A jury of architects and city officials chose a plan featuring a glass chamber for the City Council in Monday's final judging of a competition to design a civic center for West Hollywood.
That was fine with Mayor Pro Tem Helen Albert. "We're working in a fishbowl anyway," she said.
The design was submitted by Edmund W. Chang and Roger Sherman, a pair of 29-year-old architects who graduated two years ago from Harvard's School of Design.
Neither had won a major competition before.
"We're a little overwhelmed by the whole thing," Chang said.
Their design envisions a sprawling collection of low buildings in West Hollywood Park, highlighted by two observation towers and an undulating portico along San Vicente Boulevard.
The park, between Melrose Avenue and Santa Monica Boulevard, is currently home to a library, a swimming pool, tennis courts, a softball field, an auditorium and county offices, all of which will be included in the new plan.
Despite the addition of municipal offices and the cylindrical glass council chambers, the proposed design would increase green space at the park by 30%, city officials said.
But Ira Stein, an attorney and civic activist, said he suspects that those estimates are not correct.
He said the proposed civic center might violate state law by depriving West Hollywood of much-needed parkland.
"I have to examine how much of what is legally parkland is going to be gained or lost," said Stein, who said he is contemplating filing a lawsuit against the city.
The Sierra Club has also opposed the construction of new civic buildings in the park.
City Councilman John Heileman said the solution offered by Chang and Sherman should put the issue of parkland to rest. Heileman was one of 13 members on the jury.
Chang and Sherman have "demonstrated that we can add all this, and replace the existing uses, and still come out with more parkland and usable recreation spaces," Heileman said.
"The winning design was the jury's unanimous choice because it best reflected the excitement, boldness and youthful vitality of West Hollywood," he said.
The key to the successful design was a three-level, 375-space underground parking garage that eliminates the need for two surface parking lots, he said.
Still, the City Council will discuss the question of parkland Monday and consult with county Supervisor Ed Edelman to resolve the issue, Heileman said.
Edelman's support is important because the land could revert to county ownership if West Hollywood is found to have violated provisions of the deed under which the county handed over much of the land to the newly incorporated city in 1985.
Councilman Steve Schulte was less enthusiastic about the proposed site, saying a survey of 35 opinion leaders in West Hollywood showed no clear consensus.
"There is a considerable amount of concern about" losing parkland, he said. "There is also a considerable amount of concern about having the facility placed on the west end of town and therefore missing the opportunity to make a statement for revitalizing the eastern end of town."
He said it might be a good idea to keep some facilities in West Hollywood Park and distribute other ones in the less prosperous east side of the city.
Schulte acknowledged that the design by Chang and Sherman is good. "I'm not going to assume this is the final edition. I think when we really do settle on the site and decide what goes there, we're going to see some reworking of the design."
The winning design was one of five that made the final round, out of 292 entries submitted by architects from as far away as Bulgaria and Zimbabwe, Community Development Director Mark Winogrond said.
He said the last stage of judging was much more difficult because all five designs were excellent proposals.
But after a four-hour debate Monday, the jury "picked this one because it's bolder," he said. "It isn't a traditional Spanish or neoclassical civic center where people come for government work but nobody comes for anything else."
Instead, the design includes a broad plaza and an auditorium with a 300-seat outdoor movie theater on the roof.
The design also includes a portal that would connect the central plaza to a grassy triangle that leads to baseball fields and a swimming pool at the south end of the site.
The main entrance to the frequently visited offices of the city's rent control administration and Community Development Department would be on Robertson Boulevard, while other offices would be connected with the glass council chambers visible from San Vicente Boulevard.
A fire station would be tucked away on the southern tip of the property to minimize disruption to the rest of the complex.
"We understood from the beginning that the preservation of parkland was a very critical issue," Sherman said. "We had to think about the buildings not only in the architectural context but also as part of a landscape scenario."