Zaha Hadid's proposal for the new Elk Grove Civic center is facing opposition due to it's radical design. I like it.
A rendering for a civic center in Elk Grove, Calif., designed by the architect Zaha Hadid’s firm. It has been described as alien or like a squid.
By ROB TURNER - Published: March 31, 2011
ELK GROVE, Calif. — The firm owned by the internationally renowned architect Zaha Hadid is in high demand these days, designing projects in Hong Kong, Milan and Seoul, not to mention the London Aquatics Center, the swimming arena for the 2012 Olympics.
But one of the firm’s smaller clients, the city of Elk Grove, population 153,000, recently conjured far different kinds of aquatic life when members of the City Council and the public chose words like “squid,” “octopus” and “starfish” to describe the latest renderings for a proposed civic center.
Other descriptions were more alien than aquatic. One councilman described the architectural study as “an animal from a different planet,” while the mayor, Steven Detrick, said he was expecting “to hear the theme from ‘Star Wars’ to start playing” during the presentation. None of these comments were intended as compliments.
But it wasn’t always this way.
As the economy inches back toward stability, some cities are beginning to dust off their pre-recession playbooks and dream big again. And few cities were moving as quickly before the financial crisis as this Sacramento suburb, which the Census Bureau proclaimed America’s fastest-growing city in 2006.
It was then that Elk Grove, incorporated in 2000, held an international design competition to create a master plan for a $159 million civic center complex on 78 acres. The project was to include a performing arts center, library, youth sports complexes, convention space and more. The council hoped that an iconic piece of architecture could vault the young city to higher heights, à la Bilbao in Spain and its Guggenheim museum.
And so, this suburban community where City Council agendas have included discussions on topics like how to deal with rampant beaver dams, chose Ms. Hadid, a Baghdad-born, London-based architect known for soaring biomorphic shapes that make Frank Gehry’s work look tame.
The mayor was thrilled that they had landed such a big fish. “We hit a home run on this one,” gushed James Cooper, the mayor at the time. “The citizens are so excited. The big thing is to let her be an architect and not stifle the process. We want her to think of something different. This is a new chapter in Elk Grove’s life.”
It was a chapter, though, that ended with the recession. And the idea gathered dust until last summer, when the city resumed its relationship with Ms. Hadid’s firm to fashion the center’s master plan, the process in which the scale and proximity of the structures is determined, though the actual design of individual buildings will be decided later.
But one important factor had changed since she was first selected. Three of the five City Council members were new, and one of the most vocal opponents of the Hadid selection in 2006 was now mayor.
So perhaps it was no surprise that the council members did not attend any of the meetings — some of which included very positive comments from the public — over the nine months of planning until the final presentation of the master plan last week. It was listed as an agenda item three hours into the regular Wednesday night council meeting, after a long debate on rowdy bowling alley patrons.
The stormy evening began with roughly 70 people in attendance, but dwindled to about 17 — two of whom were earnestly knitting — by the time the Hadid project architect, Bozana Komljenovic, took the podium. The architect showed two versions, both consistent with Ms. Hadid’s bold style, and explained how she had arrived at them.
Only two people spoke, including one woman whose voice shook with anger. “Who is going to pay for this monster?” she demanded between references to the “squid” and “starfish” and “sci-fi” imagery. “This is not Elk Grove.” Her only compliment was that “at least they put some landscaping between the tentacles.”
“This is more like something I’d see in Dubai than Elk Grove,” added Mayor Detrick who, like the other council members present, was struggling to see past the design to the master plan itself. The lone voice of support came from Mr. Cooper, now the vice mayor.
City officials hope to break ground on the first part of the complex next year.
The only agreement reached by the council last week was that the “starfish” design had the preferred density, which left more room for softball and soccer fields. Ms. Komljenovic defended the work the next day. “They asked us to provide an iconic element that would create a draw from outside of Elk Grove,” she said. “I assume that’s why we were brought in to begin with.”
One unabashed fan is the city’s planning director, Taro Echiburu, who expects to start a new competition for the design stage this summer and hopes that Ms. Hadid’s firm will participate. “I loved the designs,” he said. Informed, however, that the mayor said he was unlikely to support any project proposed by Ms. Hadid’s firm, Mr. Echiburu insists that he still hopes for the best. “I’ll be disappointed if this ends up as Anytown, U.S.A.,” he said.