- Associated Press - Saturday, October 25, 2014

CHICAGO (AP) - The architectural firm behind the expensive and much criticized doorway renovations at the Illinois state capitol has received a coveted award for the project’s “divine” design.

Chicago architects Vinci-Hamp were honored at the yearly awards program of the American Institute of Architects’ Chicago chapter on Friday during a gala at Chicago’s Navy Pier. The group cited the firm’s three sets of copper-plated wooden entryways at the statehouse, which cost $670,000, in the “divine detail” category.

On Nov. 1, the Capitol’s overall west wing restoration also is slated to be named project of the year by Landmarks Illinois, a Chicago-based preservation advocacy group.

Phil Hamp, a partner of the Chicago architectural firm that designed the doorways, said the awards are validation that the ornate touches were worth it.

“They are expensive, I can’t deny that. But state capitols are unique building types in the United States, and they’re generally buildings of consequence, impressive and monumental,” Hamp said. The copper-clad doors meant to last decades “are worthy of the government and the democracy.”

Last year, critics panned the extravagance of the $50-million Capitol renovations at a time when the state faces serious financial difficulties. Gov. Pat Quinn likened the project to the palace of Versailles, questioning the need for “excessive flourishes” and calling for a review before any more funding went into capitol renovations.

On Friday, Quinn spokesman Dave Blanchette said the governor, who is up for re-election in November, had not changed his stance. “The governor believes projects like this should be done in a frugal, cost-efficient manner,” Blanchette said.

The project was paid for by construction bonds sold by the state. Lawmakers said the project went through the state’s normal bidding and procurement process, and was part of a master plan approved by the Office of the Capitol Architect Board, which includes representatives of both Democratic and Republican leaders of both legislative chambers.

Bonnie McDonald, president of Chicago-based Landmarks Illinois, told The Associated Press Friday that those involved did a “wonderful” job of helping the public understand “the importance of the building and its relevance to history.”

By not skimping on the doors, she added, taxpayers are “going to have a better return on the investment.”

“If it was done on the cheap, they would be maintaining what they have just done over and over again,” she said. “I think that’s important to recognize.”

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