Thursday, August 29, 2013

Gorgeous Googie

   This week we are looking at another golf course building in North Little Rock. This is the Greens at North Hills, but it is historically known as the Sylvan Hills Country Club. The Sylvan Hills Country Club was designed by local architect Raymond Branton, the same architect who designed Fire Station No. 6, and it was completed in 1963. This is actually the third building to stand on this site as the Country Club. The first was built by Justin Matthews in 1927, but it fell into disrepair and was eventually torn down. A second building was constructed in 1946, but it burned down in 1961. Undaunted, the community decided that third times the charm and they commissioned yet another to be built, which still stands today. Branton's design for the club house was a striking departure from the previous two, which had both been very traditionally styled buildings. Branton preferred to design in a Modern architectural mindset, as we saw in the Fire Station No. 6 discussion. However, in this building he decided to go a bit more High Modern.
Seagrams Building in New York City by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1958)

   Branton's design for the Country Club has many distinctly Modern features to it. The exterior is almost completely cover in a glass curtain wall, affording swiping views of the golf course. We also a very Mies-ian exposed structure which has been painted a flat black. This element echoes Mies van der Rohe's design for the Seagram's Building in New York City, and does so rather elegantly. However, it is the roof that is the really striking element to this design, and the element that sets it apart from most other Modern architecture.
   The accordion roof of the Country Club is an element that we see echoed in the work of Donald Wexler in Palm Springs, and an element that was commonly used in Googie Architecture, a subcategory of Modern architecture. (To read more on Googie architecture, please click the following link: Donald Wexler did several designs in the Modern architectural Mecca of Palm Springs, CA., many of which have become icons of the Mid-Century Modern movement. Some of these iconic houses featured accordion roofs similar to the one on the Sylvan Hill Country Club.
Donald Wexler's prefab steel house with accordion roof, Palm Springs, 1959-1962
These designs, due largely to their graphic nature, became more or less, the features that Wexler was known for in the architecture community. As such, they have also become the graphic symbols of the Mid-Century Modern period. However, Branton's design has far more in common with the highly acclaimed design by Sise & Desbarats for the Mount Royal Park Pavilion in Montreal, Canada. The Mount Royal Pavilion has a base that is raised, just like the Country Club, and it also has the glass curtain wall surrounding the structure. The scale is very similar as well, which is most likely due to the similarity of use between the two structures. However there is a feature that separates Branton's accordion roof design from that of almost all others, its reveals.
Mount Royal Park Pavilion by Hazen Sise and Guy Desbarats in Montreal, Canada (1961)

    These reveals we see in Branton's design is a really interesting design element on the structure. The fact that the placement of the reveals is at the peaks, and not the valleys of the roof, creates the appearance of a series of chevrons opposed to an accordion roof. Having the reveals in such a place would mean they are not present for water drainage, and thus not really a functional element. However, the effect created by the stripes of light that pours from between the openings serves to visually break up the long facade of glass. So not only does the reveals give the building a distinctive look, they also serve to create more visual interest on the facade. Another function served by the reveals is to draw your eyes outward towards the golf course when you are standing inside. So while this element is not functionally necessary for the structure, it is needed for the aesthetic aspects it brings to the building.
   As we have seen the former Sylvan Hills Country Club not only stands out in North Little Rock, its connection and similarities to other great pieces of Modern architecture causes it to stand in the full canon of Modern architecture. Its reveals set it apart from its contemporaries and shows an innovation of design only seen in Arkansas. However, it is yet another significant piece of the story of Modern architecture that is unknown to the majority of the world, but Arkansas can look at it and smile. It truly is a gem of architecture in the natural state.

