A bitterly contested competition for the job of prime architect of a major new arena is about to be decided. Fittingly enough, it has taken place in the sports design capital of the U.S., Kansas City, Mo., where several major sports architects are located.
On Thursday, Sept. 30, each of the two competing teams will make presentations to a special selection committee in charge of selecting the lead designer for the planned $250-million arena. The panel includes Mayor Kay Barnes, a proponent of the arena who helped win a public vote on the financing plan. The panel's choice must be ratified by the Anschutz Entertainment Group, which along with Sprint USA is a major investor in the facility.
One team is led by HOK Sport+Venue+Event, based in Kansas City and widely recognized as the top sports architecture practice in the U.S. Its employees have gone on to play prominent roles in other sports design practices. HOK is teamed with Ellerbe Becket, another designer of sports facilities, and 360 Architects.
HOK has designed many of the major stadiums built in the last 15 years and has deep experience in creating entertaining viewing environments. Some of its sports facilities are identified with urban contextual architecture and a return to old-fashioned ballparks, such as Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore.
The other team is led by Frank Gehry, the widely praised Los Angeles-based designer of signature public buildings. Gehry is known for his mold-shattering deconstructionist building exteriors. He has teamed with a another design firm, Crawford Architects.
So intense has been the competition that, although it isn't required, the two teams will both make public presentations following their Thursday interviews with nine-member the selection committee. Although the committee is only interested in qualifications, not design ideas, "we expect that they will jump the gun" and make full visual presentations of their concepts to the committee and the public, says Steve Glorioso, a spokesman for Mayor Barnes.
Each team will be interviewed and make its public presentation at Bartle Hall, the city's convention center. The HOK team goes first, in the morning, and will be followed by the Gehry team.
The two competitors could not be reached for comment in the harried hours leading up to the presentations.
There has been a lot said in the weeks leading up to the selection.
Each team has accused the other of violating professional decorum in its zeal for the contract. HOK has been lambasted for "cookie-cutter" designs and for trying to muscle its way into winning a plum in its own backyard. Gehry, on the other hand, has been mocked for the superficiality of his flamboyant exteriors and inexperience in bringing big sports projects to completion on time and on budget.
The tone of the competition was captured by a headline in the Kansas City Star: "Arena architect teams bare their fangs," it wrote.