Architect speaks on Newport's Civic Center

Undulating wooden waves borne on glittering glass. Shaded walkways facing walls covered in green. An oculus that will let in light like an eye. And a giant Gore-Tex and polymer sail that will glow in the night.

These are all elements of architecture firm Bohlin Cywinski Jackson's vision of Newport Beach's new Civic Center, which is under construction next to the Central Library on Avocado Avenue. The center is slated to be complete early next year, though City Council meetings will move over from the old City Hall site on the Peninsula starting in December.

"I think it'll be kind of magical," the firm's Peter Bohlin said Monday night at a city event, "The New Civic Center: A Vision for the Future."

The center, which will include a new city hall, an extension of the library and a 16-acre park designed by landscape architect Peter Walker, is a project six years in the making, said Councilman Ed Selich.

A couple hundred people turned out for the talk at the Central Library, even as the presidential candidates duked it out one last time on TV.

Bohlin — whose work Selich described as "thoughtful, thorough design" — talked about his process gleaning inspiration from the natural world, the way humans function in a space and his architectural "roots." Bohlin Cywinski Jackson has designed dozens of high-profile projects since the firm was founded in 1965.

As the firm behind the New York City Apple store's famous glass cube, Bohlin said architecture sits at "the nexus of people and place," in much the same way Apple's products combine science and art.

"We are all emotional beings as well as intellectual beings," he said.

So considerations like how architecture motivates people to move through a space without forcing them are important. In the Apple store, he said, that problem was tackled with a translucent staircase that invites customers to almost "levitate" to the upper floor.

"It works with their spirit," he said of the Apple stores, for which the firm was hand-selected by Steve Jobs. "It's hard to pin down — there's a kind of ethereal quality."

Bohlin clicked through slide after slide of murmur-inducing photos of the firm's past projects, including Seattle's City Hall, a visitor center in Grand Teton National Park in Jackson, Wyo. and the Pixar Studio and Headquarters in Emeryville, Calif.

Those buildings' distinct uses and sites all factored into their designs, Bohlin said. The Newport Civic Center was no different.

Hand-drawn sketches then computer renderings showed how Newport's design was refined bit by bit as Bohlin's team and the city tackled every aspect of the planning, from the size of roof overhangs based on the angle of the sun, to wayfinding signage within the completed center.

He said the building will definitely receive a Silver LEED certification, awarded to buildings for their environmental friendliness, and will likely garner the next level higher, a Gold LEED certification, barring surprises in judging.

As construction nears completion, "excitement seems to be building," said Josh Keller an associate at Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, which has offices in five cities.

And while most of the audience seemed taken with the designs, ooh-ing and aah-ing as Bohlin showed off different aspects, not everyone was smitten.

During a question-and-answer session after Bohlin's talk, an audience member asked, "Will the sail grow on us? Or will we always detest it?"

Bohlin raised his eyebrows, bemused.

"I think you'll have to wait and see what you think," he said. "Maybe wait a generation."

Twitter: @jillcowan

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