Clipped From Chicago Tribune
of or of a low-income as in Architects Continued from page 1 area, even though the 1922 competition for Tribune Tower, which drew an international field of 258 entries, was the most famous American architectural competition. Experts attribute that to the Chicago tradition of local power brokers bestowing commissions on stables of favored architects. Chicago "has always had a wealth of good firms to choose from, so it didn't always think that the way to get a good architectural firm most efficiently was to get into the competition process," says Roy Solfisburg, a partner in the Chicago architectural firm of Holabird & Root and the chairman of an American Institute of Architects group on competitions. The competition for the Chicago central library, which was won last month by a team headed by Chicago architect Thomas Beeby and Chicago-based developer U.S. Equities Realty Inc., is an example of how traditional practices have begun to change. Instead of tapping a politically well-connected Chicago architect, city officials issued an international call for entries and said they hoped that hundreds of teams of architects, developers and contractors would participate. As it turned out, only five teams submitted proposals for the $140 million library, which is to open in the South Loop in mid-1991. But local architects still say that the competition represented an important departure for Chicago. "It's always been an old-boy net-' work," says Chicago architect Laurence Booth, a partner in Booth-Hanscn Architects. "I don't think any Chicago public building was ever commissioned through a competition." The proposed competition for the Evanston public library, which still must be approved by the suburb's City Council, is a move in the same direction, although Evanston would require only architects not teams of architects, developers, and contractors to compete for the right to design its new library. Constructed in 1960, Evanston's library is so crowded that one of every five items in its collection is in storage. To replace the 57,000-square-foot facility, officials want to construct a 100,000-square-foot structure that would cost anywhere from $15 million to $18 million. But rather than turning to a small group of architects with experience in library design, the Evanston library board seized on the idea of an architectural competition. A competition would project an image of "impartiality and objectivity" because architectural experts, rather than city officials, would comprise the majority of the competition jury, said Richard Lanyon of the Evanston library board. In addition, Donald E. Wright, director of the library, said that a competition would cost Evanston about $110,000 about $40,000 less than the city would have to pay an architect for services comparable to those performed by architects in the competition. It sounds like a city manager's dream, but not all competitions have produced great buildings, or satisfied clients. Last fall, for example, officials in west suburban Napervillc invited six Chicago-area architectural firms to compete to design a City Hall that is currently estimated to cost at least $14.3 million. But after the designs were un veiled, Naperville City Council members, who acted as the jury for the competition, said that all of them fell short. The winning entry, a sleek design by Chicago architects Fujikawa, Johnson & Associates, "will be testimony to mediocrity in our community," Napervillc Councilman Toby Hayer said at a recent council meeting during which the architects discussed revising their plans. Critics say that such problems illustrate one of the pitfalls of competitions, the potential for them to degenerate into stylistic showdowns that produce lots of publicity, but not buildings tailored to the needs of people who use them. "It's a substitute for the process of getting a short list of architects who are doing the type of building you're interested in and interviewing them," says Jane Lucas, executive director of the Chicago chapter of the American Institute of Architects. For architects, competitions are attractive for many reasons, even though most architects spend scores of hours and hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars on losing entries. For young designers, competitions offer a chance to emerge from obscurity and to compete on even terms with older members of the profession. For more established firms, competitions present the opportunity to experiment with new ideas and gain new business. Still, the opportunity does not come cheap. In the Naperville competition, the city paid each architect $10,000 to cover expenses. But Doug Johnson, a vice president at Fujikawa, Johnson & Associates, said producing models, drawings and other materials for the competition cost his firm about $40,000.