Timely submission? City launches design contest for Mall clock
"Hey, meet you at the clock," could be a phrase on the lips of Downtown Mall visitors next year, as the city recently announced plans to sponsor a design contest for a $25,000 urban timepiece that would honor Charlottesville's relationship with its three sister cities.
"The idea for a clock came from research and visits to great urban spaces around the country and world," says Neighborhood Development chief Jim Tolbert. "Many have a clock as a key feature, and usually there is some theme to the clock."
It’s not the first time the city has sponsored a design contest for something that may or may not get built. Last time, it was a $150,000 design contest to generate ideas for the development of the Water Street parking lots, a contest that attracted firms from as far away as Spain, but has so far convinced no developers to take the plunge.
This time the contest is open to students and professional architects, artists, planners, and designers, anyone who has an idea and a design for a clock that could be built for $25,000 or less and somehow pay tribute to the sister cities. The winner gets a $1,500 cash prize; second place gets $1,000, and third gets $500, even if the clock is never actually constructed. Ultimately, City Council must approve the construction of the clock.
"If council approves, we would hope to use left-over Mall funds,” says Tolbert, referring to the money set aside for the Mall re-bricking project, which Tolbert has said came in under budget. “ The perfect timeline would be the first of the year."
The deadline for submissions is October 23. An official jury made up of community members will judge the entries, but like the Water Street contest, the entries will also be put on public display for a “people’s choice” vote.
City staff appear to be taking a page out of Harvey Rubenstein's book Pedestrian malls, streetscapes, and urban spaces, in which he says that clocks not only serve a useful function on pedestrian malls, they can act as a landmark and focal point. Indeed, the clock on top of the old Mall kiosk, a landmark on the Mall for years before it was removed and sold, may have never told the correct time, but it always drew one's eye.
"I think that the City is wise not to promise that any of the submissions, winning or otherwise, will necessarily be built," says Board of Architectural Review member Syd Knight, who thinks the project could be interesting if some good ideas are generated. "I've seen some competitions where all of the entries, including the winner, are not of a caliber to be erected for posterity. "
"It could be good if a good design is forthcoming, “ says UVA architectural historian Richard Guy Wilson. “...or it could be silly.”
"These can be the small details that enrich the urban environment," says architect Gate Pratt, a fan of civic art, " and create local character."
"If we're fortunate, we could have a chance to add an exciting element to the Mall," says Knight. " If not, well, it doesn't hurt to try."
Of course, some are bound to question the wisdom of throwing more money at the Mall, especially $25,000 on an “idea” for a clock after spending $7 million for new bricks and recently approving an $800,000 streetscaping Second Street
"I think it's a really poor way to spend 25k,” says frequent Mall visitor Kevin Cox, “but I am sure they'll do it anyway.”