Most in Greensboro celebrate the fact that North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (A&T) is the largest historically black university in the nation, and most recognize it is a well-regarded public land grant university for research in areas of engineering, biomedical engineering, and technology.
Fewer people realize that A&T’s campus is composed of a remarkable collection of buildings that trace the progress of American architecture from Neoclassical norms to wondrous Deconstructivism. A selection of architectural narratives provides some insights to the history of A&T.
1. The Dudley Memorial Building is the historic heart of the campus and its most historically distinguished building; Dudley Memorial was designed by prominent Greensboro architect Charles C. Hartmann and was constructed in 1930. It is located on the site of the university’s first administration building which burned in January 1930. This building is named for the university’s second president, James Benson Dudley. The building’s Neoclassical Revival architecture is presented by a grand limestone portico of freestanding Ionic columns that are topped by a heavy entablature emblazoned with the building’s name. Additional classical references are found in its heavy cornice and decorative quoins. Its red brick façade is punctuated with large windows topped on the first floor by flat arches with keystones. Utilizing funds received from the Rockefeller Foundation, the building is the high-water mark of Neoclassical Revival design on the campus, and cost $160,000 to build.
2. The Richard B. Harrison Auditorium was constructed in 1939 through the Federal Works Agency as the university’s main auditorium. The 85,000 square foot, two-story building was designed by Greensboro architect Leon McMinn with references to both Neoclassical Revival and Art Deco styles. The building’s facade is composed of a five-bay classical portico of brick pilasters with simply molded stone bases and capitals. Above the portico is a stone entablature emblazoned with the building’s name. Five pairs of glass doors topped with transoms provide access to the lobby, and windows are centered above each door. The symmetry and formality of the façade’s Neoclassical Revival form are stylized with Art Deco details such as simplified brick pilasters and modest stone cornice.
3. Alexander Graham Hall was completed to house mechanical industries in the fall of 1939. The 34,000 square foot academic building features Neoclassical Revival features such as grand fluted pilasters, entablatures, and flat arches with keystones atop windows. The tripartite form of the building and streamlined cornice reflect the growing influence of Art Deco design into the campus’s architectural lexicon. The structure cost $127,000 to build, and plans were drawn by Greensboro architect William C. Holleyman, Jr. Holleyman died midway through construction and his draftsman, Leon McMinn took over as principal. The building’s façade chronicles the tilt of campus design from neoclassical to more progressive modern genres.
4. Cherry Hall was the home of A&T’s School of Engineering. It was constructed in 1954 at a cost of $600,000. The three-story brick and block structure housed electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, civil engineering, architecture, and physics. It is attributed to the Greensboro architecture firm of McMinn, Norfleet, and Wicker. The design of the building represents an intersection of Art Deco with International style features. An Art deco-inspired relief in the form of three corrugated stripes embellishing a vertical plane centered above the main entrance. The remainder of the façade is simply composed of International-style ribbon windows set within wide limestone sills and lintels. Window bands are complemented with red brick bands. The building was among the first on campus to look forward with no neoclassical influences.
5. Charles L. Cooper Hall continued to progress an increasingly modernistic mode for the A&T campus when it opened in 1955 because it introduced concrete brows above its ribbon windows. The International-style dormitory was designed by McMinn, Norfleet and Wicker, and accommodated 404 male students housed in 202 dorm rooms. The building’s design reflected the compact site and its gentle slope, as well as budget requirements for student occupancy. Project incorporated a partial basement with a recreation room and a cross plan to maximize linear footage of exterior windows. As an energy consideration, windows were given an overhead sun shade. The use of concrete floor slabs and masonry wall panels met budgetary needs and maximized square footage. The sleek brick façade approached a high-water mark for austere Modern design on the A&T campus.
6. The Crosby Communications Center was opened in September 1970 as a $1.4 million facility to house television, radio, foreign languages, speech, drama, and audio-visual aids. The progressive design firm Lyles, Bissett, Carlisle, and Wolff of Columbia and Raleigh were the architects. The building’s design represents a chapter of modern architecture that is aligned with New Formalism, specifically referencing the designs of internationally popular architect Edward Durrell Stone in the geometric pattern of its façade windows. The patterns represent a departure from the austere compositions of high modernism as architects sought to re-introduce texture and artistic expression to austere architecture. Crosby stands as an elegantly detailed example of New Formalist Modernism on campus.
