When was the last time you saw the phrases "City Hall" and "quick decision" in the same sentence?

Last Thursday at 4:30pm, a full 18

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Fast-track design

When was the last time you saw the phrases "City Hall" and "quick decision" in the same sentence?

Last Thursday at 4:30pm, a full 18 hours after the last words of a Wednesday night group presentation, a panel that included Mayor Paul Schell and three city council members announced the architects for Seattle's new Civic Center. The winners—the team of Bassetti Architects and Bohlin Cywinski Jackson—will be expected to design their new creation and build it on the 4th and James site of the present Municipal Building by late 2002.

But their fast decision was no snap decision, insisted the mayor and council members Martha Choe, Jan Drago, and Peter Steinbrueck. The committee had already contacted references and reviewed firms' past work in preparation for the final presentations at the Port of Seattle's Bell Street Conference Center. More than 500 people viewed the presentations, many of whom contributed comments. (The decision schedule couldn't have been a total surprise—a few city staffers pulled an all-nighter compiling the comment sheet results for committee members.)

The Thursday press conference also negated a note of discord the previous night after Schell noted during his introduction that he would render the final decision. Observers were also surprised to see that two members of the mayor's staff—budget director Dwight Dively and deputy mayor Maud Daudon—had been added to the selection committee. But even though the mayor may have been prepared for a battle, all four elected officials on the committee stressed that the decision was unanimous. Steinbrueck says he liked the winning firms' proposals for engaging the public, including a street-level office near the site and a detailed, constantly updated Web page. Everyone also seemed impressed that the presentation by principal architect Peter Bohlin included a large number of sketches of possibilities for the new building.

The soothing, grandfatherly Bohlin won hearts with his commonsense approach emphasizing both the sensitivity of the proposed architectural approach and the two firms' record of pulling off major projects. But he occasionally lapsed into visionary-speak, once proclaiming that the new civic center would be "a gathering place for everything so everything is part of one solution." Good point.

In the other presentations, New Mexico architect Antoine Predock repeatedly assured committee members that he'd design them a masterpiece. "I wouldn't want you to miss the opportunity to have a building that would assert itself in its own way," he told the committee. Husband/wife team John and Patricia Patkau focused more on their record of environmentally sustainable design and the importance of creating usable, memorable public spaces. In fact, their slide show depicting many years of public ceremonies and events in New York's Rockefeller Center was easily the night's most interesting visual display.

Local architect Larry Rauch, a member of the panel that picked the three finalists, was a fan of the Patkau presentation. He also knocked Bohlin for being too prepared: "The terrible error of doing a preliminary scheme" can lock an architect into concepts way too early in the process, he noted. But another architect, who requested anonymity, pointed out that most of the Patkau firm's work has been small commissions, making them a risky choice for a major structure like Seattle's Civic Center.

The night had its odd moments as well. Patricia Patkau finished an otherwise cogent segment of the presentation with the suggestion that Seattle's City Hall include "a fountain of famous civic lips." And Predock delivered the night's biggest ramble when he addressed a Steinbrueck question by dragging in tai chi, "architectural elements silhouetted against the water," Seattle's music scene, and his interest in dance. Nary a word about famous lips, though.

Paul rocks

Mayor Paul Schell was the only guy wearing a suit at a recent meeting of the city's Music & Youth Task Force, but the mayor had encouraging words for the musicians, promoters, and arts supporters seeking to amend the city's criminally-stupid 1985 Teen Dance Ordinance.

All options are on the table, Hizzoner assured the group, "whether [the ordinance] needs to be repealed or fixed, I'll leave that to you." OK, it won't be that easy, but the mayor's supportive words are convincing evidence that things have changed in City Hall with regard to repressive antiyouth lawmaking. Contrast Schell's openness with former mayor Norm Rice, an author of the Teen Dance Ordinance and a genuine law-and-order guy on the issue of dangerous activities like teenagers listening to music.

Computer reasoning

A simple review of city council candidate Web sites tragically morphed into an exercise in free association.

The culprit was the AltaVista browser, which tries to guess what you're up to from your keywords and spews a list of links back to you as "AltaVista Recommends." For example, type in the name of candidate Heidi Wills and the computer suggests the list of "Personalities>Models" (probably for supermodel Heidi Klum). Likewise, candidate Alec Fisken gets you "Actors A-B" (assuming you really want actor Alec Baldwin). Andy Scully's first name might as well be "Agent," because the system directs you to "Sci-Fi & Fantasy>X-Files."

A few are more obscure. Thomas Whittemore's name gets you to "Interests G-J>Glass Crafts" (for the not-so-famous Whittemore-Durgin Glass Company). The response to Charlie Chong is "Asia & Middle East>Countries A-M." (For the record, Chong denies rumors that he is an Asian country.) And let's not get started about Jim Compton's Wide World of Racing.

But, back to the task at hand, the cowinners of our best candidate Web site award are Whittemore (www.whittemore.org) and Judy Nicastro (www.electjudy99.com). Browse away, Seattle.

 
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