Sunday, February 14, 2010

Reactions to architect presentations on the Casino building...

Click here for link to City website for .pdfs of the PowerPoint presentations made yesterday.  Not all of the links are working as of 3:30 p.m. Sunday afternoon.  Maybe staff is still working on them, so you can try back later for the ones you can't access now.  They also videoed, in digital format, all of the presentations and questions asked by Commissioners.  Those are also supposed to be available on line sometime.  Thank you staff for making the special effort to video these - let's just hope everything worked the way it should.

First of all, these are just my opinions.  They really mean nothing more than that - my opinions and $2.10 gets me an extra large black coffee at my local Dunkin' Donuts.  I offer these opinions as I care about the future of our beach and would actually like to see the city be successful in making the beach an attractive destination once again.  The beach is the most valuable property in the city - in financial terms and our social history.  It offers recreational opportunities for everyone regardless of class, race, place of residence.  In the city's almost one hundred years of existence, it has reached the status of a local legend.  The complications in doing anything there have really carried on the legend and give it a life of its own.  Whatever the city ends up doing there - with the property and the building - will affect the "brand" or "image" of the city of Lake Worth.

Interestingly, the Hollywood sign in Hollywood, California is going through a challenging period.  While not as famous perhaps internationally as the Hollywood sign, the Lake Worth beach shares a similar importance to its community.  The beach is a large part of our identity.  Right now, there is a proposal potentially to develop the land around the Hollywood sign - which would alter its appearance at a minimum and perhaps call for its ultimate removal.  There is an effort underway to preserve the land through acquisition by a land trust - thus insuring its continued iconic status. Whatever ends up happening on our beach, has to be of an iconic quality.  If it isn't, it is almost worth not doing anything at all.

So that is why the selection of the firm that will be responsible for the design of our updated Casino building complex is so important.  My opinions here reflect my experience in dealing with architects in my professional life and some of the complex projects with which I have been involved.  I'm not going to go into great deal in describing the strengths and weakness of each response to the RFQ.  What I plan to do here is just separate the respondents into two groups - a top tier and a bottom tier and then list a few reasons why and why not they are part of the group.  The top tier would be those that if I were in decision making position, I would like to pursue further and ask for a more definitive proposal.

By the way, the large white elephant in the city's living room, that no one really talked about yesterday, is just how the city is going to pay to get this project done.

Top Tier - in order of presentation.

REG - I worked with Rick Gonzalez and his firm while in the employ of Mr. Trump at Mar-a-Lago and Trump International Golf Course.  He did a good job for us, under some complicated situations and with the close scrutiny of historic preservationists.  He and his firm have proven themselves with other historical sensitive projects (The Harriet and CityPlace, 1916 Palm Beach County Courthouse.)  He has also worked on many local government projects and is used to that environment.  The only weakness in his proposal related to the Casino building is that the initial renderings show more of a historic wrap-around.  I don't favor this approach in terms of a pure historic preservation perspective.  For that reason, REG does not represent my clear cut top choice.

Beilinson/Gomez - This firm is based out of Miami and has done a lot of work in the South Beach area.  They are very familiar with working in a historically sensitive environment.  They have had some local work as well and experience in Lake Worth with the Gulfstream Hotel.  Their proposal, which includes the restoration of the two story "International Style" existing portion of the building and a re-creation of the 1922 architecture in the location that it originally inhabited, is the "purest" in terms of adhering to the Secretary of Interior Standards for Historic Preservation.  The two buildings would be linked by a modern (2010) glass cube which would add our contemporary stamp to the project and signal that work was done purposefully later in time to show the progression of buildings in this location.  The glass enclosure could also be a display area for a historic timeline showing ancient history of the land through to the present day.  This ties as my overall favorite approach.  It would make an iconic statement that the city of Lake Worth takes historic preservation seriously and we are willing to demonstrate on our most important property.  It would also be able to avail itself of some sort of grant funding.

