Goodnight Raleigh - a look at the art, architecture, history, and people of the city at night

J. S. Dorton Arena – State Fair Grounds

This week’s installment of Flashback Friday features a 1966 postcard of the arena designed by Matthew Nowicki at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds. Dorton Arena is the most significant piece of modern architecture in North Carolina, and probably all of the Southeast.

This 9500 seat parabolic arch arena is considered one of the most modern and architecturally important buildings in the U.S.

This unused postcard from Aerial Photography Services is dated 1966, and features a stamp from 1971.

One of Nowicki's early sketches for the arena

This innovative structure was built in 1952 and had a few nicknames, including the “Cow Palace” and the “Paraboleum.” The latter was the designer’s reference to the opposing concrete parabolas that provide support to the roof. The outer walls provide almost no structural support. This structure was but one of a series of buildings of his larger master plan for the fairgrounds.

Another sketch showing the opposing parabolas which provide structural support

Matthew Nowicki is likely the most noteworthy faculty member of the NC State School of Design, where he was head of the Department of Architecture. He had served as an architectural consultant to the United Nations building project, and was the chief city planner for the city of Warsaw before being forced into exile by the communist takeover of Poland after World War II.

Sadly, he perished in a plane crash over Egypt in 1950, before he could see the construction of his ground-breaking design. He was returning to his home in Raleigh from the city he was in the midst of designing, Chandigarh. It was the first planned city of India, known internationally for its architecture urban planning.

Dorton Arena today

The full story of Mattew Nowicki and the Arena is too long to fit in to a Flashback Friday post, but is a topic we’ll be exploring in depth in the future.

Although most sources consider Dorton Arena to be Matthew Nowicki’s only completed work in Raleigh, there is another local structure which was built from his sketches and vision.

Stay tuned.

 


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