Plans for a new SLO Art Center are moving forward despite concerns that it is out of character with neighboring historic buildings.
The new building will stand three stories tall and use modern materials and such design features as a conical atrium shooting through the middle of the building. Mayor Dave Romero described that feature as resembling a ship’s smokestack. With a 5-0 vote, the SLO City Council approved a conditional use permit for the building but sent it back to the Architectural Review Commission to look at details such as color and texture of the façade.
Art Center Director Karen Kile said she was pleased the design is progressing.
“It was a great night for the [Art] Center,” Kile said after the meeting Feb. 17, “and a great night for the city.”
The approval required creative interpretation of building policies in the city’s General Plan, specifically a stipulation that buildings in the historic district should both complement and be compatible with existing architecture. That demand is problematic considering that the Mission, which is on the same block as the Art Center, is a Spanish-style church from the late 1700s and the Carnegie Library across the street is a municipal building from 1904. The council members had to consider whether “contrast” is part of “consistency.”
Council Member Andrew Carter summed it up, saying “We’re asking that the building be compatible and complementary to a number of buildings which are not, themselves, compatible or complementary.”
One audience member—an architect—presented to the council a tongue-in-cheek rendering of the Art Center plan if it were instead done in Mission style.
In the end it was decided the building promoted the historic character of the area “in that the building design contrasts with the existing historic buildings, thereby highlighting the unique architecture and monumental status of each.”