This morning at Design Review Committee saw approval for the renovation of the downtown Alagasco building, one of iconic local architect Fritz Woehle‘s few commercial projects (above). The building is also one of Birmingham’s unique examples of Pop Architecture [you can read a good essay on the Pop movement here]. An older building was reconfigured by Woehle–I assume in the late 1960’s–with a smooth stucco skin punctuated by playful, circular windows. These suggest gas bubbles, and present a singular, unique image for the gas company. [Update: I’m now told the building was originally conceived by Woehle for a bank, which makes the circles pure geometric play rather than symbolic of gas bubbles. Although perhaps the allusion drew the gas company to purchase the building?] Urbanistically it has its faults (a massive drive through at the corner of 20th Street North and Powell Avenue; dark-tinted windows do not engage with the street; there is no real pedestrian scale)—but the Committee paused before approving the renovation.
The main concerns came from committee member Cheryl Morgan (pictured above seated at the left during the presentation), who objected to the vaguely classicizing style of the proposed synthetic stucco detailing (pilasters with capitals, cornices, etc.). While the architect (Alan Tichansky of Williams Blackstock) argued that the new design was more stylistically in keeping with the smaller, attached building which is part of the campus, Morgan felt the smaller historic building would be more respected if the new design were simpler, not so overtly “historicist”, and had closer attention paid to proportions and details. In the end, the committee voted to approve as long as the architect just tweaked the capital details.
While we were not able to obtain renderings for this post, the proposed architecture is vaguely similar to that found right up the street at Adamson Ford (above): big stucco-type cornices, and elements that recall original Birmingham commercial architecture from the 1910’s without replicating the proportional relationships seen in those buildings. A palette of taupes and browns will be the paint scheme.
Many probably have mixed feelings about the Alagasco building; regardless it’s about to be altered beyond recognition, and will go from unusual to conventional. Good? Bad? Indifferent? Discuss.
[thanks to Adamson Ford for the pic of their downtown dealership]