Additional photos of the Country Club:
Roof reveal from the inside.
Entrance to the Country Club

For more information on the buildings or architects mentioned above, please check out the following links:

Seagrams Building:

Donald Wexler:

Mount Royal Parc Pavilion:

Monday, August 19, 2013

"Tee" Time

   As I mentioned in last week's post, North Little Rock did a great deal of public building in the late 1950's and 1960's. Fire Station No. 6, from last week, was one such project. This week we are going to looking at another project, the Burns Park Golf Center building. This building was designed by local architect Dan Stowers in 1964. The Golf Center Building is an interesting and very unique structure for the area. It contains the locker rooms for men and women as well as a lounge/eating area. The building is situated on one of the highest points on the golf course, which allows golfers a sweeping view of the course from the lounge room. However, it is the roof that is the truly striking and note-worthy feature of the structure.

An aerial view of the Golf Club taken from Google Maps showing the radial origins and the central oculus.

   The scalloped, radial roof of the Burns Park Golf Center Building is a feature that we don't really see in many buildings in the whole of the Modern architectural canon, much less on a building in Arkansas. Thin form concrete arches were not an uncommon feature in Modern architecture in America, especially in places like Palm Springs and Las Vegas, however the radial origin of the arches, which results in scallops, is very rare. There is a similar radial design in the Pan Am Terminal at JFK Airport, also known as Worldport, which was designed by Walther Prokosch of Tippet, Abbett, McCarthy Stratton. This similarity includes the oculus skylight at the center of the building. However, the Pan Am Terminal is not scalloped. If we look at the architecture of Mexican architect Felix Candela and his design for  Restaurante Los Manantiales in Mexico City (1958) or perhaps Eero Saarinen's design for the TWA Terminal at JFK Airport (1962), we see similar but more extreme versions of this scalloped roof design. However, the Golf Center Building is not as curvy as Candela's or Saarinen's work but more curvy than Pam Am's building. Really, this places the building half way between these design extremes. This creates a building with a fairly unique architectural position, not only in the state of Arkansas but in the full array of global architecture.

Structural Columns in front of the glass curtain wall of the lounge

     The roof is not the only Modern and not-worthy feature of this building. The structural load of the building is supported by a series of white concrete columns that surround the exterior wall of the building, and are attached to the ribs of the scalloped roof. This allows for an open design scheme in the floor plan as well as glass curtain walls in the lounge area. In theory, the building could be gutted and redesigned without compromising the structure, making a future remodel or adaption not only possible, but fairly easily done. However, these structural columns are somewhat unique in and of themselves. They are not the standard round or square columns that we typically find in public buildings. These have an almost Art Deco quality to them, with their modified Greek cross section. This makes these columns a unexpected surprise within the overall design of the building.
     The Burns Park Golf Center Building demonstrates that even a place with the rural reputation of Arkansas can have some surprising and innovative pieces of Modern architecture. It seems that in Arkansas, no place is off limits for stunning Modern buildings, whether it be on a remote river overlook, in the middle of a slum, or hiding within a 20,000 acre park.

For more information on the buildings mentioned above, please click on the following links.
Pan Am Terminal Building by Walther Prokosch.

Restaurante Los Manantiales by Felix Candela.

TWA Terminal by Eero Saarinen. 

Monday, August 12, 2013

Fire Station Chic

    We are accustomed to seeing Modern architecture in places like down towns, college campus, or maybe even beside old major highways, but sometimes we find them in places that we least expect it. This is the case with this week's building. It is North Little Rock Fire Station No. 6. It sits at the intersection of Camp Robinson Road and Schaer Street in Levy, a small section of North Little Rock. Levy has never been a well-to-do area of North Little Rock. At its founding in 1892, Levy served mainly at a resting point for merchants going to Little Rock because they did not charge the high "over-night" fee that many Little Rock purveyors did. Levy was eventually annexed to North Little Rock in 1946. Levy had always been a blue collar area but when the construction of Interstate 40 cut it off from a great deal of North Little Rock, it took a turn for the worse. Levy is now an area of high crime and low employment. Things are starting to improve there but they are still not great. It is in this setting, in the shadow of the Interstate 40 overpass that we find this Modern beauty.
     The 1960's saw a great deal of building in North Little Rock. The established neighborhoods of Lakewood and Sherwood were significantly expanded and populations were steadily rising. It was during this time that many public service buildings were constructed. Fire Station No. 6 was among them. Fire Station No. 6 was designed by local architect Raymond Branton in 1964. Branton is also the architect for the former Sylvan Hills Country Clubhouse, now called the Greens at North Hills. While Branton's design for the fire station is not the high Mies-ian or Corbusier-ian Modern that we have been looking at, it is still unquestionably Modern and shows a great deal of innovation.
Structural Framework

