The recent outcry against the winning design for Salt Lake City's new consolidated court complex is perplexing. Cut through the rhetoric used by architects, urban planners, a politician and others who have lambasted the plans and their objections boil down to this - the court complex looks too much like a court complex.
They aren't likely to win many allies among the taxpaying public with such arguments.These critics say the building represents a cookie-cutter approach to government architecture and will look too much like other courthouses in other cities. Instead, they envision a much grander structure that makes some sort of statement about the state and its people.
Those types of buildings are indeed important to a capital city. But Salt Lake City already has a few, and one of them, the City-County Building, happens to be directly across the street from the proposed court complex. Fortunately, the winning design will complement rather than vie for attention with that unique structure - one of the few examples of Rich-ard-sonian Romanesque architecture anywhere in the nation.
The winning design, from the San Francisco firm of Hellmuth, Obata and Kassabaum, is functional and austere. Its designers guarantee it can be built for $68 million or less. Cost and function undoubtedly are more important to the average Utahn than a grand and elaborate design, a fact apparently lost on those who oppose the winning plan.
The critics also claim the design looks too menacing and intimidating. They go to the ridiculous and provocative lengths of comparing it to something Hitler's architect, Albert Speer, would have created.
However, courts are where people are sentenced to prison for committing menacing and intimidating crimes. Rather than making all who enter feel warm and cozy, it seems prudent to design a courts complex that conveys a sense of the seriousness attached to violations of the law.
Rather than criticizing, Utahns should be applauding the efforts of the members of the design-selection committee. They were specific and detailed in communicating what they wanted and they conducted a contest that required all entrants to team up with construction companies, meet specifications and provide a guaranteed construction cost. The winning design was the clear choice of nearly all committee members.
For years, Utah's justice system has been in desperate need of a consolidated courts complex - one that would combine all Salt Lake County courts plus the state Supreme Court and Court of Appeals. The process has been slowed at various times by political wranglings.
State lawmakers have appropriated the money to buy the land, but they have yet to provide the money for construction. They should not let the critics of the winning design talk them into delaying that action.