Thursday, August 27, 2009

Events Center Is Worst of the Worst

Special Events Center: “An expensive corrugated metal shed.” ^

Poff Building: “Inaccessible and ugly.” ^

Carilion-Tech complex: Missed opportunity to "create cutting-edge signature structures."^

Story, photo by DAN SMITH

Builders are an opinionated lot, even when they don’t want their opinions publicly noted. With that in mind, FRONT gave a group of professionals in construction and affiliated fields the opportunity to select the worst buildings in the region without having to point a finger at themselves in the process.

The obvious point here, as they will all express one way or another, is “Hey, we have to work with the guys who designed it.” And so, we get a list with plenty of sizzle and pop, but without finger-pointing.

This list is the opposing view to Valley Business FRONT’s FRONTList15: Best Buildings in the Region, the cover story in the September issue, available at or in the paper copy of your magazine.

Winning Best of the Worst—hands-down—was the Roanoke Civic Center’s Special Events Center, a relatively new add-on to a facility that is nearly 40 years old and has served the city well in that period. Here’s what some of our voters had to say:

“An unexciting exterior jammed next to the highway. The building was plunked directly in front of an all glass office building, constructed only a few years before, blocking their view. Worst of all, no additional parking was added to the complex, despite the increased visitor capacity. In fact, overall parking for users was reduced by the footprint of the building, making attendance at events even less convenient. Instead of spending money on more enclosed space, it could have been better spent on a parking deck or high speed rail to connect the center to downtown. The low-speed, crowded buses used for shuttles are neither efficient nor convenient.”

“Appearing tactically located at such a major gateway to a proud downtown area, [sits] an ogre set to harm the perception of the community by expressing such an extraordinary lack of incompetence and insensitivity. This building is most certainly the most prominent of recent, detrimental expenditures of public funds in Southwest Virginia.”

"It is full of failure; a waste of taxpayer money. I cannot imagine what it costs to cool that building given its all glass western exposure.”

“Little thought was given to the siting of this building in relation to the existing Civic Center structures. The southeast corner of the addition threatens to poke through the glass façade of News 13’s trapezoidal home. The slanted glass southwest corner does little to mask the fact that all it really is is an expensive corrugated metal shed.”

The runnerup is Roanoke’s Poff Federal Building. Here’s why:

“Inaccessible and ugly. Its dark monolithic shape looms over downtown. Sheer walls of brick turn their backs on surrounding neighborhoods. Entry to the building is hidden and unwelcoming. Areas requiring high security are located in vulnerable areas on the first floor. Numerous repairs made to the plaza, curtain wall, and brick side walls attest to the poor quality of construction. Miniscule parking areas, now mostly closed for security, leave workers and visitors searching for parking spaces many blocks away.”

Third place goes to Riverside Biomedical Park and Medical School because “Carilion [and Virginia Tech] had the opportunity to create cutting-edge, signature structures on this site. It certainly could have incorporated LEED principles in the design. Instead the buildings are all the same and would be considered background buildings in most suburban office parks. If this is supposed to be the center for high-tech industry and creative thought, wrapping [the buildings] in unexciting facades and scattering them about the site disconnected from the river and any green environment makes no sense.

“These are not the kind of facilities that attract creative, cool, young professionals. The mechanical equipment screens on top of the buildings are particularly ugly. Connecting them to the downtown with a fake trolley/bus instead of investigating an electric/natural gas powered bus, light rail system, or other 21st Century transportation solution makes it appear that we are longing for the 1920s, not looking forward to the 2020s.”

"Considering the amount of resources available for these projects, the design results are disappointing to say the least. I keep hearing these buildings are going to be LEED ’certifiable.’ That sounds like greenwashing to me.”

Here are some others that got votes:
  • “The greatest missed opportunity [is] the pedestrian bridge between the Hotel Roanoke and the Wachovia Tower. It could have made a major urban design contribution through structural elegance and pedestrian spatial enjoyment. It missed celebrating its environmental significance and lost its potential as a landmark in an urban landscape. It is heavy handed, expensive and purely utilitarian.”
  • Roanoke City Market Garage or Century Station Parking Garage "has cost taxpayers millions of unnecessary dollars to repair.”
  • Circular addition to the main Roanoke City Library is "just wrong from the outside, functionally fails inside, upper outdoor patio(which is an asset) is lost from view.” (The main library is on the list of Best Buildings.)
  • "FNEB building (the older original glass box) in downtown Roanoke is "boring but typical of the day.”
  • Keagy Village in Roanoke is “a disproportioned, style-less hodge-podge of EIFS Exterior Insulation and Finish Systems, often called ’synthetic stucco’).
  • Tanglewood Mall in Roanoke is “a great example of what not to do from an architectural, traffic, and suburban planning perspective. Fortunately, many modern zoning laws are being adopted to prevent the ’sea of asphalt with virtually no landscaping in front of a windowless building shoved to the edge of a site phenomena’ of the past.”
  • The former Sears Town on Williamson Road “used to be a wonderful building before it was covered up with Styrofoam and served by cheap heating and air conditioning units. Took a very interesting building and turned it into an eyesore.”
Others getting mention, but no detail are: the plaza in front of Anthem on Jefferson Street in Roanoke; the latest design concept for Roanoke City Market Building; Faith Christian School on Buck Mountain Road in Roanoke County.

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