Return to Nicholas Johnson's Main Web Site

Return to Nicholas Johnson's Coralville Rain Forest Web Site

Rain Forest Board Drops Architect
Oman: Decision on New Firm to Come 'Fairly Soon'

Heather McElvain

Iowa City Press-Citizen

August 20, 2005

[Note: This material is copyright by the Press-Citizen, and is reproduced here as a matter of "fair use" for non-commercial, educational purposes only. Any other use may require the prior approval of the Iowa City Press-Citizen.]

CORALVILLE -- The architects who designed the $180 million indoor rain forest facility from top to bottom have been dropped from the project.

David Oman, executive director of the Iowa Environmental Project, said the board terminated its contract with Chermayeff, Sollogub and Poole of Boston in June after Peter Sollogub left the company to return to his previous firm.

"That created an opportunity for us to step back and revisit the architect relationship," Oman said.

Sollogub, who now works with Cambridge Seven Associates in Cambridge, Mass., said he worked on the rain forest project at Cambridge Seven before he became a partner in Chermayeff, Sollogub and Poole in 1998. The project moved to that firm with him.

Oman said the board was reviewing proposals from three architectural firms and would decide which one to work with "fairly soon."

He declined to provide a more specific timeline, but he said because the project was in its early stages, the architect switch won't put it off schedule or off budget.

"We have a good team of people working on this project, a lot of talent and a lot of good ideas," Oman said. "That thinking, that work is not lost."

Sollogub said Cambridge Seven is one of the three firms vying now for the job.

Peter Chermayeff said his firm was surprised and disappointed to be taken off the project. In fact, he said it's "seeking the assistance of attorneys and reviewing the matter."

Chermayeff said his firm is concerned that it hasn't been paid for the work it already did on the project, which will be located southeast of Interstate 80 and First Avenue.

Still, he said he hopes the project reaches completion.

"We have felt immensely connected not only to the concept and its realization, but its whole long-term future," Chermayeff said. "We're continuing to hope the dreams and aspirations we've all shared for so long will not evaporate."

Oman declined to comment on any legal issues involved in the termination.

Coralville council member Tom Gill said he was unaware of the architectural firm development, but he said whatever the board decides, it has to keep on schedule.

Gill said a contract the council discussed at a work session last week will be enforced. The contract stipulates that the Iowa Environmental Project board has six months to fund the project and have construction contracts in place after the contract with the city is signed, he said.

"If they're going to do anything in Coralville, they have to abide by the contract we've sent them," Gill said.

The contract demands that the Iowa Environmental Project board return the 22 acres of land the city sold it for $1 to house the indoor rain forest, aquarium and outdoor entertainment venue to the city if it fails to meet deadlines or other requirements.

The board will have a chance to review the contract and bring up any concerns or suggestions.

Oman said the board would resolve the architect issue before addressing the contract.

"It's something that the project and city have agreed we want to talk about. We're keen to do it and so are they," he said. "We want to get this (architect) issue resolved first, and then you'll see us move to that."