A design competition for a state capitol

A design competition for a state capitol building for Alaska — the only state without one — generated extremely modernist entries that are at odds with the urban context and the traditional style of most state capitols. The winner, from Morphosis of Santa Monica, California, featured swooping glass wings and an egg-shaped translucent dome squatting over the small historic city of Juneau. It went over like a lead balloon with the public. “Most of the public was against all of the designs,” reports the Anchorage Daily News. “Letters to the local paper, the Juneau Empire, over the past few days slammed the designs as sci-fi and downright ugly.”

Enter Marianne Cusato, a traditional architect who has honed her skills at new urban charrettes, who quickly drew an alternative design after Morphosis was selected in late February. “In a rebuke to the Alaska finalists, Cusato, a third-generation Alaskan, submitted a lovely design for the capitol,” wrote David Brussat, a member of the Providence Journal editorial board. “The onionesque cupola on its dome reflects the Russian strain in Alaska’s history — a reflection of heritage expressed in beauty, not the abstract metaphor [Thom Mayne of Morphosis] prefers.”

Cusato’s design includes well-proportioned public spaces that connect to the urban fabric of the city — spaces that are utterly lacking in the design submitted by Mayne, who recently won the Pritzker Prize for architecture. Mayne is refining his design and has promised to change the dome so that it does not look like an egg. It is unclear whether Cusato’s design — as different from Mayne’s as day is from night — will have any impact at all on the process. See a detailed view of her design at tndtownpaper.com.