Living Designs Group - Headed by Lake Worth resident John Szerdi, runs his Lake Worth based firm and is known for his accomplishment of the EcoCentre in downtown Lake Worth - among other super green projects.  His approach takes the existing building as a form and would create what he referred to as an exoskeleton.  Many green techniques would be employed to conserve water, generate energy and capture heat.  I wish the link was working for his presentation on the city's website since it contained full elevations of the building after the eco-treatment.  The two story portion would contain a lot of glass area and would change appearance throughout the day as the sun moved and environmental conditions changed.  It would be an iconic statement of the city's focus on conservation and unique ways to make the built environment softer its impact to the Earth.  This is the other approach that ties with the previous as my most desirable.  It would also be a potential magnet for grant funding.

Zeidler - A large international firm with a lot of varied experience, Zeidler designed the Port of Palm Beach Terminal Building and was the architect for the Kravis Center.  Their approach would be worth following if the city chose to preserve the existing International Style architecture.  In the process, they would open up the west side of the building - as many architects discussed the need yesterday - to be inviting to the public and create a pass-through in the middle of the building.  They have a great reputation and a sound team - I just think that Lake Worth has never really wrapped its arms completely around the existing style and, without much different than what is there today, I am not sure it is worth doing.   But, again, it depends on what direction the city wants to follow.

Song and Associates - A West Palm Beach firm with a full resume of public projects, including the West Palm Beach City Center, is one of the few firms that addressed the staging issue related to this project.  We have a set of existing tenants that will need to operate while the construction is going on - including John G's restaurant.  Their solution would be to keep the restaurant operating in its current location and construct another building immediately to the west. When that building is finished, the restaurant would move and that formerly inhabited portion of the building would be demolished, making way for a rather large plaza area.  south of the plaza would be the continuation of the existing building.  The firm showed flexibility in the style choice and the two-buildings could even lend themselves to different architectural treatment or not.  I am suspicious of their low cost estimates which is of some concern.

The others - in order of appearance.

Architectural Dimensions - I appeared in the Commission Chambers about halfway through their presentation, so I may not be getting the whole story.  They prefer an early 20th Century architecture in the Med Rev vein.  It seemed that they didn't have a lot of experience in historic preservation-related projects.  Their design included some awkward elements - especially as it related to the arches along the pedestrian colonnade.  With the rest of the competition, they just didn't measure up.

Donaldson Group - They came across as knowledgeable and had experience with historic architecture.  Their submitted design, while well-thought-out, ended up with an unattractive building.  At the end of the day, after spending the amount of public money that this project will represent, we need to end up with an attractive building.

Gestalt - A firm headed up Lake Worth resident Manuel Occhiogrosso, Manuel also sits on the Lake Worth Planning and Zoning Board.  I appreciated someone involved with the city throwing their hat into contention for work on our most important property - it recalled Edgar Wortman - City Commissioner and architect of the current version of the Casino building.  His response contained some good ideas but did not stand up to the other respondents.

West Architecture - Another Lake Worth firm - they tended to emphasize their historical consultant's experience with other projects more than how they would use that experience and apply to our situation.  I'm also curious about some of their conclusions related to preservation.  Short on details related to the overall project.

David Godwin - I got absorbed by their analysis working up to their response and ultimate design - but then they lost me on the result.  I like the notion of a gold dome - but the overall style and scale of building just didn't do it for me.

RS Architects - Two person team that I didn't think had the horsepower for this type of project.

Slattery and Associates - This firm presented three options based upon three eras of the building's history - 20s, 30s and 40s as either/or choices.  The Commission started falling all over themselves about how great it was we weren't demolishing the building and being green in the process with this one.  What they didn't realize  is that this firm's response included going back to the original size buildings (much smaller) of the 20s and 30s - which would require demolition of the remaining southern portion of the building - and substantial demolition of the existing building on the north end.  This made me skeptical.

BRPH - This is the firm that we have seen before and worked with the city, the tenants and others to come up with a throwback 1920esque design.  This is achieved by skirting the building with another colonnade area.  In so doing, they create some nice second floor deck area.  They also double the size of the ballroom.  But the delicate columns don't fit the massive scale of this building - bigger than whatever preceded it - and much bigger than the 1920s version.  I highly doubt this would be eligible for listing as a historic structure - as I have said here before.  The architect responded that they would apply for a historic designation - whether it is accepted is out of their control.  Doesn't inspire confidence.  The end result is a sort of "battleship" looking structure.  Of all of the responses, this one qualified as the most political.