7. McNair Hall/Academic Hall is named for Dr. Ronald E. McNair, a 1971 A&T graduate, astronaut and laser physicist. Ron McNair is remembered as one of seven astronauts who died in the space shuttle Challenger accident in 1986. McNair Hall was completed in 1987 at a cost of $8.5 million to house the university’s flagship College of Engineering, and its architects were W. Edward Jenkins and J. Hyatt Hammond, both of Greensboro. The building reflects Brutalist architecture through block massing, use of brick masonry sheathing, and use of punched windows to accentuate mass and weight. The style was a “go-to” for academic buildings in the 1970s and early 1980s when it was considered pragmatically austere and appropriately imposing. Interestingly, this was the last project for Jenkins as an architect, he died in 1988.
8. The Bluford Library was designed by Greensboro architect Clint Gravely and with a price tag of $16 million, the 144,000 square foot building was the most expensive, and perhaps most needed building on campus when ground was broken in November 1988. The four-story building replaced the outdated Bluford Library now called Fort I.R.C.. Construction took almost two years to complete and contained space for 600,000 volumes and seats for 1,000 students. The building blends the heavy massing and austere wall surfaces of Brutalist architecture with Post-Modern entrance tower that features an arch, the university seal, and a low pyramidal roof. Postmodernism returned classical features such as arches and towers to campus architecture, but it didn’t linger. The library entrance portrays one of the few examples of the style on campus.
9. The NC A&T Academic Classroom Building was constructed 2010-2011 under the oversight of architects Victor Vines and Adam Brakenbury when they were affiliated with the FREELON GROUP architecture firm of the Research Triangle Park. The building won two awards: the AIA North Carolina Merit Award 2009, and the AIA Triangle Merit Award for Design 2012. The building is most closely associated with the Deconstructivist Style, indicated by an exterior façade wrapped in slim metal panels and glass that are evocative of the rows of plowed fields. The 88,000 square foot, $27 million multipurpose facility is conceptually designed as a campus hub overlooking Buford Circle. The irregular plan of the building was intended to give visual cues to the interior plan, and to create conversation areas and energetic courtyards where students can socialize around the exterior. Like a geode, the internal atrium provides a large event space that can be used for job fairs, receptions, or other university events. With its eye-catching colors and massing, this complex continues a campus tradition of branding the university using progressive architecture.
10. The NC A&T Student Center was designed by Vines Architecture and completed in 2019. It has received two awards to-date: the AIA NC Merit Award for Design 2014; and the AIA Triangle Merit [unbuilt]: Design 2016 and was awarded LEED Silver status for environmental impacts. The 150,000 square foot Center serves to redefine the center of the campus as the visual terminus of two campus greens. Volumes of space inside the structure include programmatic spaces such as a ballroom, study rooms, theatre, and food court. These spaces are embedded within the facade and are distinguished on the building’s exterior through massing and material. A veil of perforated metal and steel unifies the entire structure like a tablecloth. The style of this building can be described as Deconstructivist, with special uses and spaces of the building clearly articulated apart from the whole and the building contrasted between solid volumes and glazed spaces. This complex extends the 10-year tradition of branding the university using architecturally brazen designs.
Charles C. Hartmann (1889-1977) was born in New York and trained at the Beaux Arts Institute. Early in his career he was employed by Warren and Wetmore, Charles Birge, and W. L. Stoddard…the latter engaged in the construction of the O.Henry Hotel. With an invitation from Greensboro insuranceman Julian Price to design his company’s 17-story office tower, Hartmann began a long career in the city building institutions, office buildings, industrial facilities, and private homes and apartments. Hartmann is affiliated with the oldest structures on A&T’s campus, including Morrison Hall (1924) and the Dudley Memorial Building (1930). His Neoclassical Revival designs were considered appropriately grand for the time, as a majority of educational facilities looked back to architecture antecedents of the ancient world.
William Crumley Holleyman (1893-1939) was born in Atlanta. He graduated from Georgia Institute of Technology, class of 1917, and spent two years as an architect in New York before locating in Greensboro around 1921. He designed notable houses in Greensboro’s Irving Park and Pinehurst, as well as structures at Women’s College and A&T. Two important commissions on campus represent increasingly modern styles, including Holland Hall (1937) and Alexander Graham Hall (1939). Holleyman’s commissions represent a transition from Neoclassically-inspired facades to increasingly streamlined and Art Deco compositions. Leon McMinn inherited Holleyman’s affiliations with A&T upon Holleyman’s death in 1939.
