Monday, February 15, 2010

Top 10 Significant Projects of the Last Decade


Good to be back! If you read the previous post (scroll down), you knew that I could not attend to the blog for I had things to do in addition to the coming holiday season which is like a vortex that usually takes you in about a week or two in advance and doesn't let you recover until some time early January. It's rough. But I'm back, so lets get this blog back on the road and pretend the lull never happened... just don't scroll down to my previous post.

Anyways for a while I've been debating with myself whether to do this or not... One of my pet peeves has long been the annual end of the year review. You've all seen this. On just about every form of media be it newspaper, websites, or most notably television; end of the year reviews are just excuses particularly for cable channels to run old stock footage and not worry about new and original material for the weeks show. The end of 2009 was especially bad because it also brought in the decade in review. But hey, besides it being February for which I will stand out and get noticed by the masses for my two month late review, this last decade was one that Anchorage had not seen since the 1980s. If you lived here in the 1990s, you knew Anchorage was D E A D. The biggest thing to happen to Anchorage in the 90s was the arrival of Wal-Mart... oh and Schucks Auto Supply. Contrast that to the 80s for which Anchorage saw the new museum, Sullivan Arena, Egan Center, 5th Avenue Mall, Performing Arts Center, and two of Alaska's tallest (and still tallest) towers in Downtown. While oil doesn't flow down the pipeline in the great quantity that it did in the 80s, the 2000s were good to Anchorage if like me, you're into construction stalking. With that said, if anything in this world deserves a 10 year review, it's of course the projects that rised into the sky throughout the Anchorage Bowl. So lets get started with #10:

10. Alutiiq Plaza - Midtown
Not very well known due to its tucked away location, but I had to add Alutiiq Plaza to the top 10. It deserves it. In response to the old criticism of uninspiring bland office buildings that went up in the last 40 years, this last decade has seen a shift with an attempt to give nod to native Alaskan architecture. The first tries have been ugly as can be seen with the Alaska Native Hospital off Tudor Road. The architects of Alutiiq Plaza however are the first to have pulled it off successfully. Drive by this place at night and check out the native symbols on the pane of glass which are lit to give the building an even more charming look than its already nice daytime appearance.

9. Linny Pacillo Parking Garage - Downtown
For some years, Linny Pacillo was known by many in Downtown as the Meter Ferry. I don't know how many people she rescued by putting coins in nearly expired parking meters over the years (while irking the city), but her name lives on with the new Linny Pacillo Parking Garage. Opened at around the same time as the new convention center across the street in 2008, the garage was built to makeup for the large amount of parking spaces lost due to the footprint of the new convention center. A proposal for a skybridge connecting the garage to the Atwood office tower across the street has been floating around for some time now. We'll see if that ever gets off the ground.

8. UAA Consortium Library - UMed District
In its 50+ year history, I would say UAA (formally ACC) had two significant events when it came to new buildings. The first was the founding of the new campus in East Anchorage in the 1960s. The second significant event came in the earlier part of this last decade with the opening of the new consortium library. The exterior is one thing, but the interior is quite another with its daring use of colors, materials, and glass curtain that lets in large amounts of sunlight. This is without a doubt a break from the usual mundane and otherwise forgettable buildings sprinkled throughout the UAA campus. You don't have to be a student to check out the inside of this library for yourself. But you do need to pay for parking sadly. Check out the Consortium Library gallery at Flickr.

7. Arctic Slope Regional Corporation - Midtown
As mentioned earlier, an old complaint by Anchorage residents has long been the stock of unimaginative box shaped high rises in Midtown and Downtown. The early 2000s opening of the ASRC building in Midtown brought an end to that box shaped building streak. The ASRC was also the first major office building to incorporate Alaskan native elements for which a slew of imitators would follow.




6. JL Tower - Mi
dtown
Near the ASRC sits the 14 storey JL Tower -- named after JL Properties, the developers (at least I'm assuming that this is why its called the JL Tower) behind this building. What I love about it is that it gives us sort of our own Empire State Building what with the LED lights on the buildings penthouse. Like the ESB, the JL Tower has its penthouse lit every night making it visible from many parts of town with special colors commemorating holidays or special events. My personal favorite light show is on Halloween night when the building pulsates orange in a frantic motion so as to give it a haunted house feel. Some shots of the JL at night here.

