Monday, June 08, 2015

I love trains.

I just took the Amtrak down to Portland a few weeks back for a work trip. It is my favorite way to travel to PDX, which I do for work and pleasure at least a few times a year. Portland’s walk-ability and transit system also make it really easy to be without a car.

You may have heard by now that WSDOT will be breaking ground on the new Amtrak station at Freighthouse Square this next year and that new station is schedule to open in 2017.

Parts of the plans for the new station include a clock tower that WSDOT and the Citizens Advisory Committee on the project have hopes will be an iconic addition to the Tacoma landscape.

The proposed clock tower will stand 80 to 90 feet tall and be located on 25th Street, in front of the Freighthouse Square building and across the street from the commuter parking garage.

Whenever someone uses the word iconic – I’ll admit I get a little nervous.

Not because I’m against iconic structures. No, in fact, I think iconic design and architectural elements are an important factor in a community’s identification with its city.

I get nervous because sometimes what gets produced in the service of iconic is something ugly, something out of place, something that isn’t functional, or something that is trying entirely too hard.

I’m not an architect or a designer, but like most of you, I know when something works and doesn’t work. It’s a fine line – trying to create something iconic

In some ways there are a lot of things out of the control of the designers and decision makers that end up making something iconic. Sometimes it is just about timing. Sometimes it’s about the cultural evolution of a place that can’t be anticipated in the moment.

Interestingly enough, we already have an iconic structure in the vicinity of the new Amtrak station – the Tacoma Dome.

The T-Dome is a good example. I’m not sure anyone would call it attractive and in fact many people might call it an eye sore. Nevertheless, it is iconic and you can’t think about the Tacoma landscape without calling to mind the dome.

The structure itself is iconic and that doesn’t even take into account the history that it holds. I wore out my Sonic’s T-Shirt that had the Tacoma landscape worked into the Sonic’s logo from their time playing in the Woodshed in the 1994-95 season. That’s just one of my many favorite pieces of T-Dome history.

One of the things that will make the Tacoma dome even more iconic (in my opinion) is the Warhol Flower being painted on the top of the dome. I know that everyone doesn’t share that opinion, but what I like about it is that it takes something that is already a known quantity and connects it even more deeply to a significant part of our identity as strong artistically oriented city.

Plus, it takes a bit of a risk – which sometimes is needed when trying to create something iconic.

WSDOT put a call out for residents to weigh in on three proposed designs for the clock tower. Today was the deadline for input. I will be interested to see what the feedback is.

I won’t get into the proposed designs, but if you want to read more about them you can check out Matt Driscoll’s article in The News Tribune. Like Matt, I think the clock tower is a good idea, but I’m not sold on any of the current designs either.

Here is the thing about creating something iconic – you can’t let the limitations get in the way.

There are plenty of potential limitations – cost, the limitations of the location, and trying to meet particular deadlines.

Taking a risk is not the same thing as settling for something less the desirable because we lack the will, the imagination, and the determination to create something that really works.

I vote that we take our time.

Matt points out that City Councilman David Boe (an architect) has some ideas, including a city run open design competition – after all Tacoma is full of many great artists, designers, and architects that I believe have the capacity to imagine something that will indeed be iconic.

In my opinion it would be worth the time and effort – let’s get this right.

If at this late hour you still want to weigh in. You can access the survey here - online survey .

1 comment:

  1. Here is an alternate idea that might be a better fit for the freighthouse square clock tower: