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Panel Favors Pelli For Science Center Design
Architect's Diving Board-Like Building Is Leader Of Four Finalists For Adriaen's Landing Site

September 24, 2004
By TOM PULEO, Courant Staff Writer

A key selection committee was leaning strongly Thursday toward recommending New Haven-based Cesar Pelli, sources said, to design Hartford's next landmark: the science center at Adriaen's Landing.

The committee is expected to make a recommendation this morning to the full board of trustees of the Connecticut Center for Science & Exploration. The board is then expected to announce the winner of the international design competition later today. Sources said while the committee was leaning toward Pelli, they did not rule out the possibility of another winner emerging.

Pelli, 77, is one of a final four of world-renowned architects who all dazzled an audience this week in rolling out their bold, futuristic models for the $150 million center planned for the Connecticut River bank.

During the public forum Monday, Pelli made enthusiastic comments. He talked excitedly about how much the job would mean to him as a Connecticut resident and an architect - saying the project for "many reasons ... connects with me and my life."

His model featured a 140-foot-high cantilevered roof extending like a platform diving board over I-91 toward the Connecticut River. He called the design a "magic carpet ride" that would draw in passersby out of curiosity alone.

The building would rise from Columbus Boulevard via a three-level garage podium, and then climb to a glass, light-filled public room - called "Science Alley" - designed to connect the complex with the river. Exhibits and galleries would be located in two wings on the north and south sides of Science Alley and on floors above. A big-screen theater and cafe are slated for the first and second floors of the north wing.

Pelli's plan was warmly received by audience members at Monday's forum at the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts. He is the most local among the finalists. The others are Boston-based Moshe Safdie and Associates Inc.; the California-based U.S. office of Behnisch, Behnisch & Partner; and Zaha Hadid Architects, based in London.

Through the week, the public and architecture critics debated the designs, with Safdie's double-tubed design generating the strongest reactions - both pro and con.

The Argentina-born Pelli is perhaps best known for designing the 88-floor Petronas Twin Towers, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The towers were considered the world's tallest buildings when erected in 1996. That distinction now belongs to the Taipei 101 Tower in Taiwan.

Reached at his New Haven office Thursday, Pelli said nobody from the science center has talked to him since Monday's public forum. He said he would be thrilled to be chosen as the top candidate among his peers.

The science center's six-member "facilities" committee - which is handling the selection process - meets at 9 a.m. this morning to recommend a winner. The full board of trustees meets directly after the committee.

Today's decision marks the end of an international competition that attracted some of the world's top architects. The committee was advised by Robert A.M. Stern, dean of the School of Architecture at Yale University. Pelli also is a former dean at the school.

Science center President Theodore S. Sergi said Thursday that today's vote also signals the start of a long relationship in which the winning architect, the trustees and the public will tweak and leaven the plans to erect an iconic and functional addition to the downtown skyline.

He emphasized that the board would be picking an architect it can work with, not necessarily the exact design presented Monday. The science center board is paying each architect $50,000 for their design, and retaining the right to incorporate elements of any of the proposals into the final plans if they choose.

Sergi would not disclose the winning architect. Groundbreaking is planned for October 2005, with a grand opening in October 2007.

The science center would be constructed at the northern edge of Adriaen's Landing, the centerpiece of a state-backed, billion-dollar downtown development venture. The 30-acre Adriaen's site also includes a Marriott hotel and a new convention center that are expected to open next summer.

Pelli is known for restricting his workload.

"The number of commissions the firm accepts is carefully limited to ensure a high degree of personal involvement by the principals," he says on his firm's website.

The cost of the science center structure is estimated at $100 million, with another $50 million going toward programming - the exhibits and galleries in the building would stress education but not at the expense of fun.

About $36 million remains to be raised. The numbers are based on an estimated annual operating budget of $10 million that assumes 400,000 visitors a year.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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