     First lets look at the classically Modern elements of the design. Most notably we have the white concrete structure-work that frames the building. This idea of having the structure of the building exposed and apparent was one of the base principles of Modernism. We also have the flat roof of the Modern movement on this building as well as a complete lack of any unnecessary ornamentation. The entire composition of the exterior is all geometric massing, exposed structure, and floating planes. An interesting element here that we have seen in other Modern buildings, such as the Lee House No. 2 in New Canaan, CT, is the material massings. The center of the building is all glass on both front and back, almost like a glass box that was slid in between two masonry boxes. This creates a striking contrast between the middle and sides. The sides only have glass on the upper half of the eastern and western ends. This type of material massing is very similarly in the Lee House No. 2. It serves to separate the public from the private spaces, in this case the truck and equipment areas from the living quarters and offices.

Lee House No. 2 by John Black Lee in New Canaan, CT (1956)
     Now lets discuss the innovations and unique aspects of this building. First lets look at the material between the structural framework. We see that the infill between the framework columns and beams is concrete block. Now this may look like these concrete block walls are structural, but they are not. We know this because the joints between the blocks line up from top to bottom. This creates a lot of weakness in the walls, and should they have actually been supporting the structure, there would be significant cracking and breaking. The likely justification for the concrete blocks is for fire safety. It only makes sense to make a fire station fire proof. Another interesting and slightly innovative element to the fire station is the doors for the central bay. They are glass garage doors. These had only been used in one other building prior to this in the state. Dietrich Neyland used them in his design for the Arkansas Arts Center's first addition to provide lots of light and easy ventilation for the studio spaces. Branton is probably using them more for their stylish qualities rather than functional  here, but they complete the composition, so they are just as valid, and only marginally less innovative.
Glass Bay Door 
     The lesson that we should take away from Fire Station No. 6 is that Modern buildings can be anywhere and everywhere. They were functional as all types of buildings and where built in all sorts of areas. While the light of Levy's glory may be very dim, this Modern masterpiece shines bright all on its own.

For more information on the Lee House No.2, please refer to the following link:

Friday, August 2, 2013

"She's a Brick House"

     This week we return to our more Modern buildings. Here is the former ACME Brick showroom building on Victory St in Little Rock, AR. This building is really a step beyond the International Style movement that we have been discussing. It contains many elements found in the International Style, but there are a few ornamental touches that would have been somewhat sacrilege in the International Style movement. However, we will discuss the architectural elements of the building in a moment. First let me tell you a bit more about the building's history. The ACME Building was designed by the firm of Eherhart, Eichenbaum, & Rauch and was constructed in 1958. Eherhart, Eichenbaum, & Rauch is the firm that is responsible for buildings such as Beaux-Arts Parnell Hall at Arkansas School for the Deaf (1931), the Art Moderne styled Arkansas State Tuberculosis Sanitarium in Booneville (1938), and the original International Style St. Vincent's Hospital (1958) at the corner of University and Markham in Little Rock.The ACME Building was designed to serve as the showroom for the various products that ACME Brick had to offer. To this end, the firm designed the building in such a way that the exterior became as much a showroom as the interior was.  We see the dark, almost black brick on the majority of the facade. The inset on the West facade is accented by yellow and golden bricks with concrete textile blocks creating sun screens in front of the windows. The floating steps are even made of bricks which were set into a cantilevered metal frame. When looking at the building with this mindset, it fully exemplifies the Modern architectural concept of the function or purpose of a building being evident on its exterior. ACME stayed in the building until 1996 when they sold it to the state for offices. Various different agencies have been housed in the building since then, most recently the Arkansas Asphalt Pavement Association. However, there will never be a more appropriate inhabitant than ACME Brick. Now, let us discuss the architecture of the building, from top to bottom.
     Starting with the roof of the ACME building, we find our first significant feature. While it may appear as your standard floating, flat roof, the same sort of roof seen in hundreds of other Modern buildings, it is in the construction of it where we find its significance. It was created use of what is called a "lift slab" system. This is done when the roof plane is poured on the ground and then lifted up by means of hydraulic jacks to rest upon the structural columns which are installed after it is lifted. To my knowledge, this was the first building in the state to have this construction system implemented on it.

