Marianne Cusato.
As an architect, I feel our profession has an obligation to be sensitive
to the land upon which we are building. I can think of no other instance
when the responsibility is greater than in the design of a state Capitol.
The Morphosis design is not sensitive to either the land or the heritage
of the Alaskan people. Instead, its egg-like design seems appropriate
only for the reason that it is egg on the face of all Alaskans.
There are several questions that should be considered:
How does the building represent the history of Alaska? Does it represent
the character of the place?
Is it a building that works for people in today's world? Does it fit into
the city? Does it fit into the landscape? What will it feel like to walk
down the street next to this building? How will it feel to work in the
building? On a sunny summer day could you eat your lunch in a park next
to this building?
Proposed plan of Alaska State Capitol Building
and grounds. Design by Marianne Cusato
How will it age? How quickly will it be dated? What will we think
about this building in 10 years? 20 years? 100 years? What will our grandchildren
and their grandchildren think about the building?
Alaska's capitol should be rewarded with a building no less grand than
the other 49 that have stood the test of time in our country. The building
should do more than meet the operational needs of the state. It should
respect the heritage of the original inhabitants of this land, as well
as those who ventured north to settle in this Last Frontier.
Architecture is not a fashion statement; it is a civic statement. As an
exercise in graphic design, the Morphosis proposal is impressive, but
as a building it lacks reason and purpose. This is not a matter of traditional
verses modern. It is about beauty and dignity.
Since I am an architect, I do not feel it is productive to criticize without
offering a solution, so I have sketched an alternate vision for the Capitol.
My design is based on two fundamental principles:
A building should look like a building The siting of the building is as
important, if not more important, than the design of the building itself.
The buildings I have drawn were inspired by traditional precedent, both
in regard to Alaskan heritage and the rich heritage forged by the other
49 state capitols built over the last 200 years. The domes were influenced
by designs of the many Russian churches throughout the state.
Side view of the proposed Alaska State Capitol
Building. Design by Marianne Cusato
I was born and raised in Alaska. Although it is not my home today, I take
pride in my past and consider myself an Alaskan. I write this letter in
hopes of making a difference in a place that I truly love and, perhaps,
to give a voice to those people out there who are unable to express their
views in a drawing.
Please think carefully about this building before allowing it to proceed.
Be sure this is, in fact, the legacy that you want to leave for future
generations in this Great Land. If the Morphosis design is not the vision
you feel is appropriate for your state Capitol, please stop it from being
built. We will be responsible for the results.
New York (3rd Generation Alaskan, born and raised in Anchorage and Kenai)
is the author of the forthcoming book, "Get Your House Right: How
to Avoid Common Mistakes in Today's Traditional Architecture," with
Ben Pentreath, Richard Sammons and Léon Krier. She lives in New
York and is a consultant for developers, builders and architects who are
designing and constructing traditional buildings. A faculty member at
the Institute of Classical Architecture
& Classical America, she frequently gives lectures on traditional
details and design.
A Capitol Building for
Alaska. Website of the design competition for the Alaskan state capitol
building, showing the finalists and the selected design.
Comments about the Alaskan state capitol design may be sent directly to
the Alaskan State Capitol Planning Commission at firstname.lastname@example.org.
of Capitalism: State Capitol Building Histories. The rich and often
colorful architectural history of the American state capitol buildings.
City Comforts Blog: Not
An Egg: Discusses why the Cusato design is superior to the Mayne/Mense
design, with comments pro and con.
Anchorage Daily News: 'Traditional'
architects challenge winning Capitol design. "An international
group of traditional architects sees public dislike of the avant-garde
designs for a new Alaska Capitol as the doorway to a revolution."
of the front page on which this story appeared is available.
Anchorage Daily News: Too
slow to call in: An editorial cartoon about the debate.
Anchorage Daily News: Letters to the Editor: Readers
take issue with modernistic design of new Capitol
Juneau Empire, April 21, 2005: Mayor
halts his plans to build capitol. "People don't particularly
like the designs. There are strong editorial oppositions and quick criticism
by some legislators."