5. McKinley Tower Apartments Restoration - Downtown
A restored apartment building doesn't sound like a big deal worthy of making it on a top 10 list, but if you've been in Anchorage a long time, you know this is a HUGE deal! Built in the early 50s, the McKinley Tower was a survivor of the 1964 earthquake, but did not survive building code standards which resulted in its doors being shuttered some time later. In the 1970s a shady developer buys the building at a city auction and plans to convert the building to office use. In the meantime, shady developer decides it would be a brilliant idea to paint the building in a groovy pink and red paint scheme. The plans for a reopened office tower never materialize as shady developer runs into financial problems while also being convicted of murdering his wife. Meanwhile the city of Anchorage is left with a pink windowless abandoned building well into the 90s. Finally developer Marc Marlow buys the building and begins sanding off the paint in the late 90s and early 2000s. Marlow too has financial trouble and as a result, the building is left covered in scaffolding for about five years. Finally with tax breaks from the city and money from the federal government, Marlow is able to move the project forward again and bring back the McKinley Tower to its former glory. Since buying the building, Marlow tossed around the idea of making it a hotel, condos, etc, but the federal government required that Marlow restore the building to its original use and its original paint scheme for historical preservation if he is to get a piece of their money. My entire childhood consisted of seeing the building in its pink stage of life. Today I can't get enough when seeing the building at night with some of its occupants lights on and an occasional big screen tv in view. It's hard to imagine that it really is restored and inhabited. Last I heard, Marlow is now working on restoring the tallest building in Fairbanks, which also happens to be abandoned as well. Best of luck to Fairbanks.

4. 188 West Northern Light - Midtown
Speaking of the JL Tower and McKinley Tower Apartments, 188 WNL is another 14 storey building that is worth making the list. Unlike the nearby JL Tower however, the developers and architects of 188 WNL took a different approach to developing the site. Unlike other Midtown highrises, 188 WNL is built in a more compact Downtown style layout. The building is built up to the sidewalk, the bottom floor has space for retail stores or restaurants, and parking for the building is in a nicely hidden garage above it. This mixed-use tower is a text book example of what is expected out of more Midtown buildings as seen under the rewritten Title 21 building codes which call for a more dense Midtown in order to deal with the lack of open developable space in the increasingly crowded Anchorage Bowl.

3. Anchorage Museum Expansion - Downtown
First building in Anchorage to be designed by a high profile architect? Probably. In any case, 2009 saw the opening of the expansion wing to the Anchorage Museum after a decade of planning for such an expansion. Designed by British architect David Chipperfield, the new wing reorientates the museums official entrance to the west rather than facing the Federal Building across the street to the south. In addition to the new entrance and the parkland in front of it, the new building is equipped with modern security and temperature technologies thus allowing the Anchorage Museum to host more high profile events such as an Andy Warhol exhibit (which I think is later this year). More recently, an extension to the Folkwang museum under the watch of Mr. Chipperfield opened in Essen, Germany last month.

2. Dena'ina Civic & Convention Center - Downtown
Strictly from an architectural perspective, I would place the new museum ahead of the Dena'ina convention center. But when including other variables such as the publicity it received, the controversy in getting the project approved by voters, and its potential on raising revenue for the city in years to come, the Dena'ina takes the #2 spot. Rather than replacing the existing Egan Center two blocks north, the Dena'ina was built so as to become the main convention space while the Egan Center acts as spillover space for larger conventions and events. I don't have the numbers in front of me, but the Dena'ina absolutely trumps the Egan in floor space by leaps and bounds. The new convention center also takes pressure off the Sullivan Arena by allowing more Aces games to be played at the arena while gun shows, home and garden, and other floor shows move Downtown (at least in theory that's what was touted).

1. Concourse C - Stevens International
I know I have readership outside Alaska, so if you ever travel back to Anchorage, you don't have to go far to see what's new in the city. Upon getting off the plane, chances are you'll be standing in the most visited new structure in the state. Concourse C, which has been in the planning stages since at least the mid 1990s, finally opened in the summer of 2004. For any born and raised Anchoragite, seeing the new terminal on opening day was a big deal. For the first time ever, we now have those horizontal escalators that allow you to get past long stretches of hallway faster. The new terminal also now airs the CNN Airport network on the tv's in the waiting area! Even the baggage claim has flat screen tv's running advertisements! It's like we have a real airport now! So much of a point of pride has Concourse C became that it made the cover of the GCI phonebook! Twice!