From Zaha Hadid to Mike Brady - Elk Grove's Project Design History Emblematic of Governance

January 11, 2017 |   

At tonight's Elk Grove City Council meeting there will be a public hearing and discussion of the City's proposed Civic Center.  The design of the first phase of the long-awaited center of the city will include a Veterans Hall, and a new senior center.

The initial design was unveiled at a City-conducted workshop on December 12. At that meeting, city staff and members of the designers were on hand to discuss the specifics of the floor plan and seek input from attendees.

While the design of the new facilities was done based on the budget parameters set by the City and thus limited the range of options to the architects, the final product, while functional, was unspectacular. The design, one person noted, looked similar to a 1950's public school design ala Elk Grove Unified School District's Joseph Kerr Middle School.

For those residents who have followed the 10-plus year history of Elk Grove's Civic Center, the irony of this final design was not lost. The Civic Center, which was supposed to be part of Elk Grove's "crown jewel," went from Zaha Hadid to Mike Brady.

Readers will recall that over 10 years ago the City commissioned internationally known architect, the late Zaha Hadid to design what was going to be a stunning facility. The City Council was determined to put Elk Grove on the map and what better way announcing you have arrived than commission a design that will be of great architectural significance.

If Marin County can have Frank Lloyd Wright, Downtown Los Angeles Frank Gehry, Redding Santiago Calatrava, Elk Grove will have Zaha Hadid. That was the thinking at the time and in those heady days before the housing collapse, and the Great Recession which hit Elk Grove particularly hard, the hubris emanating from City Hall was palpable.        

What we ended up with was more like a design from Mike Brady of Brady Bunch fame. Viewers of the 1995 campy feature movie "The Brady Bunch Movie" will recall Mike Brady designed every proposal that across his drafting table identical to their San Fernando Valley house, with slightly different features such as gas pumps for a gas station or a billboard of a flexing arm for a gymnasium.

Regardless of what people may have thought of Hadid's body of work, whatever she came up with for Elk Grove was going to be dynamic, non-traditional, and almost be definition, done with little regard to financial feasibility. Love it or hate it, the cost of constructing and implementing her design, particularly in the aftermath of the financial collapse, was dead-on-arrival by the time it arrived at the Elk Grove City Council dais.

The result of this crown jewel is a Mike Brady-like cookie cutter design. Elk Grove has gone from Zaha Hadid to Mike Brady.

This process seems to be repeating with each of the two significant projects undertaken by the Elk Grove City Council. Those projects are the foundering proposed aquatics center and the moribund soccer field and stadium.

This has been the modus operandi for the City, former Elk Grove Mayor Gary Davis in particular - pitch grandiose projects ginning up political support to a specific demographic group, spend a lot of money, around $600,000 each for the Hadid design, or about the same amount for Jeroen Gerrese's aquatics center and financing plan fiasco, which not surprisingly has ended up in litigation, and end up with designs or binders of words collecting dust on some shelve in the bowels of City Hall.     

 As these and other projects are developed in the future, keep in mind how the men on the council start will start with Zaha Hadid and end up with Mike Brady.  The pattern displayed by the Elk Grove City Council of over-promising and under delivering is emblematic of how they govern the City and more importantly are stewards of taxpayer money. 

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