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  April 7, 2003

Leading Architects Vie To Design
School Of Fine Arts Building

Seven of the world's foremost architects visited campus last month to make their bids to design the newest building in the School of Fine Arts' complex.

The National Endowment for the Arts awarded the School of Fine Arts a $75,000 grant to hold a competition to select an architectural design for the next addition to the School.

From the 55 architects who submitted entries, seven were invited to campus to make presentations on March 27 and 28. The finalists were selected based on qualifications such as past projects and their total design team package, including expertise in acoustical engineering and stage and production design.

The seven included: Frank Gehry, perhaps best known for designing the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, who teamed with New Haven firm Herbert S. Newman and Partners for the competition; Zaha Hadid, who has designed projects as diverse as the Bergisel Ski Jump in Innsbruck, Austria, and the Rosenthal Centre for Contemporary Art in Cincinnati, Ohio; and Thom Mayne, who designed Diamond Ranch High School in Pomona, Calif., and graduate housing at the University of Toronto.

"I came here because I really want to do this," Gehry said. "I like the performing arts, I like students, and I like this guy [New Haven architect Herbert Newman]."

Each architect gave a presentation about their work and then answered pre-set questions from members of the School's design and planning committee. The committee comprises nine faculty members - three each from the art, drama, and music departments. Reed Kroloff, former editor of Architecture Magazine, is advisor to the committee.

The questions dealt with topics such as how the architects would work with the School's faculty; what they view as the main challenge of the project; and how the designers would create an exciting place for students to learn in.

Architecture is a collaborative act, Mayne said, adding that he's interested in challenging the opaqueness of the buildings on campus.

The other architects who visited campus are Eric Owen Moss, Steven Holl, Jorge Silvetti and Mack Scogin. Shortly after the visits, Gehry Partners and Herbert S. Newman and Partners, Zaha Hadid Architects, and Mack Scogin/Merrill Elam Architects were named as the finalists. They will visit campus again on April 17 and 18 to participate in a series of meetings. The three will be given $25,000 from the NEA grant and will be asked to create designs and models, which they will present in early June.

The finalists' works, to be designed according to the University's architectural standards, will be displayed at the William Benton Museum of Art. The finalists will go before an independent panel that will recommend a winning design to President Philip E. Austin and the Board of Trustees.

The School of Fine Arts encompasses programs in art and art history, dramatic arts, and music, with primary emphasis on professional preparation of students for careers in the arts.

The school also includes the Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts, the William Benton Museum of Art, and the Ballard Institute of Puppetry. Currently, the school's various divisions and areas are housed in nearly 20 buildings on campus.

The planned project will permit the school to bring all its academic programs together in one complex.

The new building will be located at the southeast corner of the Storrs campus. It will be built with funds from the $1.3 billion allocated for 21st Century UConn, which begins in 2004-2005. The Board of Trustees will determine the sequence in which the buildings will be constructed, based on the Chancellor's academic plan.