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:

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