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Lake Elsinore Civic Center Design Competition, Lake Elsinore, Calif.

Lake Elsinore Civic Center Design Competition, Lake Elsinore, Calif.

Lake Elsinore Civic Center Design Competition, Lake Elsinore, Calif.

Lake Elsinore Civic Center Design Competition, Lake Elsinore, Calif.

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    For the Lake Elsinore Civic Center competition, Koning Eizenberg Architecture proposed a shoreline park with recreational infrastructure such as an ecological center, and a meadow that can accommodate movie screenings, all connected to the downtown Main Street.

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    Koning Eizenberg Architecture, Santa Monica, Calif. For Koning Eizenberg, the thesis of its design was to "bind [the city's] civic identity with an ecological infrastructure," says associate Nathan Bishop. A vegetated scrim brings nature to the civic buildings, and a proposed "Ecobungalow" conference center would allow the city to turn its love of the outdoors into a revenue source: "They could run eco-conferences and rent out the center," says Bishop. "It combines an economical and ecological imperative."

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    Brian Healy Architects, Boston "The great thing about this competition," says Brian Healy, "is the whole idea that architecture can assume a civic responsibility. We wonder why more municipalities don't step up this way." His scheme connects the southern end of Lake Elsinore's Main Street to the lakefront with an open-plan city square. A metal-skinned civic center building contains the city hall, library, and post office. A pier extends from the civic center to the lake and provides a place for boats to dock.

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    Healy brings the water inland with a reflecting pool that serves as a pivot point between Main Street and the plazas of the civic center.

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    Hannah Gabriel Wells, San Diego "We opened up the competition to the office, and everyone had a charrette and gave their input," says associate Sean Chen of the firm's design process. The main thrust of the final scheme was creating infrastructure to link the waterfront site with downtown.

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    "Getting a building was only half of what the city wanted-they really wanted to revitalize the downtown." For a civic center, the design team created a series of low buildings with green roofs that angle down to meet the ground plane. Colonnades shade public plazas and define circulation paths between buildings.

Lake Elsinore, Calif.—a town of 50,000, located 70 miles southeast of Los Angeles—is best known to outsiders as a destination for waterskiing and hang gliding, and as the unofficial but self-professed birthplace of motocross. But in 2007, Lake Elsinore was also home to an architectural competition for a new civic center complex. The brainchild of City Council member and redevelopment agency chairman Thomas Buckley, the competition featured a jury that included progressive architects such as Teddy Cruz of Estudio Teddy Cruz and Ming Fung of Hodgetts + Fung, and it received over 100 entries and 29 submittals from as far away as Rome. Three finalists were selected and meetings were held, but, as often is the case, things did not go according to the original plan.

The competition brief called for submitting architects to choose one of two sites: a parcel in the historic downtown or a site along the nearby lake. Participants were asked to provide a master plan as well as designs for a city hall, library, post office, and other civic buildings. The jury selected three finalists: Koning Eizenberg Architecture from Santa Monica, Calif.; San Diego—based Hanna Gabriel Wells; and Brian Healy Architects of Boston. Notably, all three firms chose the lakefront site, each maintaining that the new civic center should be by the lake from which the city derives its name. "Personally, I would like the civic center to be down by the lake, to pull people through downtown," Buckley says.

The jury was very happy with the three final designs and voted unanimously for the Hanna Gabriel Wells scheme. But at public meetings held to get residents' input on a winner, it became clear that more research was necessary. When confronted with the reality of a lakefront scheme, many residents realized they wanted the civic center to be closer to town to attract foot traffic to their businesses. The City Council realized that maybe what was needed to revitalize Lake Elsinore was not simply a city hall, but an entire downtown master plan. At that point, the council canceled the competition, paid each of the three finalists $10,000 for their time and design work, and decided to regroup.

Since then, the city has engaged Cooper Carry to complete a master planning study for the entire downtown area. Public meetings are already under way, and the city hopes to approve a plan this summer. Cooper Carry will determine where the civic center will go, and the size of the plot, but Buckley is not averse to inviting back one of the competition winners.

It's not uncommon to hear of an architecture competition that fizzles, but in the case of Lake Elsinore, both the city and the architects learned a lot from the process. Nathan Bishop, from Koning Eizenberg Architecture, uses his firm's Lake Elsinore design as a teaching tool in his planning classes at SCI-Arc. A variation on one of the three schemes may make an appearance in Cooper Carry's master plan, and—who knows?—it might be next door to an as-yet-unplanned motocross hall of fame.