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Morphosis Selected to Design Alaska State Capitol

Image courtesy Morphosis

Alaska, the forty-ninth state and last frontier will soon have a new Capitol to call its own. On March 1, a jury of ten selected Santa Monica, California-based Morphosis to design the building for the capital city of Juneau. Given just a few weeks to develop a concept in Stage III of the competition, Principal Thom Mayne says his design, which features a 150-foot glass dome, is only a rough sketch. “This is literally just the beginning,” says Mayne, who spent half of his jury presentation focused on the history of the dome as a symbol of the nation.

Out of the four finalists that included Moshe Sadie & Associates, Yazdani Studio of Cannon Design, and NBBJ, the Morphosis design was the only one that included a dome. The Morphosis design locates the “heart” in the Rotunda, where etched into the Dome’s glazed interior, are words from the State’s Constitution. The interior is designed to collect natural light, simultaneously providing views of the summit of Mt. Juneau. Mindful of Alaskan’s reference for the land, the Capitol is intended to “symbolize the nature and vastness of Alaska.”

Uncomfortable with the contemporary or “futuristic” designs submitted by the finalists, residents voiced their opinion on the official “Alaska Capitol” website or in local newspapers. The Capitol should “not stand out like a sci-fi exhibit” wrote one resident in the Juneau Empire. Many have referred to the Morhphosis dome as looking like an “egg.”


Donald Statsny, FAIA, Competition Manager and Advisor, says the competition invited public input, including the submission of ideas for the capitol building. Residents were even encouraged to apply for a seat on the jury. “It was a very sophisticated and transparent process,” notes Statsny. “It’s rare that you have this much public interaction in a design competition.”

“We have only just begun the process of making our Capitol truly Alaskan,” says Mike Mense, the Alaska associate on the Mayne-led design team. Mense, a resident of the state since 1976 explains that his firm, mmense Architects, will help to educate the team on the unique and harsh weather conditions that affect building. “But I think my much more important task is to infuse our design with the spirit of Alaska,” he adds.

Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho would like to see the building constructed at an estimated cost of $100 million by 2009 for the state's 50th anniversary. Considering it’s taken 46 years to get this far, the mayor’s goal seems ambitious. But Mayne believes Alaskans are indeed, ready for their Capitol. “This is the last capitol to be built in the States,” he says. “They are very serious about this attempt. I see it all happening quickly.”

Allison Milionis