|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|
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)|
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.