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Downtown Raleigh’s New Ambassador of Architecture

If you’ve passed by the intersection of Peace and Wilmington Streets in Downtown Raleigh, chances are you’ve noticed a rather distinct building take shape. This striking new building is the new AIA NC Center for Architecture & Design.

AIA NC’s Previous Home: The Water Tower

The NC chapter of the American Institute of Architects was previously at home in the Water Tower facing Capitol Square. This structure was rescued from demolition by noted architect William Henley Deitrick, who renovated the structure and used it as his offices from 1938 until his retirement in 1959. In 1963 he deeded the structure in perpetuity to the AIA NC, while retaining the right to maintain personal offices within it until his death in 1974.

For nearly 50 years the building has been adequate for the AIA NC, but as needs changed the organization began to explore options for a larger facility. About four years ago they were able to secure an oddly-shaped parcel of land downtown left over from the diversion of Wilmington Street. The next task was determining what to build.

Selecting an Architect for a Building Representing Architects

Deciding which of the AIA NC’s 2400 architects to design the new structure presented a unique problem. The simple response to this problem was a design competition.

A panel of judges from out of state examined entries from over 60 architects based in North Carolina. The design of Raleigh-based Frank Harmon Architect PA was selected as the winning submission.

Despite the project getting under way during the height of the recession, it moved forward in large part due to donations of materials and resources. The National Recovery and Reinvestment Act also played a crucial role in providing resources in the form of Recovery Zone Bonds so the project could be realized.

AIA NC Building with the Archdale Building in the background

Standing Tall in the Face of “Brutal” Neighbors

Our challenge was to make 12,000 square feet of building that could stand up to these very large buildings and make a presence for the AIA in this downtown setting.

— Frank Harmon

The large buildings around the new headquarters that Harmon is referring to are state government buildings constructed between the 1960s and the 1980s. Most of the building’s nearby neighbors are local examples of the Brutalist style, and are quite imposing.

The building's face looks southward

Harmon didn’t shy away from these buildings however, and placed the building’s “face” toward these symbols of state government.

A bit beyond the imposing concrete or granite buildings on Halifax Mall are the elegant Legislative Building and treasured Capitol Building. The new Center for Architecture and Design serves as a beautiful bookend to the mall and provides a needed balance for those two magnificent structures which represent North Carolina.

A New Peace Street Gateway

The new building has a lit sidewalk and is a nice visual rest stop along a somewhat jagged entrance toward the city’s core. The intersection the Center for Architecture and Design sits on (Peace and Wilmington) is passed by a large number of state government employees making their way to work.

Peace Street with historic building from Peace College in the background

The tall and slender design provides a better fit for this parcel of land along a busy thoroughfare, but it also has benefits in terms of creature comforts and smart use of energy and resources.

Responsible Design is Better For the Environment and Society

It’s obvious that smart energy management is better for the environment, but it also makes economic sense. Buildings are responsible for 70% of the electricity load in the U.S. (source [PDF]) and this energy cost affects every company’s bottom line. The financial burden across society can be greatly reduced through smart energy use in the structures in which we live, work, and play.

Plan, courtesy of Frank Harmon Architect PA

The slender design allows for an abundance of natural light; so much so that there is little need for artificial light during daylight hours. In the instances in which artificial light is necessary, a supplemental control system is available via iOS devices (iPhone, iPad) or a web interface. It may also be controlled via regular old light switches.

Pavers in the "Parkings Garden"

Transforming the Burden of Parking in to an Asset

Although there are over 600 parking spaces within short walking distance, Raleigh zoning regulations mandated 36 parking spaces, which was yet another challenge. The response was to create a “parking garden,” which resembles a landscaped paver stone surface.

This innovative approach to parking has many benefits, including the prevention of rain water runoff, erosion, and heat retention during summer months. The wide open space will provide for the hosting of several types of events. A few ideas include: a place for screening movies, a Farmers’ Market, or a prototyping station for Habitat for Humanity.

Although the changes are subtle, it is enough to provide an experience significantly more pleasant than a sterile black top surface lot would.

The "green screen" which will provide a colorful means of shading for the ground level

A Symphony of Light and Plant Life

Although it is barely visible now, the building’s side facing south has a large “green screen” at ground level. This lattice structure will provide a home for three types of vine: Virginia Creeper, Smilax and Carolina Jasmine. The use of these three flowering vines will yield beautiful and natural exterior color all year long.

It will take three years for the green screen to fully fill in.

A Room With a View

The upper floor is privately leased space, and the tenants here will have envious working conditions. Each workstation throughout the building provides at least two views of the outside.

The windows actually open and the slender building footprint will allow for effective cross-ventilation during the warmer months.

Welcoming the New “Ambassador”

It is my hope that this new structure will provide inspiration and motivation for North Carolinians to design and demand better looking and better functioning buildings.

The new Center for Architecture and Design is a most welcome change to Raleigh’s visual landscape.

Further Reading:

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