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Francine Orr, Los Angeles Times
Frank Gehry designed the proposed Lehi project, including skyscraper, hotel, housing, shops, eateries.

LEHI — Here's the idea: provide an iconic skyscraper, five-star hotel, upscale-but-affordable housing, sports arena, shops, restaurants, plenty of park space — and have it all designed by a world-renowned architect.

It sounds a lot like the proposed Frank Gehry project in Lehi, right?

It also sounds like the Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn, N.Y., and the Grand Avenue project in Los Angeles, Calif., and the King Alfred project in Hove, England.

Those projects are also being designed by Gehry and, except for some specific details, they are surprisingly similar.

Aside from being met with some opposition from each of their surrounding communities, the projects outside Utah all feature hotel and residential towers, a mixture of retail, restaurants and entertainment, variations of a glass structure, upscale apartments and an emphasis on promoting an active, urban lifestyle.

And while coincidences among the projects could seem like some kind of architectural conspiracy, local entrepreneur Brandt Andersen, who commissioned Gehry to build his Point of the Mountain project, insists the similarities are purely happenstance.

"There are a lot of elements (of the projects) that are strictly coincidental, but there's no silver bullet there," Andersen said in an interview with the Deseret Morning News. "There's no smoking gun connecting them all."

A spokesman from Gehry's firm reinforced Andersen's statement, saying that glass is a common material that is used in contemporary architecture and the projects' likenesses are merely conceptual, not marketed copies of one design.

"We design buildings that are profoundly influenced by the use, the site and the vision of the client," said Gehry Partners LLP partner Mark Salette. "That makes them unique. There is continuity in the development of our architectural language that ties projects together. This is evolution, not duplication."

Representatives from Forest City Ratner Cos., developers of Atlantic Yards; and The Related Cos., developers of the Grand Avenue project, agree with Anderson and Salette. Each developer asserts that the projects are individually unique and dissimilar in design.

Each developer also stresses that the ideas came about independently of Gehry, although Gehry may have "tweaked" some of the proposals by adjusting density and height in some cases.

Salette noted that the project ideas are most connected through their intended impact on their respective communities.

"These projects are all large-scale developments with a mixed-use program that are meant to transform urban areas, or a suburban area, in the case of Lehi, and to connect existing neighborhoods," Salette said.

The Grand Avenue concept was hatched in 2000 through a collaborative effort between the public Grand Avenue Committee and private developers— and before Gehry was involved, according to a spokesperson for The Related Cos.

A master plan for Grand Avenue was approved in 2005, and on Feb. 13, the Los Angeles City Council gave the project a final green light.

Atlantic Yards was announced in December 2003, the result of years of discussion on how to address New York's housing crisis, according to a spokesman for Forest City Ratner Companies.

Both of the developments will be the biggest in the history of their respective cities, according to representatives of the companies.

Forest City Ratner representatives didn't know much about the proposed Lehi project, but, "That sounds familiar," was the response of a spokesman who heard a few of the development's key aspects.

"There definitely are some parallels there," Andersen said, referring to the Atlantic Yards project. "But I don't believe it will look like the Brooklyn (project). Even with the setting, in Brooklyn, the arena is much further out of the ground than he has here (in Lehi). The way that the hotel connects to the arena is completely different. If you look at the layouts of what they're planning in Brooklyn and what they're planning here, the layouts don't look anything alike."

Andersen said his project idea evolved around wanting to build a basketball arena to house his professional D-League basketball team. He also wanted to build a five-star hotel, and to Andersen, the residential component was a natural addition to make the project more financially stable.

"Residential (construc- tion), especially in Utah, is the one thing you know that can succeed," Andersen said. "It's something you can hang your hat on to say we know this will fill in the rest."

Once Andersen decided housing was crucial to the project, mixed-use retail space was another obvious necessity to balance the development and add financial support. The wakeboarding park serves as a secondary irrigation reservoir for Lehi, and Andersen says he always wanted to create a development that would foster an active lifestyle.

"I think if there's a message there, it's that people are looking for more than just living in a community that has a swimming pool," Andersen said. "People are looking for amenities that support their lifestyles, and one such amenity would be one where sporting events and concerts could be held where they're within walking distance of people's homes."

Andersen says even if there are similarities among the projects, the sheer nature of the Lehi location and a water theme sets his project apart from the others, potentially qualifying it for one of Gehry's "greatest works."

The larger density of the other developments is another distinguishing factor, he said.

The similitude between the projects could also be evidence of a growing trend of instilling mixed-use projects in America, said Antonio Serrato-Combe, professor of architecture at University of Utah's College of Architecture and Planning.

Using Salt Lake City's Gateway development as an example, Serrato-Combe said other parallel examples can be found all over the world, but especially in Europe and larger cities.

Having similar projects with reflective themes in different places isn't necessarily a bad thing, either, Serrato-Combe said, and it's certainly not a criticism that could only be applied to Gehry.

"You could say the same thing of Frank Lloyd Wright," Serrato-Combe said. "Once you start to design your own style, it's not that (you're) repeating, it's like music, if you have the same author. You can go into the classics — Mozart's music is pretty much the same, but it doesn't mean it's bad. It's Mozart."


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