As Justin Stranzl reported yesterday in the Daily Journal of Commerce, the design competition for a relocated Fire Station One in Old Town has announced its three finalists: Thomas Hacker Architects, Allied Works, and a partnership between Henneberry Eddy and Emmons Architects. The winning proposal will be selected on May 16.
First, it has to be said what a refreshing, wonderful thing it is that the city is holding a design competition for this building. For a good two decades after the Portland Building competition, the city shied away from design competitions, even though they are an ideal way to assure the best design wins instead of making a kneejerk selection of some big service firm that has a lot of experience but a strong tendency towards mediocrity.
What's more, they city assembled a smart jury: architect Eric Cugnart (formerly with BOORA), Francesca Gambetti from Shiels Obletz Johnsen, Steve McCallion of Ziba Design and Bing Sheldon, chairman and founder of SERA Architects, as well as Jack Graham from Portland Fire & Rescue.
The jury showed they know their stuff by selecting a very talented trio of contenders. I don't know who comprised the other seven firms who didn't make it as finalists, but it would be very hard to argue with these ones. Cloepfil and Hacker are already legendary for their thoughtful modern buildings, while Tim Eddy and Stuart Emmons represent small-to-mid-sized firms doing excellent work and are deserving of bigger commissions. (Emmons's firm has also done previous fire station design that's very laudable.)
Considering how the city and PDC made the right moves in running this competition, it should once again prove to Portlanders the value of design competitions. I'm not saying they're appropriate for every building, but they really need to be considered for more than just public buildings and signature projects.
Which brings us to the old Fire Station 1 property along Naito Parkway and Ankeny Plaza. Soon the parcel is destined to become a high-density, mixed-use building, presumably with housing. Why not hold another competition for this project? Fronting the Willamette and anchoring this area along with a new public market, the building needs to be impressive.
We should demand that the old Fire Station 1 not be allowed to become another mediocre highrise with a handful of architectural gestures acting as window dressing for a bulky, uninspired mess. We should demand that a talented design firm be chosen to work on it. If they have to partner with a service firm specializing in maximizing units, that's fine. But we can't let the city's developers keep on hiring the usual suspects.
Chances are that one way or another we're going to get a really good new fire station in Old Town. But that victory should only be the beginning.