    Next, let us move from the roof to the body of the building. Other than the beautiful, if not a touch gaudy, metallic gold bricks, the most noticeable feature on the building's main facade is the concrete textile block screens that adorn it. This elements, which constitute a departure from the strict ornamental minimalism of International Style, serve a function beyond just aesthetics. These screens not only provide a bit of privacy to the offices beyond the windows which sit behind the screens, but they also provide a bit of shade without completely blocking the light. Similar design elements were used in the highly popularized Palm Springs Modern houses of A. Quincey Jones, Palmer & Krisel, and George & Robert Alexander. We also see this architectural feature locally in Arkansas. Architect Dietrich Neyland of Ginocchi, Cromwell, & Associates used a very similar concept in his designs for Reynolds Elementary in Morrilton (1956), UALR Commons (1956), and two buildings at Philanders Smith College in Little Rock (1957). The internationally renowned Arkansas architect Edward D. Stone was also known for commonly using a concrete textile block screen. Some notable examples of this from him are his designs for Carlson Terrace Apartments (1957) and the Sigma Nu Fraternity House (1953), both at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. The likelihood that the designers at Eherhart, Eichenbaum, & Rauch were familiar with these building is pretty high, but no direct connections can really be made on influence. However, it is a functional as well as beautiful element to include on any Modern building, and it certainly does help this one to stand out a bit more.
UALR Commons by Dietrich Neyland (1956)

Carlson Terrace Apartments by Edward D. Stone (1957)

     Finally, we come to the base, or more specifically, the stairs. This is actually my favorite element on the entire building. They were designed by a young Gene Levy who was interning with Eherhart, Eichenbaum, & Rauch while he was in school. Mr. Levy went on to work directly under Dietrich Neyland at Cromwell, and later to become a partner at Cromwell, but I digress. While Mr. Levy describes the stairs a series of geese looking over one another, I think there is a more famous source of inspiration for these stairs. A similar set of floating stairs were designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe for his Farnsworth House (1951). Young Mr. Levy, being a good architecture student, would have known of this elegant staircase. Now whether Mr. Levy was conscious of this influence is unknowable, but the staircase that came out of young Mr. Levy's mind is a source of joy for me every time I drive by and see them.
Gene Levy's design for the ACME Building staircase
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's staircase at Farnsworth House (1951)
   As we have seen, though this building may have intended to be just a simple showcase, the resulting composition is one of lasting interest and significance.

