Bill Wiener: Guest opinion
Special to The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Many are upset about how the approval for the Aspen Art Museum’s (AAM) new building was negotiated as a legal settlement rather going through the public land-use process that would have produced something more appropriate. The negotiations allowed for a new art museum that will be too tall, too massive, out of scale, not in character, and an insult to our Aspen Area Community Plan (AACP). This issue has frustrated and polarized the community.
It is time for this community to stop approaching development as isolated turf events. Our public endeavors should work together to produce greater results by leveraging the individual investments to create grand solutions. All could embrace a new art museum that is more than an isolated building, but is part of something larger, a new civic people’s place: Galena Plaza.
If we work toward this common goal, we can have a grand, thriving, multi-use plaza, with a new art museum on the east side and the expanded library on the west side. Additionally, this could accommodate the needed visitors’ center and also foster solutions to other community problems and needs.
All should consider the overall vision of bringing independent things together to address grand solutions.
AAM officials should look again at the old Youth Center site where they originally planned for a new museum. Their first proposal, which went to a public vote, was met with much concern from the public. But the AAM did not want to look at or discuss minor modifications that would have mitigated these concerns. They thought they were going to win. We all know what happened: AAM lost by a 2-1 margin.
Pitkin County Library, like the art museum, is planning on remaking itself into a 21st century facility, spending about $10 million. It will become a lifelong learning and community center. The proposed concept will have a new entry on the west side that opens onto Galena Plaza.
Galena Plaza would become a public gathering area between the new museum and the reconfigured library. The area could have gardens embellished with the museum’s sculptures; it could accommodate outdoor performances, and would be a great place for a visitor-information station.
The old Youth Center has been used for a variety of events from public meetings to dance groups. Most of these public uses could be relocated to the vacated old art museum building. Note: The museum has a nice wooden floor, perfect for dance.
The city can also benefit from this plan. Many believe that Aspen should not sell public land; however, if the AAM trades their Wienerstube site for the Youth Center site, much of the concerns would be eliminated. The land the city would receive could be a good future location for a new 35-foot high City Hall annex, allowing the many dispersed functions scattered around town to be centralized. There would need to be a vote on this, but because it is a win-win, it would pass.
The AAM should mitigate the four identified public concerns associated with the Youth Center site. These can easily be accomplished by tweaking their former plans developed for the site.
1. Height problems can be alleviated by removing two floors. The floor dedicated for board meetings could be eliminated as the AAM could use the library’s new meeting room across the plaza or just meet in a gallery when the museum is closed. The floor dedicated to art education is really not required as we have the Red Brick and Anderson Ranch for formal programs. Docent-led programs in the museum should be expanded, as could the outreach to local schools. The present student contact is too low when compared to ACES, which is about 10 times greater.
2. Energy use is excessive. There was concern that the museum would be an energy hog with its glass west wall and the glass roof. With the entry moved to the plaza side, this heat load can easily be addressed. The glass roof would have probably leaked, but redesigning it as a saw tooth with a series of north-facing vertical windows and a back-sloping roof to the south for solar cells would give good north light and produce offsetting power for the building. Many of the 19th century industrial buildings used a similar approach, sans solar cells.
3. Youth Building loss of use and function would be relocated to the vacated AAM building.
4. Sale of public land is not an issue if there is a trade after a vote.
Working toward a common goal, we can have a public plaza defined by a new art museum on one side and the expanded library on the other, plus a face to downtown and mountain views all around. We also get a visitors’ center and a site for a much-needed city administration building.
It can be done, a public effort devoid of turf wars. Aspen, this is your test. Don’t fail.
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