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:

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