Connecticut has been ill served in the past by the way architects and developers were selected for public buildings. For years, political connections mattered more than vision and professional skill.
It's gratifying, then, to see the Connecticut Center for Science and Exploration, the nonprofit entity that is building the science center at Adriaen's Landing in Hartford, take a different tack.
Science center officials held a design competition for the $100 million structure and opened the selection process to the public. The four internationally renowned finalists presented their schematic proposals Monday morning to a packed house at the Bushnell's Autorino Great Hall.
Hartford has rarely been host to such a gathering of architectural talent. The finalists, Cesar Pelli & Associates Architects, New Haven; Moshe Safdie and Associates Inc. Architects and Planners, Boston; Zaha Hadid Architects, London; and Behnisch, Behnisch & Partner Inc., Venice, Calif., faced a challenging, multilevel site adjacent to a highway. The building has to engage both downtown and the Connecticut River.
The designs were distinctive and impressive, as judged by audience reaction. The designers explained and sometimes defended their work following questions from the audience.
The final product will be better for the process. Theodore S. Sergi, president of the science center, said he will continue to involve the public as the project moves ahead.
This open process can be replicated, even improved upon, in Hartford if city officials will only get off the dime and create a design center. A design center will bring the public into the process earlier than the science center did. It will shine the light of public scrutiny on building projects before they are faits accomplis.
The concept has worked well elsewhere, but Hartford has been unable to get it out of the carton for a couple of years. There's now a thought that a design center could be combined with a proposed historic preservation office so there's staff available for the design center. That could work. Also, officials of the Capitol Region Council of Governments are talking about the possibility of a multitown design center.
If the public wants architects or developers chosen by informed public involvement rather than on secret trips to Ohio, let's have a design center.
The four finalists' concepts for the science center can be seen on The Courant's website, www.ctnow.com/science, along with articles. The CT-N television network is scheduled to show the Monday presentations today at 4 p.m.
The science center is still accepting comments on its website, www.ctcse.org (click on Suggestions) or by telephone at 860-727-0457 x103, until Thursday. The center's facilities committee will meet Thursday afternoon to recommend a finalist to the full board on Friday.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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