Bathroom contest causes stink
A contest to design new public restrooms in Aspen has generated something of a stink.
Some local architects are expressing their frustration with the city’s competition for the design of a new restroom and maintenance facility at Wagner Park. At least two of the four firms involved in the contest have sent letters to Jeff Woods, city parks director, to complain about broken rules that have compromised the fairness of the design contest.
According to the letters, one firm broke the entry rules by submitting a separate, 3-dimensional model of its proposal. In addition, the architects said, public input into the process was not envisioned as part of the competition, and though the jury panel has not yet made a final decision, it now knows the identity of the firms associated with the entries. It was supposed to be an anonymous competition.
“I think this is an important building – we would like to be the architect for this project,” said Richard Klein of Alstrom Klein Design Group. “We’re pretty frustrated with how things are going.”
The judging panel met last week and made a tentative selection from among four entries, according to Woods, who was out of town. The group will meet again Friday in hopes of finalizing its decision.
In the meantime, the entries are on display in the Sister Cities room in the basement of City Hall. The judges decided to display the designs for public input and will review the public’s comments, according to a letter from Scott Chism, parks planner, to the four entrants. The entries are on display through Thursday.
Chism was not available for comment yesterday.
“All four entries had strong merits, but the judging team felt that none of the design concepts fully hit the mark,” said Chism in his letter. The judges, including city staffers, a private designer and members of the Wagner Park Design Task Force, will reconvene Friday and schedule follow-up interviews with selected entrants on Oct. 3, according to the letter.
Public comment was not part of the competition as the city outlined it for the participants, said Scott Lindenau of Studio B. Neither was the ability to submit a 3-dimensional model, which “wasn’t really fair,” he said.
The competition rules distributed to the entrants call for a 24-by-36-inch graphic, which may incorporate a simple 3-dimensional model, attached to a foam board, plus an 8.5-by-11-inch design concept page.
Three of the entrants stuck to those parameters; one firm submitted the graphic, the concept page and a separate, large 3-dimensional model.
Word is out that Willis Pember Architects submitted the expanded entry and that it’s the one the judges favor.
“So much for anonymity, which is supposed to be part of the project,” said Pember yesterday.
But he defended use of the model to more clearly communicate the elements of his firm’s design.
“It sounds to me like it’s poor sportsmanship, rather than any inherent unfairness,” he said. “No amount of overpresentation can win if the design stinks.”
The complaints about the extra model are “legitimate,” Woods said, “but that was not, I believe, the criteria for what was chosen.
“The jury can make a decision even if somebody has broken the rules,” he said.
In their letter to Woods, Klein and partner Sven Erik Alstrom have asked that Pember’s nonconforming entry be removed from the public display and judging, or that the firm be limited to the 24-by-36-inch board for its display. In addition, the firm has asked for a second jury, made up of all new members, to rejudge the designs.
“We don’t want a Band-Aid on this. We want a whole new jury,” Alstrom said.
Said Lindenau in his letter: “Amongst the architectural community, there is a great deal of mistrust and lack of faith with this process at this time.”
The city announced the contest in July, indicating it would pick three firms and award each of them $1,000 to submit site-specific designs. The winner would likely receive a contract to develop architectural and construction documents, the city said.
The designs were to include restrooms, storage space, an announcing overlook for events in the park, an information kiosk, a stage/backdrop for performances on the adjacent pedestrian mall, public telephones and picnic spots.
The number of participants was expanded to four because four firms came forward with intriguing ideas, Woods said. “We wanted to give them a shot through the design process,” he said.
Along with Pember, Alstrom Klein and Studio B, Palomino Barth Architects is a contest participant.
None of the submitted designs may ultimately be built, according to Woods, though the judges plan to pick a firm through the contest.
“The process here is to pick the team that can build a facility that the community is going to be happy with,” he said.
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Max Weintraub has been senior curator at the Aspen Art Museum since January 2019.