The art of architecture

By Diane Lea

The art of architecture


It is an acknowledgment of North Carolinas finesta sophisticated and innovative display of design work by some of the states most accomplished architects. From February 20 through May 18, the Duke University Museum of Art (DUMA) is featuring models, free-hand sketches, pastels, graphics and watercolors by 21 practicing North Carolina architects in an exhibit entitled, The North Carolina School: The Art of Architecture. The exhibition applauds the work of a competitively selected group of architects and highlights North Carolinas role in the growth and flowering of modern architecture. The show is the first of a planned series of events bestowing public recognition to the art of architects, many of whom were imbued with a strong modernist ethic while students at North Carolina State Universitys innovative College of Design.

Although North Carolina is consistently noted for its diverse writers, painters, crafts persons and performers, even occasionally touted as the State of the Arts, it may be less well known for its landmark work in modern architecture. With this in mind, Chapel Hill architect Phil Szostak, a 1970s graduate of NCSUs College of Design, conceived of The Art of Architecture exhibition. It is a visual catalogue of each architects artistic and architectural skill in transforming a model, a site plan, a design detail into a beautiful and functional modern building or complex of buildings. I wanted the exhibition to show where the magic of modern architecture comes from, says Szostak, There is a lot of creative energy involved in getting to the final version of an architectural project, and very few products of that energy get seen outside the architects office.

Szostak took his idea to Michael Mezzatesta, DUMAs Director, who was immediately sympathetic to the proposal. Mezzatesta had long been impressed with the caliber of architecture in the state and saw the project as an extension of past DUMA exhibits showcasing new artists in a variety of media: painting, paper, sculpture and designed objects. The proposed exhibit was also timely. We at DUMA are deeply involved in the process of architecture right now as we build our new museum, the Nasher Museum of Art, designed by Rafael Vinoly, says Mezzatesta. Vinoly, whose internationally acclaimed work is solidly within the modernist school, has designed the museum as a series of five pavilions surrounding a 9000-square-foot Great Hall. The necklace of structures is connected by an innovative freestanding multi-angled glass roof. The 60,000-square-foot structure will be surrounded by a sculpture garden on a nine-acre setting near the Sarah B. Duke Gardens. Mezzatesta notes that he and Anne Schroeder, DUMAs Curator for Research and Exhibitions, see The Art of Architecture as providing a framework for understanding modern architecture. The show is important both artistically and historically.

To help place the exhibition in context, Szostak and the DUMA staff organized opportunities for the public to learn about the rationale for the show through lectures and activities. Perhaps the most comprehensive look at the exhibits significance will be offered in a panel discussion held at 6 p.m., Thursday, March 20. As speakers for this event, Szostak has tapped NCSU College of Design Professor Robert Burns, FAIA; award-winning Raleigh architect Frank Harmon, FAIA; and Metro Magazine editor and publisher Bernie Reeves, whose father, Ralph Reeves of Holloway Reeves Architects, was the principal in one of Raleighs most prolific mid- to late-20th-century architectural firms.

As part of the effort to bring architects to the forefront of public consciousness, Szostak asked that each exhibitor be represented by a photograph. These portrait quality likenesses are part of the exhibition.

Bob Burns is an architect and educator whose career at the NCSU College of Design began when he was a student of founding dean Henry L. Kamphoefner. (The college is celebrating its 55th anniversary this year.) In 1948, Kamphoefner was recruited to develop the program, which many regard as the first American school of modern design. Burns, who served three terms as head of the architecture department, is currently writing a book on the history of the school of design. A lot of the impetus for the work in this post-millennium exhibit derives from the tremendous impact that Kamphoefner and the school had on the development of the modern architecture movement, says Burns. Kamphoefner really influenced architecture in North Carolina by introducing us to internationally known architects and to the aspects of the modern movement that they represented. He invited architects Frank Lloyd Wright, Buckminster Fuller, Lewis Mumford, Mies van der Rohe, Walter Gropius and Charles Eames to lecture at the school, and he attracted to the faculty an international cadre of practicing architects whose work stands today as some of the best North Carolina has to offer.

Among the distinguished faculty-designed structures that Burns cites as North Carolinas best is the 1952 Dorton Arena at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds, often described as the States most significant Modernist building. Designed by Matthew Nowicki, a Polish architect who became the first head of the schools department of architecture, the Dorton Arena is a classic modernist design. It combines the principles of form following function (the original arena was nicknamed the Cow Palace as it was used to judge livestock) with a love of new technology. The saddle-shaped roof is created by a network of tensile steel cables suspended between two enormous concrete parabolic arches in a glass-walled form that gives a modernistic lightness to the structure. Following Nowickis tragic death in an airplane crash, William Henry Deitrick, a prominent Raleigh architect, completed the structure.

Several of the other early faculty members are best known for the Raleigh residences they designed, many of which are still largely intact and appreciated by their owners. The roster of designers includes James Fitzgibbon, whose 1951 Paschal House is decidedly Wrightian in design and integration with its setting; George Matsumoto, whose House and Studio (195254) appeared on the cover of Architectural Record in 1957; and Eduardo Catalano, whose 1955 Catalano House was called The House of the Decade by House and Home magazine and praised by Frank Lloyd Wright. Kamphoefners own Wright-inspired home, designed in 1950where he and his wife lived for nearly 40 yearsstill holds pride of place on a golf course lot in Raleighs Country Club Hills neighborhood. A recent modestly scaled addition done by Bob Burns is the only nod to the 21st century the new owners found necessary.

