Thursday, February 21, 2013

Demolition of I.M Pei's Gulf Oil Building

I.M Pei, a renowned architect of the 20th century, is known most, perhaps, for his design of the glass pyramid in the courtyard of the Louvre (and the visitor's center below it),

Society Hill Towers in Philadelphia,

The Johnson Museum at Cornell University,

or the East Building of the National Gallery of Art,

Of course, an architect's first building, is often most memorable to the architect themselves - and certainly an integral part of the architect's biography. Pei's first building was built in Atlanta in 1951:

"Pei finally saw his architecture come to life in 1949, when he designed a two-story corporate building for Gulf Oil in Atlanta, Georgia. His use of marble for the exterior curtain wall brought praise from the journal Architectural Forum."

The building was a very clear physical link between Pei and his mentors Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer of the Bauhaus School of architecture; the building's clean lines, steel-frame with glass and marble walls, utilitarian floorplan, and recessed entry were hallmarks of the "International Style". Pei's subsequent designs reflected much more of his own unique style, dominated by glass curtain walls and cubist forms.

Unfortunately, the Gulf Oil building is being demolished:

This represents another failure of the preservation community to effectively advocate for a very significant Atlanta building (along with the recent demolition of a Neil Reed designed apartment building on Peachtree Street, and the locally designated Hirsch Hall). The Atlanta Preservation Center (APC) reported on the proposed redevelopment of the site some months after the announcement came to the real estate and development world (they've since updated their page). The APC deserve some credit, however, for their tireless advocacy work in support of the Crum and Forster Building on the Georgia Tech campus - which, of course, is still going to be demolished. I can't blame them too much, as I had no idea Atlanta even had an I.M. Pei building (had three, in fact, and two still stand - at least, two that his firm designed), and I certainly did not know it was his first. 

The developers claim that the building would be carefully disassembled to be reconstructed later. Though parts may have been salvaged (like the marble panels), based on the above demolition photos and the below rendering, it will clearly be nothing more than a facadectomy...

Rendering of proposed development. Gulf Oil facade in foreground.

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