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Mid-Century Modern Midtown

SLU Picks Apart HOK

by Michael R. Allen

Every time I give a tour of the concentration of mid-century modern buildings along Lindell Boulevard between Grand and Kingshighway, I always stop at the former IBM Building at 3800 Lindell Boulevard. Built in 1959, the three-story building may have been a rather boring business box, but the designers at Hellmuth Obata & Kassabaum liberated the form.

What makes this building architecturally interesting as well as very practical is the cantilevered concrete block screens over the upper floors.  The sectional screen reveals in each gap that the windows are nearly continuous behind — thus what seems like a very heavy building actually is light and airy inside, and screened from the sun out!

The screen is another demonstration that architects understood basic ideas about deflecting harsh sunlight and increasing energy efficiency long before they could win LEED points. The IBM Building isn’t “green” in today’s sense, of course, but it sure makes a smart move with the screens.  This feature is sensitive rather than forceful, too: the screen’s overhang neatly matches the perimeter line of the battered, stone-faced pedestal on the Lindell Boulevard side.  The rubble stone contrasts smartly with the modern, regulated masonry and concrete above.

Alas, today St. Louis University started removing the screen from the building. Now called Adorjan Hall, the building houses various humanities departments. Most of the upper floors is office space, occupied by professors and support staff who will now work against huge, unshielded clear glass windows. An energy-efficiency feature from 1959 is being removed in 2011, when we supposedly know better how to “green” our buildings.

If I could explain this one away, I would.

6 replies on “SLU Picks Apart HOK”

i do think the screens are beautiful from the outside, and certainly the building will now be less energy efficient, but i personally have never been a fan of placing permanent screens in front of windows. it seems to me to defeat the purpose of a window, and makes for – i would think – a somewhat oppressive environment on the inside. that’s not to say i’m happy that they’re removing the screens. i just wouldn’t want to work in there.

Another stoopid move by SLU. Shocked. So shocked. Seriously, though, is there anything that SLU touches which doesn’t end up ruined by their self-aggrandizing, blinkered, self-serving, and myopic ideas of what a university campus should look like? Is there nothing which doesn’t become abused or bowdlerized, altered or destroyed in such a way that leads one to question the intelligence, judgement, and education of the blockheaded twerps who run the joint? SLU and its benighted development and management policies are an embarrassment to this City, and the City lets them get away with it. Because jerbs, the “Rev” Biondi, and the ol’ “they’ve done so much for us” trick. Pathetic.

The library at SLU is certainly the best preserved example of mid century modernism in the entire city.  Opening the building to northern light won’t destroy  its energy efficiency.  I think the windows look great, better than the concrete screens, frankly.

I work in this building, and am frankly glad that they finally removed the screens–they were only architecturally interesting if you’re a bumblebee. The exposed glass is now tinted, and while I don’t know how much more or less energy efficiency that buys you, I can at least look outside to tell if it’s raining.

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