In a March 29th news story, “20-story hotel to arise atop Carolina Theatre site in uptown Charlotte”, The Observer followed its usual practice when writing about new buildings, that is leaving out a crucial piece of information: the name of the architect.
Since the design of the new building plays a role in recalling a signifiant piece of the city’s history, this is no small oversight.
DLR Group, in association with Gensler, two national firms with offices here, are the architects. Their building will be a neighbor to the Foundation for the Carolinas which is also handling the $42 million planned renovation of the Carolina Theatre.
As much as can be gained looking at the rendering that accompanied the newspaper story, the design calls for a rather conventional glass box. The connection to history comes with the tall glass lobby fronting North Tryon Street. Described as a “jewel box,” it will contain at least some of the original theater’s facade.
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Designed by architects C.C.Hook of Charlotte and R.H. Hall of New York, the front of the building was subdivided into three units, each with a distinctive architectural flavor.
With its stuccoed exterior and false iron balcony, the unit on the left recalled the Spanish colonial style. The next, with elaborately carved stone, featured classical elements such as swag moldings. The unit on the right, fashioned of stone and brick, referred to the Jacobean and Elizabethan era, perhaps a reference to Shakespeare’s time. (The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission’s site, cmhpf.org, has a full description and good background.)
To make a statement by preserving what many who attended vaudeville shows and feature films remember as a beautiful and distinctive building front, the historic facade should be accessible to the eyes and sensibilities of passersby by being visible from the street.
The rendering on DLR Group’s website seems to show one part of the facade blending in with the lobby.
Using only part of the facade elements – removed and saved from an aging structure built in 1927 – and perhaps the remainder in a less prominent place lessens the impact and denies people on the street an emotion too often missing in contemporary architecture: delight.
Using the old front prominently would also keep faith with the past of the Carolina Theatre, designated by the Landmarks Commission in recognition of its history and appearance.
The “jewel box” lobby will connect with the Foundation for the Carolinas offices next door, housed in the historic Montaldo’s building, designed by architect Louis Asbury as a classical facade with an arched entrance and visible statuary in the second floor.
The design of the hotel building does not pick up on any of these architectural cues, and that’s OK. The contrast between the new and old can be exciting, offering potentially vivid contrasts.
But let’s hope the architects understand each should have its place.
Richard Maschal is The Observer’s former art and architecture writer.