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Screening Junkspace
Is Denver squandering its opportunity to build a world-class airport landscape?
By Alan Berger

Visual screening of undesirable views is by no means a substantive design approach. How then did a design competition held for the Denver International Airport (DIA) landscape result in three design schemes that merely screen undesirable views? Why did three designs by arguably the world's most talented landscape architects, whose collective body of built work and writing emphatically resists visual amelioration as a substantive design approach, result in uninspired screening strategies for the airport landscape? Why is Denver squandering its opportunity to build a world-class, one-of-a-kind design for its most visited landscape?

With the bulk of post-9/11 airport funds going into security infrastructure, it is commendable that DIA is dedicating an annual average of $500,000 for 10 years (or approximately $5 million) for new landscape construction. A design competition was born to envision what this landscape should become. Three finalists were chosen from 17 requests for proposals. The teams of Field Operations (James Corner/Stan Allen), Hargreaves Associates, and Martha Schwartz, Inc., were shortlisted to fully develop and present schematic designs in public forums. Hargreaves (with Mary Margaret Jones as the lead designer, and the Denver landscape architecture firm Wenk Associates) won the competition. Groundbreaking is set for spring 2004.

Unlike the recent Downsview Park and Fresh Kills landfill competitions (the latter won by Field Operations), the design schemes proposed for DIA will not have extended lives via collateral media and published anthologies that "theorize" their "ideas." This is because there are very few new ideas introduced by the competition results.

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