The firm McMinn, Norfleet and Wicker was established in 1946 by Leon McMinn and Robert Norfleet. They were later joined by John F. Wicker. The firm sometimes partnered with the established Greensboro architect Albert C. Woodroof. Leon McMinn was a native of Cherokee County, Texas who studied at Columbia University before taking a position in Greensboro. Norfleet was a graduate of Yale University and had an undergraduate degree from NC State University. Wicker attended NC State and The Citadel. The firm inherited a specialization in institutional commissions from William C. Holleyman, who died in 1939. McMinn’s role as draftsman for Holleyman set the firm up strategically to win numerous bids to design facilities during A&T’s post war campus growth binge. Beginning with Leon McMinn’s design of Harrison Auditorium (1939), McMinn, Norfleet and Wicker won commissions for Hines Hall (1949), Curtis Hall (1949), the Oaks (1949), Cherry Hall (1952), Fort/IRC (1953), Cooper Hall (1954), and Barbee Hall (1968).
W. Edward Jenkins (1923-1988) was born in Wake County, NC and was trained in architecture at NC A&T where he graduated in 1949. Jenkins was employed by architect Edward Loewenstein of Greensboro and was licensed in 1953. He was the third black architect licensed in the state of North Carolina. His early projects included the Dudley High School Gymnasium and the home of attorney J. Kenneth Lee. In 1962, Jenkins opened his own practice and took numerous commissions of private residences, churches, and academic buildings. On the A&T campus he is responsible for designing Merrick Hall (1967), Marteena Hall (c. 1966), renovations to Williams Dining Hall and Murphy Hall, and McNair Hall (1987 in partnership with J. Hyatt Hammond). Jenkins solidified a modern tradition of design on the A&T campus with innovative techniques such as cantilevered concrete forms.
Clinton Gravely (born 1935) was born in Reidsville NC and was trained in architecture at Howard University. He was employed at the firm of Loewenstein and Atkinson. He established his own firm in 1967 and specialized in residential and institutional commissions. Perhaps Gravely’s grandest commission was that of the Buford Library on the A&T campus. Although Gravely is adept with modern designs and new construction, he is also respectful of earlier work through careful renovation and restoration. He has led renovations on many A&T campus buildings including Hines Hall, Cherry Hall, Noble Hall, Benbow Hall, and Harrison Auditorium.
Philip Freelon (born 1953) is a native of Philadelphia and is considered a pioneering American architect of the twenty-first century with bold designs that often defy structural and physical limitations. Of African American descent, he is known for leading the design team of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture on the National Mall in Washington DC. Freelon attended NCSU School of Design and MIT. In 1990 he founded the Freelon Group in the Research Triangle Park NC. The firm has received numerous awards for their projects – and an impressive selection of their award-winning commissions are located on the A&T campus, including Proctor Hall (2008), the Academic Classroom Building (2010), and the Student Center (2019). The firm has since merged with Perkins + Will. Freelon’s designs build on postmodernist traditions through Deconstructivism. Deconstructivism gives the impression of the fragmentation of the constructed building. It is characterized by manipulation of a structure’s skin using textures or patterns that organize elements of architecture into disparate forms and floating shapes. The visual appearance of Deconstructivist buildings is characterized by organic unpredictability.
One Remarkable History
A&T’s legacy of modern architecture represents the institution’s focus on progressivism and technological advancement. Socially, the institution has been on the front line of the Civil Rights Movement through leadership in the Sit-In’s that occurred in the winter of 1960 at Greensboro’s Woolworth lunch counter. The university has worked through social injustices such as the Greensboro Uprising of 1969 that took the life of A&T student Willie Earnest Grimes. A&T has celebrated the accomplishments of graduate and NASA astronaut and physicist Ronald McNair. Its architecture is likewise pace-setting. As some university’s take inspiration from the past-gazing Gothic or Colonial themes, A&T has taken steps to brand its identity through increasingly progressive designs that challenge the intellect and stretch engineering principals. The embodiment of this progressive spirit is cataloged in the architecture of this remarkable campus.
Written by Benjamin Briggs
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