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.

For further reading, please check out the following links:

Friday, June 14, 2013

International Style in the Capital City

   The Entergy Building, originally the Arkansas Power and Light Building, sits at the intersection of 9th and Louisiana Streets in downtown Little Rock. Many people drive by it but few are aware of its significance or past. It was one of the earliest office building to be designed in the International Style in Little Rock. The International Style, a term coined by architect Philip Johnson, was popularized in the minds of Americans in the 1930's due in large part to a book and exhibition of the same name that was created by Johnson and architectural historian/writer Henry-Russell Hitchcock in 1932. The style, or architectural movement, reached it highest point in America following WWII, and was advocated by such architects as Richard Nuetra, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, A. Quincy Jones, and to a small extend Frank Lloyd Wright. International style is characterized by rectilinear/boxy forms, a lack of traditional or decorative ornamentation, glass curtain walls, and ribbon windows. While there are many fantastic examples of this movement in other parts of the country, International Style is rather poorly represented in Arkansas, hence the importance of this building.
   When Arkansas Power and Light decided to build a new office in Little Rock, they wanted a building that would symbolize the new and "modern" Arkansas that the company helped to usher in. Arkansas Power and Light commissioned architect Fred Arnold of the Little Rock firm Wittenburg, Deloney, and Davidson to design their new face. The construction on the building started in 1953, but due to financial concerns and labor union issues, it was not completed until 1959. However, it was well worth the wait. The building is constructed of red brick, steel, glass, black granite, and Georgian marble. The glass enclosed lobby with its black granite columns sits under the hovering office cantilever with ribbon windows and marble panels adorning the curtain walls on the North and South sides. The light color of the marble combined with the reflective nature of the glass create the illusion of weightless-ness for the building. This is contrasted by the red brick massings on the  West end and base of the cantilever, which also serves to visually anchor the floating mass of the offices. Elements such as these echo the design characteristics of Mies van der Rohe and Frank Lloyd Wright, most notably Fallingwater. The International Styled building was such a success that locals of the time called it a modern masterpiece and appropriate new face for "modern" Arkansas.
   The Arkansas Power and Light Building is a remarkably intact and well preserved International Style building, but that did not happen on its own. In 2010 Entergy undertook a renovation and refit of the building, restoring many of the signature elements of the facade. This including replacing the marble panels that lined the sides of the building, which had began to bow and buckle due to the sun and weather over the years. The new panels were taken from the same quarry as the original but were thinner and attached to a bracket system in order to prevent future problems. The preservation efforts of Entergy were so successful that they received an award for the project from the Historic Preservation Alliance of Arkansas. Thanks to Entergy's commitment to maintaining the history and character of this historic building, the people of Arkansas will be able to enjoy its International Style for generations to come.

For further reading on this building check out the following links:

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Hidden Mid-Century Modern Beauty

     There is a small, quiet little neighborhood just off North Street in Fayetteville that is home to a very attractive Mid-Century Modern house. The house was designed by local Fayetteville architect Dale Holland and was built in 1963. It sits on the side of hill over looking the small but charming Lake Lucille. The hill blocks the noise coming from College Avenue, which is only a block away, so that the natural beauty of the area is all that you pay attention to. The house itself displays several characteristics of Mid-Century Modern residential architecture in this part of the country. The living room feature floor to ceiling windows to draw the outside in and the bedrooms all have large windows to allow in light and breezes on a nice days.
The large deck with lake views
This coupled with the wide spread use of natural stone and wood has the effect of blurring the lines between outdoors and in. This blur in enhanced by the expansive deck that surrounds the lakeside of the house providing a comfortable place to relax when you decide to engage the outdoors. A small courtyard, just off the den, creates a natural, meditative space in which the home owners can unwind after a long day of work. All of these features, combined with openness of the floor plan, create what Richard Neutra called a healthy house. The house recently under went a renovation and updating, but the owners tried to preserve the Mid-Century Modern character of the house by simply accenting the stunning existing features of the house, as well as update the utilities and amenities to a modern standard of luxury. All in all, I would have to say that it was a very successful project and now the house will be able to continue sheltering a family in beautiful Modern fashion for years to come.

Living Room with original natural stone wood-burning fireplace and original stone floors.

Den with a view of the rear courtyard

Master bedroom with stone columns and hardwood floors