Color It a Great Debate : Convention Center Hue Off Key

Times Staff Writer

The colors recommended for the inside of the new $125-million convention center may make it resemble "the cheapest motel in town," one of the architects who designed the waterfront structure said Tuesday.

The comment, made by architect Arthur Erickson, is part of the debate developing between major architectural companies over the interior colors and carpeting for the center, now under construction along the city's bayfront.

On one side is the team of architects hired by the San Diego Unified Port District, which is paying to build the 1.75-million-square-foot structure. On the other side is an architectural firm hired by the Convention Center Corp., the organization set up by the City of San Diego to lease and operate the facility.

Designers Wanted a Color Choice

The team--Arthur Erickson Architects of Los Angeles, Loschky Marquardt & Nesholm of Seattle and Deems Lewis & Partners of San Diego--designed the center for the Port District and expected to have a role in selecting the interior colors.

But a few months ago, Convention Center Corp. selected HOK architects of Los Angeles, at a cost of $280,000, to prepare an interior space plan, including a coordinated color scheme and a projected budget for furniture and fixtures.

For a while, the two sides worked together and seemed to have arrived at a solution. But, according to Erickson, HOK modified the proposal without consultation and a month ago recommended a color and carpet plan that the center's designers found alarming.

Erickson described HOK's colors as "drab" and called a carpet scheme proposed for a bathroom what "you'd find in the cheapest motel in town . . . it's completely unacceptable to us."

Erickson, speaking to the Board of Port Commissioners, said his team had recommended nautical-type colors that stressed reds, whites and blues, which would evoke openness and cheerfulness and complement the area's sunny climate.

Sadness in Santa Fe Shades

In contrast, he said, HOK's selections, which he described in some cases as being "drab in the extreme," were "more Santa Fe than San Diego" and provoked "sadness."

HOK representatives were not at the commissioners' hearing to defend themselves, but James Granby, president of Convention Center Corp., said he assumed that both architectural entities had been consulting with each other.

"We're trapped between two distinguished architectural firms that don't seem to think much of each other's work," Granby said.

Commissioner Louis Wolfsheimer said that last spring, he, the architects and several other officials met with Mayor Maureen O'Connor, who objected to the Erickson team's proposed color scheme, which included striped carpeting. "In the end, after all, it is a build-to-suit (facility)," said Wolfsheimer, emphasizing the city's role in the convention center. "I know for one that the mayor feels very, very strongly about this."

After the hearing, Granby said that he too felt that "as the tenant, we're in charge" of what goes on inside, even though the Port District is paying to build and outfit the center, scheduled to open in May, 1989.

Officials said a decision on the color scheme must be made soon, preferably by the end of the month, to avoid costly change orders since some bathrooms are ready for tile and carpeting.

The Board of Port Commissioners voted to give the two architectural sides until Sept. 29--the date of the next commissioners' meeting--to resolve their problems.

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