A Miesian box in Raleigh, North Carolina.
An unexpected hotbed of modern architecture, Raleigh, North Carolina, is often overlooked within the greater narrative of twentieth-century architectural history. But the unassuming Southern city had a surprisingly profound effect on the postwar landscape, in large part due to Henry Kamphoefner, the Dean of North Carolina State University's School of Design, who arrived in the sleepy capital looking to well, shake things up. During his Carolina crusade, Kamphoefner enlisted a group of young, charismatic architects, including George Matsumoto, Eduardo Catalano, Matthew Nowicki, and G. Milton Small to help put North Carolina on Modernism's map.
A member of Kamphoefner’s original crew, G. Milton Small was the city's earliest and perhaps most skilled proponent of Miesian modernism. Originally from Oklahoma, Small studied architecture and engineering at the University of Oklahoma before completing his graduate work at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT), where he studied under (you guessed it) Mies van der Rohe. In 1948, on the recommendation of Kamphoefner (an old professor), Small relocated to Raleigh to work for the firm helmed by North Carolina AIA President, William Henley Deitrick.
As chief designer for Deitrick’s office, Small introduced Miesian principles to Raleigh's more traditional building stock, designing the (now demolished) Carolina Country Club, one of the city's first modernist experiments (and one of the earliest modern clubhouses in America). In 1949, Small left Deitrick's office to open his own firm and quickly became one of the most prolific practitioners of modernism in the area. Defined by a Miesian-like articulation of planar space, large expanses of glazing, and simply defined structure, Small’s designs established a modern architectural language within the local building vernacular and helped shape the area's approach to architecture for the next several decades.
Constructed in 1966, the Small and Associates Office Building is a one-story, steel-framed box set among the mature trees of a small lot near the North Carolina State University campus. Incorporating a number of Miesian elements, including the clear definition of base/body/cornice, the elevation of structure on steel columns, a grid-like aluminum and glass curtain wall, and a flat roof with wide overhangs, the office remains one of the city's most refined interpretations of the "skin and bone" style. With incredible sensitivity to the small wooded site, careful consideration of a limited budget, and a mastery of the Miesian vocabulary, Small created a modest yet refined structure that hovers gracefully over the street, its floating form (allowing for parking and a fountain-adorned walkway below) a clever solution to the constraints of a compact city lot.
On the interior of the building, Small reinforced a clear hierarchy of space with the use of rich finishes like walnut, stained fir, and bronze in reception areas and exposed framework in the office’s linear drafting room. Framed panels of red, yellow, blue, white, and black were a nod to the De Stijl movement, adding visual interest and contrast to the dark steel of the exposed columns. Designed with a carefully configured clarity, the interior is simple and functional, a well-lit, airy environment ideal for an architecture practice.
With meticulous attention to form and detail, Small's office building is elegant in its precise proportions, straightforward materials, and unity of design. Published in Architectural Record in 1969, the office is an exceptional piece of North Carolina's Triangle-area modernism and a rare example of an entire building designed by an architect with his own professional needs in mind. With many of Small's projects lost or in danger of being demolished, his own office building, now carefully preserved, remains a crucial piece of the architect's legacy and continues to represent the high-water mark for modern architecture in North Carolina.
The Small and Associates Office Building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. You can read more about G. Milton Small on claass HAUS here.
A version of this post was published on August 4, 2017.
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