A Great City Deserves a Great City Hall

Tuesday, Mayor Curtis wrote a speculative blog post about what sort of city hall Provo should have in the future. He writes

 Today it dawned on me that if we are going to build a new City Center someday, why not aim big?

Here, here! Architecture is a valuable asset for a city, as anyone who appreciates Provo’s historic buildings knows. Beautiful buildings can have many practical effects such raising property values and bolstering their surrounding areas. Indeed erecting “lovable” structures can be as much an investment by a community as an expenditure.

Architecture also conveys a message about the people who produce it. That’s why the building in the mayor’s post looks the way it does; the builders and users of the structure wanted to express their values via the built environment. And the reality is that we aren’t done constructing historic buildings. Rather, if we do a good job today we’ll be leaving a legacy of historic buildings for our descendants.

For these reasons and many more, I take seriously the idea of building a new city center. And though I know this is a time of general belt-tightening, building a new city center sooner rather than later would allow the community to capitalize on economic conditions conducive to construction.

To get a sense of what other communities have done, I recommend looking at this article and slide show from The Atlantic Cities, which features both good and bad examples. Here are some other interesting city buildings:

Pasadena isn't much bigger than Provo, but its city hall is so attractive that it actually doubles as the city hall of Pawnee in the TV show Parks and Recreation.

The massive art deco city hall in Buffalo, NY, is one of my personal favorites.

Utah's capital city and Provo's neighbor to the north also has a unique, grand, and striking city building.

San Francisco went classy, and classical, with it's beaux-arts city hall.

Houston's art deco city hall demonstrates that comparatively simple buildings can be interesting.

And finally, a spectacular city building in Bruges, Belgium, in 2010 (with Laura in the foreground).

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7 Comments

Filed under building, construction, Development, Downtown

7 responses to “A Great City Deserves a Great City Hall

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  2. Brenda Butts

    I really don’t see why there is a need for a new city center. Compared to the County Courthouse located on Center and University Avenue, the city center we have now isn’t very old. If I remember right, please correct me if I’m wrong, the current building was moved into by city employees in 1971. If there is need for a new city center, I believe it should blend in with the surrounding architecture and building colors.

    • I definitely can see what you’re saying, especially since the exterior of the building is in relatively decent condition.

      However, in conversations I’ve had I’ve been given the impression that the current facility is in dire need of major renovations, both because it’s not compliant with current codes and because it’s wearing out. The renovations would end up being so expensive that it might be better to simply rebuild.

      The reason its wearing out so quickly is probably due to the radical difference between building practices in the 1960s and 1970s and when Provo’s more historic structures were erected. There’s a lot of information out there on this, but I like http://www.originalgreen.org/ as a intro on the importance of durable building practices (many of which have been increasingly abandoned during the late 20th century and early 21st century).

      More viscerally, and as a person with a background in rhetoric and visual communication, I’d also argue that the vaguely faux modernist design of the buildings is no longer serving the rhetorical purposes of the community. This was an underlying thesis of the post: that a great people uses architecture to symbolize their greatness. That’s a principle I take from the founders of Utah and the United States, among others in many civilizations.

      Though there are economic benefits to monumental and durable architecture, this may be getting into matters of taste, and I appreciate that (my wife, for example, actually thinks the current city center is an attractive building). But I think there is a general consensus that Provo is a radically different place today than it was 10, 20, or 30 years ago. It’s an urban center and an ascendent city, in my opinion, and consequently needs to return to building the kind of aspirational structures that its founders erected.

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