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City picks Pember design for

Aspen Times staff report

William Pember Architects was formally announced Monday as the winner of a design contest for new restroom facilities at Wagner Park.

The competition, initiated in hopes of producing some creative ideas for the highly visible facility, left a sour taste in the mouths of several participants who criticized the city’s handling of the competition.

Participating architects were left with the impression that the city was opening up the judging process to public input and that the judging panel knew the identity of the firm behind each design before making a final decision.

Pember’s use of a three-dimensional model, which some architects complained violated the rules established for the contest, was further cause for dissension.

“We didn’t handle how the announcement came about very well,” conceded Jeff Woods, parks department director.

The judging panel reached a decision without knowing which firm had designed which entry, according to Woods. The contest was then opened for public comment to help the city in refining the chosen design, he said. That was not communicated well to the participants, he said.

The guidelines for the contest, he added, allowed Pember’s use of a model, though Woods admitted the rules were not clearly worded.

All four firms selected to participate – Palomino Barth Architects, Studio B, Alstrom Klein Design Group and Willis Pember – ignored some portions of the guidelines, Woods added.

“Three teams ignored the 30-foot clear zone that was to be maintained between the mall and the park,” he said.

It was Pember’s design, not the model, that swayed the jury’s selection, according to Woods.

“It all came down to who had the best idea,” he said.

While the jury liked Pember’s ideas for providing a link between the pedestrian mall and the park, the firm’s design isn’t likely to be built as designed. The judges want to see Pember make some changes and incorporate some components of other designs that they liked, Woods said. There is no guarantee that the city will enter into a contract with Pember either, he said.

The city is continuing to accept public input as it refines the design. All four designs are on display in the Sister Cities room in the basement of City Hall. Public comment will be accepted until Oct. 16.

Firms were asked to design a new restroom facility and park maintenance storage space that will serve as the “gateway” between the park and the mall. An announcement platform for rugby games and other events, picnic spots, public telephones and a stage/backdrop for informal street performances were all to be part of the design.

Architects Richard Klein and Sven Erik Alstrom, who complained about the city’s handling of the contest, had initially requested that the entries be rejudged by a new panel. Klein said the partners aren’t planning to pursue the issue any further, though.

“I don’t know if it’s worth it. I think we’re probably just going to let it go,” he said. “We’ve just kind of had a frustrating time with this competition.”

Each of the competing firms received $1,000 for submitting a design but spent thousands more on their designs, said Alstrom. If the city expects that kind of donation of time, it needs to “have its act together,” he said.


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