Over the last few years, I've asked half-a-dozen local architects the same question: what are the five best buildings in Colorado Springs? Answers have been surprisingly uniform. The consensus picks:

1. The Fine Arts Center

2. The Air Force Academy Chapel

3. The main building of The Broadmoor hotel

4. The Pioneers' Museum.

5. Colorado College's Palmer Hall

A few other buildings were mentioned, including the original downtown library building, several buildings on the Colorado College campus, a couple of historic residences, and the city auditorium.

Notice anything strange about this list? They're all wonderful structures, certainly, but not one of them is less than 50 years old. The Air Force Academy chapel was built in the 50s, the Fine Arts Center in the 30s, The Broadmoor in the 20s, and the rest of 'em have been around for a century or more.

The only contemporary building that even rated a mention was Liz Ingraham's lovely Unitarian church on Union Boulevard, erected, as I recall, about 10 years ago.

The dearth of good contemporary architecture is disheartening, to say the least. Particularly since at least 80 percent of the buildings in Colorado Springs are less than 50 years old, you'd expect that more than one such structure would be worth an architect's mention.

But ours is, apparently, an age of disposable industrial buildings, and monotonous, derivative, kitschy and uninspired residences. The big box retailers that line Academy Boulevard are not interested in winning any architectural competitions; they're interested in sales per square foot.

And residential builders want designs that are practical, affordable, and appealing; brilliantly innovative architecture would scare the hell out of the buyers.

So if we're going to have any half-decent contemporary buildings in our smug little burg, we'll have to look to the public sector; to the churches, to the museums, to the universities, and to local government.

Hope lies in Colorado College's newly planned Cornerstone Arts Center, designed by world-renowned architect Antoine Predock of Albuquerque -- a center for dance, theater, film, art and music.

Unhappily, other local institutions have found the same comfortable lover; the bitch-goddess Mediocrity. Look at any city building (with the possible exception of the airport terminal), any public school, any newer church or non-profit, any public-sector building at all. They are, in Ann Gorsuch's memorable phrase, nothingburgers.

Take away the Chrysler Building, the Empire State Building, and dozens of others, and New York would be just another big city. Take away the Eiffel Tower, and Paris is sadly diminished. Imagine Rome without St. Peter's, Athens without the Acropolis, Egypt without the pyramids, Lhasa without the Potala, or Sydney without its Opera House.

But given our community's deep-rooted banality, how can we possibly get a decent public building?

Despite the City Council's tendentious little motto -- "There's no Place Like Home -- which is so like the embroidered homilies that our grandparents were so fond of, we are so not a "world-class city."

Given that institutions such as First Presbyterian Church have been hard at work destroying the beautiful and building the ugly, why should we expect the city to be any different? Our public buildings are at best passable (the airport terminal, the new Utilities complex), at worst execrable (the city administration building, the downtown parking structures).

But let's not dwell upon the disheartening realities; let's imagine a couple of possible projects, which in any other substantial Western city would be well under way.

The Pikes Peak Summit House. The city ought to ditch its current design, and hold an international competition to select an architect. Imagine a design by Maya Lin, or Frank Gehry or I.M. Pei! We might actually have a building worthy of the mountain.

A new city Art Museum: The Fine Arts Center was a wonderful facility for a town of 30,000. It's still wonderful, but woefully undersized for a metropolitan area of half a million.

Here's a plan: CC buys the FAC building and uses it as a campus facility. The Arts Center takes that money, plus another $20 million or so from private donors. (El Pomar, Boettcher, Gates, plus all of its generous supporters -- Dusty Loo, you can run but you can't hide!)

Together, with the city pitching in cash for infrastructure and site acquisition, we'll build a spectacular new art museum -- in Confluence Park!

Can it happen? Sure. Will it happen? Well, in a city whose council members slash funding for the arts, presumably so they can afford to give senior bureaucrats fat raises, don't hold your breath. -- letters@csindy.com


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