Sunday, July 13, 2014

Summer in the City - Construction Rundown

CIRI headquarters

Here's the annual summer construction rundown. As I've mentioned in an earlier post, we will not see anything major going up like we had in summers past. We will however see more activity than we had in previous years. And if like me, you too lived in Anchorage through the 90s, then you too are probably grateful that at least we're getting some construction action. In fact, I think this may be the most busiest summer since the start of the 2010s decade. I suppose I should clarify that when I refer to construction projects in town, I'm thinking of major ones. If it involves steel girders hoisted into the air by cranes and multiple levels going up, then I am more inclined to record them on this blog. I'm also open to recording smaller residential projects that are unique in their handling of land-use and density. I am fully aware that every year the city gets the obligatory new fast food restaurant or big box store, but I'm not so eager to capture those things as I may have been in years past.
The most major of building construction taking place this summer is the eight story headquarters for the CIRI native corporation. CIRI has attained quite a high profile in recent times with their opening of the Tikhatnu Commons, and the erection of wind turbines on Fire Island, both of which are recorded on the blog. Now CIRI has acquired the site formally occupied by the Fireweed Theater and is in the process of building a new hq for itself. Apparently the master plan is to fill the former theater site with other office buildings, perhaps mirroring the Centerpoint development in south Midtown which sprang out of a trailer park neighborhood back in 2000. You can find more on the building along with a hokey PR video and live webcam here. Architecturally, I love the glass fa├žade it's to have. It reminds me of the new U.S. Federal Building in San Francisco. ...Okay, kind of. The building will also have great visibility for it will be in the view of motorists going north on the Seward Highway.

UAA Engineering Building
 Nearing completion in the U-Med district is the UAA School of Engineering building. Construction on it began last summer, but it is now that the project has really took to the air. Built across the street from the new nursing building, there is a proposal floating around to connect the two buildings with a skybridge hanging over Providence Drive. Additionally, because the new building sits on a former parking lot on campus, the university is planning construction of a parking garage across the street (another reason for said skybridge). As far as I can tell though, the world has not ended as some faculty and students had expected with the loss of so many parking spaces. This building is the latest in a series of projects that have made some U-Med lovers uncomfortable when it comes to the districts changing identity. In fact, one block from this site, construction of a new First National Bank branch has seen the clearing of a sizeable patch of woods.

Alaska Airlines Center
                                                                            Speaking of which, we also have the Alaska Airlines Center. Construction of the arena started in 2012 and it is expected to open later this year. This was probably the most traumatic of projects in the U-Med for a large swath of forest across the street from Providence Hospital was mowed down for this building. The most notable controversy however is the fact that the Alaska Airlines Center will not have an ice rink. UAA Hockey is the premiere sport of the university. I suppose to make up for that though, it was recently announced that a year-around restaurant will open in the arena, complete with an outdoor deck. Breaking from traditional university policy, alcohol will be served in the restaurant -- surely to the joy of students in the nearby dorms. Architecturally, I don't know what to say. It's not all that great looking... One thing I like about it though is that there will be a grand pathway leading to the building from the street side. It's not all about catering to those with cars.
building with no name

                      Finally, there's this. It's no 188 WNL, JL Tower, or Centerpoint West. It's just a class A office building for lease. Gracing the building with a name was not a priority. It is a nice looking building though. It's located in an awkward spot along C Street but without access from C Street.                                                                                                                                                                                                               So there are your urban contributions to the mishmash cityscape of Anchorage, Alaska for the summer of 2014. While it's great to see a small handful of medium to high density sites go up, it is also disheartening to see the pattern continue of buildings surrounded by parking lots and landscaping. Whether it's the new CIRI headquarters, or the building mentioned just above, a vision of the future with sustainability in mind is absent. In a city that is post Title 21 Rewrite, most developers can't shake off the Le Corbusier in them. For me, the most promising building is the UAA School of Engineering for it is built up against the street and has a bus stop at the foot of it (you can see it in the picture). It's also nice that the Alaska Airlines Center is across the street from People Mover's U-Med bus hub. As a result, six bus lines will be going to the arena.


Keegan Lucas said...

Great rundown. I agree that it's encouraging to see more intense uses of land ... but discouraging to see so much surface parking surrounding projects like the CIRI headquarters. A couple steps forward, one step back?

evo said...

I agree. It's so disheartening to see an island of a building surrounded by a sea of parking. I have hopes that CIRI will eventually fill in the rest of the Fireweed Theater space with other mixed use buildings. Also, would it kill developers to add a little color to their buildings. The winters are so dark, appropriate use of color could really warm up the town.

marcus said...

^From what I understand, CIRI intends for the rest of its site to be filled with buildings in the future.