South of California’s state capital Sacramento, in the small town of Elk Grove (population 153,000) controversy is brewing. It all surrounds the commissioning of a civic centre by the highly acclaimed British/Iraqi born architect Zaha Hadid . It began eleven years ago, when the City Council launched an international design competition for a contemporary civic centre which could be influenced by its residents and provide a community hub for the city. After years of market research,the town enticed Hadid to the project in order to create a Bilbao factor tourist attraction for the otherwise unremarkable suburban-scape. The examination period lasted for two years and generated a healthy list of amenities desired by local residents, including: a library; children’s museum; hotel; conference centre; performing arts facilities; and a sports field. In December of last year, Zaha Hadid Architects led a public workshop where three differing design scenarios were presented. The design chosen resembled a starfish or squid creature and many on the committee now regret their enthusiasm and have rejected the design. The local paper, the Elk Grove Citizen has slammed the project as unsuitable, “This project appears to me to look like a short-term civic centre and not how you would want to develop the city afterward. This needs to tie into some greater masterplan. Elk Grove can think big. It’s very limited to the near future and it’s short-sighted.” The current mayor has now scrapped the project, and is holding a new competition. “This is more like something I’d expect to see in Dubai not Elk Grove,” added Mayor Detrick. ( Elk Grove civic centre Design: Zaha Hadid )
Sadly, this is just another backlash against innovative modern architecture and a repeat of the circumstances surrounding the Welsh National Opera House in the 1990’s when Hadid’s bold design was also rejected. Her firm had won a contest of 267 entrants to design the building but her “glass necklace” design horrified many Welsh people, and the then Secretary of State for Wales, John Redwood, expressed his concern about the avant-garde nature of the design. The final Millennium Commission build was a tame second- rate building, Locally nicknamed “the Armadillo” designed by Jonathan Adams.
On a positive note, the much-anticipated Riverside Museum in Glasgow also designed by Zaha Hadid will open its doors in June. The museum will be the new home for Glasgow’s collection of transport and technology. The Tall Ship Glenlee which will be placed alongside the museum will also be opened on the same day. The museum will showcase around 3,000 exhibits in around 150 displays. The tunnel-like shed opens at opposite ends to the city and the Clyde, serving as a porous link to either side. While connecting the two sides, it creates a journey into the world of the exhibits and positions itself symbolically and functionally as open and fluid. Glasgow City Council has provided £50.9 million ($83 million) towards the cost of the new museum. An additional £18.1 million ($30 million) has come from the Heritage Lottery Fund.