The 21 architects represented in The Art of Architecture were selected from a statewide pool of over one hundred entries represented by literally hundreds of photographs submitted for the competition. The exhibit of their work is deftly arranged in the museums lobby and on the Upper Foyer Gallery and North Wing Gallery of DUMAs Colonial Revival Building on Dukes East Campus quadrangle.

It is an astounding array of work. Dominating the entrance lobby is the sign announcing the exhibit: a full-sized section of a house chalked by hand on a background of deep charcoal grey by Frank Harmon Architect. Szostak saw a similar board used as a working drawing in Harmons Raleigh office and asked that he create one for the exhibit. Moving to the upper level, the visitor finds monochromatic models of chalk white poster board and muted beige cardboard. Among them are models of an aquatic center cantilevered over Lake Johnson by Dennis Stallings of Durhams Freelon Group. Peter Y. Alberice of Camille-Alberice Architects, PA, in Asheville offers a Cubistic series of pastels in shades of blue and lime green entitled Torres, Oltremisura and La Machina. Black and white diagrams and hand-sketched scenes describe a major public space by former NCSU campus architect Edwin F. Harris Jr., FAIA. Clearscapes of Raleigh is represented by Exploris sophisticated assemblage of shapes and spaces. Phillip Shive of Charlottes Perkins and Will architectural firm, whom Phil Szostak considers his personal mentor, offers hand-drawn black and white sketches, a design in its embryonic stage.

Models that contrast strikingly in scale and geographic location are those of Raleigh architect Kenneth Hobgood of Kenneth Hobgood Architects. An admirer of Le Corbusier and a modernist with a love of old houses, Hobgood is fascinated with the inherent potentials of glass and steel construction. His 800-square-foot glass and steel Phillips House is perched above a rushing stream in the North Carolina mountains. It is as meticulously detailed as Hobgoods model for The Great Egyptian Museum, bordered by a series of crenelated forms and set on level sands within view of the Pyramids.

Durham-based Turan Duda of DudaPayne Architects is one of only a few local architects designing high-rise buildings. His progression of design options for the glass-topped Congress at Fourth Building in Austin, Texas, includes a tilted and sinuous version of the building. Another version features a crisply vertical rectilinear building with an irregular crystalline roof that looks like the top of a gorgeously wrapped package.

Elements of vitality and playfulness are inherent in most of the exhibits selections. But they are, perhaps, more deliberately displayed in three projects by Triangle firms.

Peter Gail Borden, of Raleighs Borden Partnership, teaches architecture at NCSU and maintains a private practice. His model for the cleverly named The Suburban Anywhere House is sited on a narrow urban lot where the house derives much-needed privacy from its completely enclosed interior courtyard. A glossy black and white drawing by Borden shows his Rubberband House, featuring a neatly shuttered rectangular upper story perched on a banded oblong base. The intriguing design appeared in a recent issue of Architectural Record.

Principals Dale Dixon and Ellen Weinstein, of Chapel Hills Dixon Weinstein Architects, have contributed an eight-foot pedestal displaying their delightfully detailed bird houses. The team, frequent award-winners in NCAIA competitions, designs miniature houses, each with a garden, as gifts to members of their firm. Each design reflects some aspect of the individuals personality.

Among the youngest exhibitors, Cisco Gomes and wife-partner Dabney Staub submitted clay models that were prepared for a competition to design a Chicago school complex. The series has a child-like naivet suited to the subject. Another distinctive Gomes and Staub submission is a wooden model with a sequence of design details for the Webb-Dottie House in Chapel Hill.

As Bob Burns reflects on this first-of-its-kind exhibit, he considers four factors that contribute to the sustained and still evolving sense of modern architecture evident in The Art of Architecture. First, he says, there was a modern spirit in North Carolina that pre-dated Kamphoefner and the School of Design. As part of the skyscraper movement of the 1930s, the R. J. Reynolds Building in Winston-Salem, the Central Carolina Bank Building in Durham, and the Durham Life Insurance Building (now the Wake County Office Building) in Raleigh created a receptivity to modern architecture.

Progressive governors including Kerr Scott, Luther Hodges (who helped establish the Research Triangle Park) and Terry Sanford recast North Carolina as a state of The New South, favoring new industries and attitudes and supporting higher education as a critical necessity. In addition, many of North Carolinas large institutional and commercial buildings were modern in concept and technology. Edward Durrell Stone, a New York City architect with a reputation for his modernism, worked in concert with the Raleigh firm of Holloway Reeves to design the North Carolina Legislative Building, the North Carolina Museum of Art and the Duke Music School. North Carolinas flagship firms working in the same mode and with equally impressive commissions included Raleighs William Deitrick, Ashevilles Six Associates, and Northrup and OBrien in Winston-Salem. But perhaps most important, Burns credits the NCSU College of Design with championing innovation and maintaining an unwavering dedication to the tenets of Modernism, including its stated goals of good citizenship and social commitment.

The North Carolina School: The Art of Architecture at the Duke University Museum of Art is a timely and beautifully rendered reminder of North Carolinas enduring tradition of modern architecture and of the architects who design it.