Salt Lake City may not be an architectural hub of the world, but we do have a great view. The panorama of mountains and foothills visible even from the core of the city is Salt Lake's personal signature, setting it apart from every other American city full of postmodern office towers and stucco minimalls.
And there are other views, too, that say "Salt Lake City" - the Utah Capitol, Washington Square, Temple Square, the University of Utah reposing up on the hill.The Salt Lake City Arts Council, wanting to celebrate those views and hoping ultimately to preserve them, wants you to nominate your favorite "view corridor" as part of the sixth annual Urban Design Awards.
The awards, co-sponsored by the Deseret News, in past years have honored people, institutions, processes and cityscapes that have helped make Salt Lake City not only a place that is pleasing to look at but also a place that feels comfortable for the people who live here. A place, as 19th century writer John Ruskin put it, that "enriches the life of man."
Ruskin, who coined the word "ilth" (money used for the production of objects and the creation of places that diminish life rather than enhance it) is quoted by England's Prince Charles in recent speeches and books aimed at challenging the direction of English architecture.
Unlike the Prince, who sometimes offends architects by criticizing their works with phrases like "monstrous carbuncle," the Salt Lake City Arts Council prefers to reward the good rather than poke fun at the bad and the ugly. Winners are chosen from "people's choice" nominations (see ballot below).
The Arts Council has delegated management of this year's awards to members of the urban design committee of R/UDAT (the Regional /Urban Design Assistance Team, made up of local volunteers interested in careful growth and development of Salt Lake's downtown area).
There are three catagories for this year's awardsz:
- A neighborhood or district with a strong, identifiable character. In other cities, such neighborhoods would include places like San Francisco's Chinatown, New York's loft district or Washington's Georgetown - neighborhoods distinctive and cohesive because of a common ethnic make-up, economic use or architectural style.
The Arts Council, says urban design committee member Stephen Goldsmith, wants to applaud local neighborhoods that serve as a contrast to homogenization and suburban sprawl - areas that promote diversity and a sense of community.
- A favorite walking, biking or jogging route. These would be places that enable people "to move throughout the city with pleasure and delight," says Goldsmith.
Honoring facets of urban life that focus on people, and what is known in architecture as "human scale," is a goal of the Urban Design Awards.
- A "view corridor" that should be preserved. In urban design lingo, a view corridor is any line of vision, from a downtown intersection or public area, that provides an unobstructed view of a landmark or a natural setting - down 300 South to the Rio Grande depot, for example.
Goldsmith notes that the Salt Lake City Planning Commission is currently considering a petition that would prohibit buildings that block the view of key downtown landmarks, as seen from public plazas and downtown intersections. There is also a move to include views of certain key mountain peaks.
If such a provision had been on the books in the past, notes Goldsmith, planners would have been able to insist that Crossroads Plaza, for example, be designed in a cone shape (higher in the middle, with edges that tapered down). Such a design would have kept at least parts of Temple Square visible from farther down Main St. and West Temple St.
In the past, Urban Design Awards have been given to such diverse people, groups and places as the Utah Transit Authority, O.C. Tanner, First Step House, the Temple Square flower gardens and the State Division of Facilities, Construction and Management.
Deadline for this year's award nominations is Nov. 19. Mayor Palmer DePaulis will announce the winners in December.