March 9, 2005
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 Domes glazed interior, are words
from the States Constitution. The interior is designed
to collect natural light, simultaneously providing views of
the summit of Mt. Juneau. Mindful of Alaskans 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. Its
rare that you have this much public interaction in a design
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,
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 its taken
46 years to get this far, the mayors 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.