A detail shot of the golden brick and concrete textile block screen

Friday, July 19, 2013

Faded Beauty

A postcard from 1951 showing the Hotel Mountainaire in all of its glory.
   Following in the style of last week's post, this week we have the 1940's built Hotel Mountainaire in Hot Springs, AR. This motor-court hotel was built on Hwy 7/Park Avenue which was the principle route to Hot Springs from Little Rock until I-30 and Hwy 70 were built. It is commonly hailed as being the best example of Art Moderne architecture in the state. (For an explanation of the Art Moderne style please see the post "Modern Beginnings)
  We see several examples of the Art Moderne style in these buildings that were not in the Goshen  Avenue house as well as several more direct nods to its Art Deco heritage. First, notice the windows on the corners, they extent around the corners in a continuous motion, sometimes they continue around multiple corners. This is a tell-tale sign of Art Moderne. There is also a noticeable lack of ornamentation on the facades. The only real decorative items we see on the building all serve to accentuate the architecture of the building. Examples of this are the inset ridges that run between the small windows on the sides of the building, which serve to enhance the presence of the windows, and the brick screens on the penthouse balcony and the ground floor patios, which create privacy while still allowing breezes through. Curved surfaces are also common features on Art Moderne buildings, which here are seen on balconies on the rear of the buildings. Where we see derivations from the Art Moderne design aesthetics is in the symmetrical arrangement of the facades and in over all very vertical emphasis in the design.  As mentioned in the previous post, most Art Moderne buildings have an asymmetrical massing and arrangement which is more leaning towards the coming Modern architecture movement, however these buildings' symmetrical design was likely more for pragmatism that an intentional step away from the style. The vertical emphasis was most likely intentionally done though but then again, there are always deviations in any examples of pretty much any style. All in all, though, it was a beautiful and "modern" sight to see upon entering the vacation city of Hot Springs during the 1940's, 50's, and 60's. It was during this period that the hotel was booming from the steady stream of vacationers coming from Little Rock.
   However, the storm clouds of abandonment were gathering at the end of the 1960's. The creation of Interstate 30 and the expansion of Hwy 70 allowed visitors an easier, faster route to the Spa City, but it also directed people away from the Hotel Mountainaire by leading them into the southern part of downtown instead of the northern Park Ave./Hwy 7 route. By the mid to late 1970's the area of Hot Springs where the hotel exists was quickly falling into disrepair and the visitors stopped venturing to area. The Hotel Mountainaire suffered the same tragic fate as many of the stunning Victorian houses on Park Ave/Hwy 7. By the 1980's the North end of Park Avenue was a crime infested area where even long time inhabitants of the city would fear to tread. The fate of the Hotel Mountainaire seemed sealed. Things seemed to be looking up when in 1990's an investor bought the old hotel with the intent to remodel into apartments. Work was started but did not progress very far before the investor fell on hard times. Again the Mountainaire was abandoned. There was also an art show held at the hotel in the early 2000's which attempted to garner public and financial support for the building, but little came of it. Now the hotel just sits in its sadden state, falling apart brick by brick. It is incredible unfortunate that such significant structures can simply crumble and fade away as this one is, but there doesn't seem to be any stopping it.
    Below are photos taken from of the current state of the Hotel Mountainaire.

