David vs. Goliath in Downtown Raleigh

Today at 6 PM, I”ll be giving a talk at the North Carolina Center for Architecture and Design, about my new book, “Drawing from Practice: Architects and the Meaning of Freehand.” I’ll be joined there by the six North Carolina architects featured in that book: Ellen Cassilly, Chad Everhart, Phil Freelon, Erin Lewis, Matt Griffith, and the Center’s designer, Frank Harmon. Today, I thought it might be appropriate to run the post that announced the Center’s groundbreaking, from January 2010:

Soon, on a site in downtown Raleigh that architect Frank Harmon puckishly likens to the shape of a pork chop, the North Carolina chapter of the AIA will break ground for a slim new Center for Architecture and Design.

“It’s on less than an acre, and we placed it parallel to Peace Street,” Harmon said. “It’s a long, thin building with a porch on the south side. You’ll find that all over the South – at Mount Vernon, for example – so we knew that was a good pattern to follow.”

Harmon’s firm won the commission out of 60 entries in a 2008 competition. “We had a compelling site plan,” he said. “It was a design suited to the needs of the AIA.”

Parking has been placed at grade level, with the potential to share space with open-air exhibits, a farmers’ market, sculptures,and film showings. “You could even build a Habitat for Humanity house there, and ship it off to Haiti,” he said.

The 12,000 square-foot building will serve as home to the NC AIA staff of five, with potential to grow over time. A coffee shop and architecture/art gallery will grace the Peace Street entrance, with the top floor’s 3,900 square feet reserved for tenants.

Harmon’s primary challenge – in a classic David vs. Goliath struggle – lay with a boisterous and clumsy quintet of neighbors sprawling southwest of the site, around the state’s legislative plaza. The Archdale building in particular swaggers monolithically above that section of the city. But in a deft, and inherently polite and gracious gesture, Harmon ignored them all.

“Ours is a horizontal statement,” he said quietly. “The real face of the building is to the south, looking toward the state capitol.” The new building will commence twelve feet above grade, assuring a clear view down Wilmington Street to the 1840 neoclassical dome of the Ithiel Town, Alexander Jackson Davis and David Paton building.

North Carolina fields one of the strongest AIA chapters in the nation, and enjoys a legacy of excellent design because of the influence of NC State’s College of Design, as well as the A-Schools at UNCC and North Carolina A & T. The AIA Center should be, the group’s web site notes, an architectural example for the entire state. Importantly, it’s only a stone’s throw away from those who make decisions about the state’s built environment.

“It’s a one-stop shop for legislators,” Harmon said. “The building itself is a role model for design that’s inspiring, and that belongs to the community.”

For more information on AIANC, visit www.aianc.org. For more on Frank Harmon, visit www.frankharmon.com. For more information on Bluelime Studio Architectural Renderings and Animation, go to www.bluelime.com.

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