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(1929). The new city building in asheville, north Carolina. Through the ages. 7(2). p 3-8
The golf courses in and around Asheville, North Carolina, are famous throughout the world of sport; and they, in conjunction with the climate, furnish ample reason why that city should be the chief winter resort of the State. But with the completion of the new City Building, Asheville now makes a bid for notoriety in the world of architecture.
The originality of this structure’s design is most refreshing, and the architect, Douglas D. Ellington, of Asheville, deserves more than a modicum of glory for the creation of what is destined to rank as a noteworthy contribution to the work of the Old South – work which has heretofore been characterized by a more rigid adherence to conventionalized forms, perhaps, than in any other section of the country.
It appears, if one can judge from contemporaneous accounts of the project, that the architect enjoyed exceptional freedom from those hampering restrictions which are all too often imposed upon the designer to his obvious disadvantage. Indeed, speaking of this phase of the work, Mr. Ellington himself says, in August, 1928, Architectural Record: "In approaching the problem of the new City Building of Asheville the designer was privileged to entertain a fresh point of view because of the freedom of surroundings and because of the broad outlook of the officials who had the project in charge. Against this unhampered background it was a simple matter to turn toward the future and begin open-mindedly with the particular requirements and the particular materials available, always remembering, of course, that originality in design, to be acceptable must not be forced and must not be merely a revolt against tradition, and that above all things it must be honest, that is to say it must possess simplicity."
After the usual analysis of the entire project had been completed, and a site selected, a special study was made of the mountain background, with the idea in mind of having the general contours of the building reflect, in so far as it was possible, its general environment, and at the same time approximate in color the local terrain. Just how painstakingly this preliminary study was carried out, is indicated by the fact that the first sketch of the conceived design "contained all of the elements which have been carried into the final structure, except that the roof treatment and tower were projected beyond the point at first indicated."
"There was a desire," the architect further stated, in the article above referred to, "to have the structure emerge from the ground in fortress-like strength and ascend to its full height with a sense of inevitability, presenting equality in all facades and frankly to express the steel framing of the building as against masonry forms and feeling. Throughout the making of the plans for the structure the material to be employed was in mind; the particular marble, brick and terra cotta were selected so as to embrace a transition color paralleling the natural clay-pink shades of the local Asheville soil, the order of transition, from base to roof, being from lighted to the darker, the banded vertical surfaces of the roof being high-lighted in green, blue and gold. The details in connection with the marble and the brick were deliberately confined to the greatest simplicity, the more ornate capping motifs having been equally deliberate and having been studied in the light of the distance from the eye. All openings were, of course, studied with a view to having them conform to the general spirit sought for. The prevailing ornament, which may be described as a feather motif, was devised as lightly reminiscent of the Indian epoch. The selection of the marbles and the finishes given to them were governed in each case by questions of color, texture and modeling. Georgia Pink was used through the base of the building up to and including the trim of the featured windows and also for all exterior window sills. The general surface of the base is in bush-hammered finish, the carving is in axed and honed finish, and the trim and sills in axed finish.
In the entrance loggia the general trim and wainscot is the same natural material in honed finish; and the ornamental seals, of stock especially selected as to grain, were finished by bush-hammering, axing, honing and polishing to secure the values of the color modeling and design of the official seal of the City of Asheville. The loggia floor, entrance platform and steps, and the title panel over the entry are of the same marble in honed finish, the title panel being in incised Roman lettering.
The loggia ceiling is vaulted, done in small square tile of brownish-gold shade with borders of pinkish orange and black. Suspended from the vaulted ceiling are a number of chain fixtures, lantern-shaped and eight-sided. Their shape repeats in slightly altered proportions the contours of the building as a whole, and echo the somewhat similar lanterns on the outside of the building.
The entrance or elevator lobby has a floor of honed Georgia Pink marble with a base and trim of axed York Fossil, the trim extending, as may be seen from the illustration on page 8, around each of the three elevator doors and the tall arched door and window openings on the opposite side of the area. The lighter-toned soft gray marble of the wainscot, also plainly discernible in the illustration, is Napoleon Gray, a marble from Missouri.
The general interior arrangement of the building was worked out on the basis of the greatest and most convenient use of areas. Special rooms flank the loggia, and in these the floors are of gray marble laid in large squares, with York Fossil bases and borders. Adjoining are the council chamber and rooms for various specific purposes common to municipal functioning. These are floored in Italian Travertine with borders and bases of York Fossil in dull finish. The murals in the chamber were painted by Mr Clifford Adams, of New York, and the subjects are incidents, symbolically handled, closely associated with the city’s history. The strikingly modernistic lighting fixtures in this room are typical of the unusual character of these items throughout the building. In this instance, they are suspended by chains attached to canopies set in the middle of angular sunburst ceiling plaques.
The elevator lobby of the council chamber has a wall base and trim of York Fossil; and the counters in the water and tax department are of polished Pink Georgia marble, honed finished; but in all other areas the sills are of Cherokee marble, also from the State of Georgia.
It might be mentioned at this point that "all plastered surfaces in the circulation corridors are of a putty-gray tone, with slight variations of blue and burnt siena introduced in modeling the ornament." The total cost of the building was only slightly over fifty cents a cubic foot.
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