the rear of both buildings

Decorative brick screen on the balconies
Curved Balcony missing its railing

Hotel Mountainaire from Park Ave/Hwy 7

Friday, July 12, 2013

Modern Beginnings

Art Moderne house in Park Hill Historic District of North Little Rock

    Today we are going to shift gears from the high Modern buildings we have been looking at to a building from the architectural movement that directly preceded Modernism in America, Art Moderne. Also called Streamline Modern and Moderne, this style had a brief existence from the mid 1920's through the mid-1940's. There is a relatively small sample pool of buildings in this stylistic disposition because of the significant decrease in building following the 1929 Stock Market collapse which which effectively stalled a majority of construction until after WWII had concluded. Art Moderne can be looked at as the transition stage between highly decorated and flamboyant Art Deco period, the last of the Beaux-Arts inspired styles, and the simple, utilitarian International Style which signaled the beginning of Modernism in America. This nexus that Art Moderne exists in is evidenced in its appearance. There exist both Art Deco and Modern architectural elements in its styling. The smooth, white walls and lack of ornament of the Art Moderne as well as the flat, often functional roofs and the asymmetrical facade arrangements hint at the coming International Style. While the accenting elements on Art Moderne buildings appear as simplified Art Deco features. There tends to be an overwhelming horizontal influence in Art Moderne buildings, with exception to the vertical elements often found around the entrances, which is exactly the opposite of the vertically emphasized Art Deco but still exist in the same form language. The massing of Art Moderne buildings tend to be a blend of Art Deco and International Style. The forms are generally boxy, like International Style, but they vertical protrusions accenting the overall forms. While these protrusions are not as elaborate as ones found in Art Deco, they still hint to the style. In a very real way, Art Moderne can be seen as America leaning towards Modernism, but not yet ready to go full steam into International Style. While there are not a great deal of examples of this style in Arkansas, there are a few of note that are worth discussing. 
    A beautiful example of Art Moderne architecture is found in the house pictured above in the Park Hill Historic District in North Little Rock. This house was design by the Little Rock firm of Brueggeman, Swaim, & Allen in 1925. This firm was responsible for a great deal of residential designs in Park Hill, but was also very active in the Heights/Hillcrest area of Little Rock. This house is similar to the Art Moderne styled Knoop-Werner House in Little Rock, also designed by Brueggeman, Swaim, & Allen. In this house we see horizontal emphasis in the raised bands found under the porch and in the parallel bars that rise up the left side of the forward massing on the facade. This horizontal influence is also seen in the very Modern porch/Porte cochere. While this element is far more Modern than Art Deco, it still helps to draw the building out to the side and detracts from the vertical presence. Also we see the three vertical pieces extending from atop the door, which draws attention to the entrance. All of these are nods to the Art Deco movement. However, all of these accents are then balanced by the white stucco and simple, planar porch, which look towards International Style. Notice the arrangement of windows and placement of the door on the house. They are balanced but not a symmetrical way, as was done in Art Deco. They are asymmetrically placed with the parallel bars offsetting the window on the right side of the facade and the shadowed, covered lower area on the left side of the facade is balanced by the bright white area above. This type of arrangement was common in International Style. An interesting feature on the house are the porthole-style windows in both the front door and above the garage. This element in not typical to either Art Deco or International Style but was common in Art Moderne. It is believed that this element was taken from the cruise-liners of the time, which some believe was a significant source of inspiration for this style. Another feature that is attributed to the possible nautical origins is sparse accent colors of blues and teals, which is seen here in the bright teal front door. While this house does feature many of the prominent Art Moderne features, it does lack the typical curved corner walls or windows rounding the corners. However the house does pocess enough other features to place it comfortably in the Art Moderne category. 
   This house was built as a true nexus. It exist between the architectural movements of Art Deco and International Style, and between the traditional taste of its neighborhood and the forward thinking aspirations of its builders. Sometimes it pays to stand out, especially if it means looking this good. 

Friday, July 5, 2013

International Style in the Capital City: Part 3

501 Building West Facade on Woodlane Street

  This week's installment of International Style in the Capital City brings us to the 501 Building on Woodlane Street, facing the Capital building. The 501 Building was originally called the National Old Line Insurance Company Building, being named after the builder of the building. It was designed by Arkansas architect Yandell Johnson. Johnson was originally from St. Louis, MO, but moved to Arkansas in 1938. After spending WWII in the U.S. Navy, Johnson and his first wife, architect Mary Johnson, decided to open a firm together in Little Rock in 1946. In the following twenty-one years, Johnson worked on 385 design projects, including the National Old Line Insurance Company Building. In 1967 Johnson was named an A.I.A. Fellow, the first in Arkansas. After this he closed his own firm and eventually worked for two other firms until 1978, when he retired. During his career he designed houses and commercial buildings all over the state of Arkansas, including houses in the Stifft Station/Capital Hill area and in the Park Hill area, however he is best known for his work on the National Old Line Insurance Building.
    The National Old Line Insurance Building was built in 1955 and is one of the most beautiful and best preserved examples of the International Style in the state. It has many of the tell-tale characteristics of the style; the curtain walls with ribbon windows, clean and ornamented facades, large cantilevered planes, and and an overall boxy form. The building design draws a great deal of influence from the work of Walter Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus School of Design and father of Modern Architecture. His design for the Bauhaus Student Quarters in Dessau, Germany and Gropius's entry for the 1922 Chicago Tribune Competition, the largest architectural design competition in the 20th Century, share several design elements in common with Johnson's design for the National Old Line Insurance Building. 
The Student Building at Bauhaus in Dessau by Walter Gropius in 1925
Gropius's design for the Chicago Tribune Tower Competition, 1922
We can see the same horizontal wrapping influence of ribbon windows with large cantilevered planes above on both Gropius designs that is present in the National Old Line Insurance Building. There is also vertical elements that serve to break up the dominant horizontal movement present in Gropius's Bauhaus design that we find in Johnson's design. These vertical elements serve much the same purpose in Gropius and Johnson's designs as they do in the Tower Building that I discussed in a previous post. They serve to house the service systems, i.e. elevators, stairs, and HVAC systems. 
Vertical element on the Wesr facade of the 501 Building

