Hancher Dreams


  Sometime this month, the University of Iowa will decide which of four finalists will design the new $125 million Hancher Auditorium  which will replace the one ruined by flood several years ago.  It will be the most important performing arts venue for quite a swath of this part of the world and thus will have an elevated prominence.

  And elevated in more ways than one.  Its new site will be near the old, but somewhere just a bit uphill toward the Levitt Center – above the levels of the record high water.  There had been thought of a move downtown, but access to I-80, parking issues, and the riparian sublimity kept it closer to the original. 

  The context of the site is indeed remarkable.  Nearby Art Campus buildings include the Levitt Center designed by Charles Gwathmey, The Advanced Technology Lab by Frank Gehry, and The Art Building West by Steven Holl.  There’s an expansive park north of the Levitt Center. The gold dome of the Old Capital can be seen toward the south.

  The finalists are: Pelli Clarke Pelli/New Haven, CN; Trahan Architects/Baton Rouge, LA; William Rawn Associates/Boston, MA; and SnØhetta.  For some reason all of the reports give SnØhetta’s home as NYC where they do have an office, but practice HQ is in Oslo*.  And for me they’re the one to chose.

  I knee jerk eliminate Pelli and Rawn because even though they’ve done neat stuff, they have other projects nearby.  Cesar Pelli designed the wonderful Faulconer Gallery on the Grinnell campus which by the way is walking distance from Sullivan’s bank.   

  I’ve visited and admired a dorm Rawn designed on the Bowdoin College Campus and he was called the “…go to architect for elite universities”** in a review of another project there.  A performing arts building in fact.  But like I said, he designed the under construction Federal Court House in Cedar Rapids.

  The  U of I hasn’t shied from risk and this is the perfect opportunity to take another which both Trahan and SnØhetta would represent.  I’m not much familiar with Trahan, but perusal of their site takes one’s breath away.  If they win, great – but my vote would be for the Scandanavians. 

  I’ve never been in a SnØhetta project*** but began following them with great interest after reading about the library they designed in Alexandria, Egypt.  The firm didn’t exist in 1989 when three Norwegians, an Austrian, and an American teamed up to submit a proposal for the project commemorating the most important library and place of learning in the ancient world.

  The site, very near the original one, is between the campus of Alexandria University and the sea from which the building appears to be just emerging anew.  The circular 160m diameter glazed roof is tilted toward the sea like an ancient sundial.  Inside, thirty-two meters below lies the main reading room.  Outside walls are gray Aswan granite inscribed with characters from 120 different languages.

  Egyptians have great pride in this twenty-first century take on the celebration of its antiquities. For it they won one of the prestigious Aga Khan awards for architecture during the 2004 cycle.  The award is given to projects that enhance the understanding and appreciation of Islamic culture.****

  Other significant and interesting projects in the Middle East ensued.  SnØhetta opened in New York after winning a competition for the 9/11 site which has morphed through controversy and iterations.  Recently SnØhetta was retained by  SFMoma to design its $250 million expansion. 

  Guess we’ll soon see about IC.  Whatever, should you be driving by on I-80 get off and look around.

* You’d have thought the Ø would have been a clue…

**Architect May 2002.  Can’t wait to visit the courthouse.  Renderings are beautiful.

***But daughter and husband did and came away impressed… And amused: It was obvious that Facebook was on 98% of the computer screens banked in the main reading room.

****Coincidentaly, Cesar Pelli won one during the same cycle for the Petrobras Towers in Kuala Lumpur.

*****Check out their site: http://www.snoarc.no

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