Kimball Art Center Finalists

Kimball Art Center Finalists

By Aaron Britt
Last week I was in Park City, Utah, home of the Kimball Art Center. Founded in 1976, and housed in what was once the Kimball Bros. auto garage, the Kimball is a living museum offering the people of this sleepy ski town (unless you show up for the Sundance Film Festival) gallery space, classes, education, and community engagement. And it's about to nearly triple in size thanks to its Transformation Project. Five architecture firms out of a shortlist of some 200 have been selected by the Kimball to design the extension it hopes to open by 2015. Check out the slideshow to see which designs have made the cut and to learn more about how this particular architecture competition works.

In my time in Park City I met with Robin Marrouche, Executive Director of the Kimball and board member Buzz Strasser to sort out precisely how this architecture competition will run. I find many of these competitions entirely mysterious, a process where time is marked more by press releases than the actual practice of architecture. But Marrouch and Strasser described exactly how things went, including the Kimball's very tight timeline.

Here's the entry from Will Bruder + Partners, a firm from Arizona. One of the main challenges facing the Kimball is that its entry faces Park Avenue, not Main Street. By orienting the extension to Main, Bruder redresses this programmatic challenge. Notice that in this rendering's panoply of street action that the handsome man in the leather jacket on the left is none other than Robert Redford. Clearly playing to the crowd.

At the outset they started with a shortlist of some 200 design firms, but with the help of competition advisor Donald Stastny, narrowed it down to 18. In September the 18 firms got their letters of invitation and had a scant couple weeks to reply with letters of intent. On October 13th the jury reviewed their submissions and the next day chose the five finalists you'll see in the slideshow.

An interior from Bruder's design emphasizes openness to the street and big galleries.

Since then the architects have presented their firms and ideas to Park City (November 2nd), supplied models (December 21st), have had their work on display to the public (December 21st to January 13th). The architects each get an hour to present another set of models on February 2nd and the jury makes its decision on February 3rd.

This rendering from Tod Williams and Billie Tsien shows a low copper-clad structure that opens up at the corner of Main Street and Heber Avenue, the busiest intersection in town.

All told, it's an extremely accelerated process that Marrouche says the Kimball could not have gotten through without Stastny's help. I'm excited to see who wins!

The Sky Room on the roof of the Williams Tsien entry is one of the many that makes use of a newly expanded roof space. With a sculpture garden and a spot to screen movies under the big Utah sky, its appeal is obvious.

Sparano Mooney is the only Utah firm to have made the final five, and the love of local materials is on display here. The long logs not only echo the timber on the nearby mountains, but the ghostly image of white aspens are etched onto the glass facade.

Here you can see how the Sparano Mooney entry would glow at night. I asked Marrouche to what degree she was after an icon, a la Frank Gehry's Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. She wouldn't quite go as far as to say she was after the Bilbao Effect, but she did say she wanted the "Marfa Effect—a great place for art that people will come to the middle of nowhere to see."

This entry from the L.A. firm Brooks and Scarpa has a lot going for it, namely the hovering white form to be made of polypropylene. It's meant to evoke the clouds of the Utah sky, but what grabs me most is the big public plaza at Main and Heber. It's the only design that really turns the busiest corner in town into a public space. This design also retains the integrity of the Kimball Bros. garage, the brick structure off to the side.

I caught a movie at Sundance with one of the Kimball's board members and he told me that he quite liked Brook and Scarpa's choice of making the corner a focal point of the design.

The only international architect to make the cut is the Danish firm BIG. Bjarke Ingels certainly does bring a bit of star power to the competition, and he brings something else too: height. At present, Park City permits structures downtown to climb to about 50 feet, but BIG's plan would see its torqued wooden tower climb to somewhere around 80. Marrouche seems to think that the Kimball could get a variance if this design is chosen.

Here's a look at what the tall structure would look like from a terrace atop the existing building. The wooden facade is a nod back to the origins of this 1860s mining town, though its form is hardly nostalgic.

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