While Johnson is little known in his own state and even lesser known beyond Arkansas, he shared similar ideas to other more influential architects of his day. The internationally renowned, Arkansas-born architect Edward Durrell Stone produced some designs that were closer to Johnson's designs than Gropius's. Stone's 1951 design for the "new" Fine Arts Building at University of Arkansas bares a striking resemblance to Johnson's design. It has the same projecting overhangs, ribbon windows, and general form. However Stone's design does lack the vertical elements in both Gropius's and Johnson's designs. There is also the matter of material choices in the two designs. Both have steel structures with reinforced concrete projections, however where Stone chose to face his curtain walls with buff colored brick, Johnson used cut limestone slabs. Johnson's approach creates a clean surface more in keeping with the International Style ideals. Couple of other similar structures to Johnson's design are the twin towers of Yocum and Humpfreys Halls, by Mott, Mobley, & Horstman (1962). These towers are rather like a half way point between Stone's Fine Arts Building and Johnson's 501 Building. They have Stone's materiality but a form closer to Johnson's design.

Edward Stone's Fine Arts Building at University of Arkansas (1951)

Yocum and Humpfreys Halls at U of A by Mott, Mobley, & Horstman, 1962
  The National Old Line Insurance building has changed hands a few times over the years, but the architectural charm of its design still holds firm. It currently houses several state offices, including the Arkansas Building Authority. There have been some attempts to have the building torn down due largely to the contrasting styles of the strictly Modern Johnson building and the neoclassical style of the Capital, however, none have succeeded. Personally, I think the contrast created by the positions of the two buildings enhances the beauty of both. They serve to point out and draw attention to elements that define both styles. Hopefully the two buildings and continue to coexist and perhaps someday a mutual appreciation for both will form. 

Friday, June 28, 2013

International Style in the Capital City: Part 2

The Tower Building at the corner of 4th and Center Streets

     This week's installment of Arkansas International Style is the Tower Building, also known as Catlett-Prien Tower, in downtown Little Rock. This eighteen story building is notable for many reasons beyond the International Style of its architecture. Upon completion in 1960, it was the first skyscraper in the state of Arkansas and remained the tallest building in Arkansas until 1968, when One Union National Plaza surpassed it by thirty-one feet upon completed. Another significant fact about the Tower Building is why it was built. It was the brainchild of Winthrop Rockefeller, the grandson of the oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller. W. Rockefeller felt that in order for Arkansas to really advance industrially it needed "modern" high rises in its capital city. Rockefeller believed in this idea so much that he primarily funded the construction of the Tower Building, which was later used to house a large part of his company here in Arkansas. Rockefeller went on to head the Arkansas Industrial Development Commission to further his dreams for Arkansas industrial advancement and later to be governor for two terms. 

  The architecture of the Tower Building is equally significant as its past for the state of Arkansas. The design of the building was the work of two architects, Harold A. Berry and Frank Eugene Withrow. Berry was an architect from Dallas, TX, who had worked on similar sized projects before, was the lead architect and responsible primarily for the exterior design of the building. Withrow was an Arkansas architect with little experience on similar projects and as such was put in charge of designing the interior of the Tower Building. Berry's design for the building's exterior was likely influenced by the recently completed and high praised design by Flatow, Moore, Bryan, and Fairburn for the Simms Building (1954) in Albuquerque, NM.
Sims Building (1954), Albuquerque, NM

