In the pre-recession days of 2006, Elk Grove was flying high, ranked by the U.S. Census Bureau as the fastest-growing city in America. And for a time, its civic ambitions seemed to match its prodigious growth rate.
In the midst of its boom, the city decided to convert 78 acres into a $159 million civic center, with amenities like a library, an aquatic center, soccer fields and a performing arts center.
And no action spoke to its lofty goals more profoundly than the city’s shockingly bold decision to hire one of the world’s most cutting-edge architects – London-based Zaha Hadid.
Frankly, it was a coup for the city to even catch her discerning eye. Among her projects: the aquatic center for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, the Guangzhou Opera House in China and a new stadium in Qatar that will host the 2022 World Cup.
Alas, Elk Grove’s unbridled ambition did not survive the recession.
When the economy nosedived, the project was shelved. But by 2010, as the recovery began, discussions with Hadid’s firm resumed. But not for long.
By early 2011, as new renderings for the project emerged, Elk Grove’s political structure had changed. The then-new mayor, Steven Detrick, and most of the new city council members – along with a few citizens who showed up to the final council presentation by Hadid’s project architect Bozana Komljenovic – openly mocked the design as resembling a “squid” or “starfish” or “spaceship,” seemingly unaware of the avant-garde biomorphic style that marked the work of the first woman to win the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize.
Detrick vowed to fight the participation of Hadid’s firm, and the relationship soon ended.
That was five years ago.
Then on March 31 of this year, Hadid died of a heart attack at age 65.
Suddenly, her Elk Grove proposal has taken on new meaning. It is now one of a finite number of designs created or overseen by one of our generation’s greatest creative minds.
So, let’s build it.
Naturally, it would make sense at the site for which it was designed. But Elk Grove planners are moving quickly toward a scaled-down vision for the project, which now also includes a senior center – replete with bocce ball courts.
Besides, it makes more sense in Sacramento anyway, building on the momentum and modern designs of the Golden 1 Center and surrounding developments.
The most obvious location, given the project’s scale, is the downtown rail yard. Among its potential uses: a convention center, a university or perhaps even a new transportation hub with high-speed rail. What better home for 21st century travel than this futuristic design?
Or perhaps West Sacramento might add it to its riverfront’s burgeoning architectural menagerie that already includes the Ziggurat “pyramid” building and the spectacular new curvilinear Barn structure.
In 2003, The New York Times’ then-architecture critic, Herbert Muschamp, called Hadid’s Cincinnati museum “the most important American building to be completed since the end of the Cold War.” What if we found out that Frank Lloyd Wright had designed a building for Sacramento, but it was never constructed? We’d be crazy not to build it.
Here’s the reality: Sacramento has an extraordinary dearth of boldly designed buildings – the kind of landmarks that give a city its identity. This is an opportunity to create an instant architectural icon, and become one of a select few cities graced by the aesthetic influence of one of the world’s most celebrated architects.
If 2016 Sacramento can’t bring itself to think as big and as bold as 2006 Elk Grove, well, then I guess we deserve all the bocce ball courts that we get.
Rob Turner is co-editor of Sactown Magazine. A longer version of this article appears at sactownmag.com. Contact Turner at firstname.lastname@example.org.