The similarities in the designs are pretty obvious. Both buildings have glass curtain wall exteriors on the North and South facades, and both buildings have brick masonry walls for the East and West facades. However, here is were the similarities end. The Simms Building is notably shorter than the Tower Building, at thirteen stories (180ft) to eighteen stories (300ft). Also the placement of the service and utility spaces differ. The Simms Building design has these spaces confined to the central interior of the tower, a relatively common practice even in today's skyscraper design. In the Tower Building these spaces are pushed to exterior of the building, manifesting in the vertical perpendicular limestone mass on the South facade. This move not only opens up more interior space for offices but also introduces a dynamic break to the large flat glass facade, creating a more striking composition. There is also the treatment of the ground levels of the buildings that differ. The Simms Building design opted for a large horizontal glass massing for the ground floors, rather similar to Gordon Bunshaft's design for Lever House (1952) in New York City. The Tower Building also has large horizontal massing on the ground level, but it is not covered entirely in a curtain wall. Instead, the design called for a large covered outdoor area with a fountain to welcome people from the street into the building. This open area covers the entire corner of the building and terminates in offices/retail spaces enclosed in glass curtain walls. These differences not only set the Tower Building's architecture apart from the building that inspired it, but also show a departure and , arguably, improvement of skyscraper design at the time. 
Lever House (1952), New York City, NY

    The Tower Building is praised for being an ideal design for an International Style office tower, not only in Arkansas but in the greater school of International Style buildings. The Tower Building was awarded a place on the National Register of Historic Places in 2011 because of the exceptional way in which it exemplified the characteristics of International Style. It has almost no ornamentation to speak of, its large facades are covered in either glass curtain walls or standard uniform brick masonry, and there are no overhangs, all of this being definitive characteristics of International Style. Hopefully the honor of being on the Historic Register will help to protect this building for the generations of Arkansans to come so that it will continue to be an International influence on the city and a reminder of the successes of your past. 
The Northwest corner of the Tower Building

For more on any of the buildings mentioned above, please check out these links:

Friday, June 21, 2013

Mies-ian Style comes to Little Rock

The KTHV Building upon its completion in 1954

 Actual Modern architecture, referring here to the stylistic movement in architecture rather simply "modern" meaning current, is a rare find outside of major metropolitan areas in America. The big names in architecture from that period, such as Mies van der Rohe, Walter Gropius, Eero Saarinen, and Richard Nuetra, tended to stay on the coasts or in Chicago. Be that as it may, here is an exceptional example of High Modern architecture in Arkansas. It is the KTHV Channel 11 Building at the corner of Izard and West 8th Streets. The building was constructed for television station in 1954 and designed by Dietrich Heyland of Crowell Architects, although it was called Ginocchio, Cromwell, and Associates at the time. This is the same firm that was partially founded by renowned Arkansas architect, Charles L. Thompson, but I digress. Heyland was from Louisiana original, graduating from Tulane University. After college he spent some time in California working under the famed Modernist Richard Nuetra. In 1950, he was recuited by Edwin Cromwell and moves to Arkansas. Shortly afterwards Neyland designed the KTHV Building. This building is in line with the almost minimalist work of Mies van der Rohe in his design for the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, IL, and more specifically in his design of S.R. Crown Hall (1950-1956) on that campus.
Mies van der Rohe's design for S.R. Crown Hall at Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago
The glass curtain wall with exterior exposed structural supports and raised basements were trademark features Mies van der Rohe's work at this time. All of these features are also seen in the KTHV Building. The Modern features of this building are significant not only because they are so blatantly Modern in character but because the KTHV building was completed in Arkansas two years before Crown Hall was completed in Chicago. Despite the common conception that Arkansas is always behind the times on style, this building, along with the creation of the Arkansas Power and Light Building the year before, is evidence that Arkansas was actually right in line with the architectural mentality of the times, if not a bit ahead of it.
    While KTHV has done some renovations on the interior of the building, they have keep the exterior of the building in more or less the same form as it was in upon its completion in 1954, with the exceptions of some mild deterioration and paint color changes on the exterior. KTHV should be giving props for preserving the character of this historic building even though there is almost no public interest or attention given to it. Hopefully, this building will soon be recognized as the truly historically significant structure that it is and will continue to be a remarkable example of High Modern architecture in Arkansas for many years to come. 
The East and North facades of the KTHV Building as they look today.

The South and East facades of the KTHV Building as they look today.

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