HARVEY B. GANTT CENTER FOR AFRICAN-AMERICAN ARTS & CULTURE
The Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture has presented African-American art, history, and culture for more than three decades. Accordingly, a central goal for the Center’s new 50,000 sf facility was to highlight its connections with the local and national African-American community.
The site’s location in Brooklyn, a historic neighborhood that was the center of Charlotte’s black community from the late 1800s until the 1960s, provided the central design inspiration. The Myers Street School, Charlotte’s first African-American school, once stood in the heart of Brooklyn and earned the nickname ”Jacob’s Ladder School” from the fire escapes on its exterior. However, the theme of “Jacob’s Ladder” also had a larger significance for this community, symbolizing a persistent, stepwise approach to social, political, and economic advancement.
This powerful metaphor is represented in vertical circulation elements on the south façade and the articulation of the central atrium as an abstracted ladder proceeding upward to a horizontal glass band representing education. From this plane of education, a crystalline volume of glass breaks through the roof. The ladder metaphor is further abstracted in the building’s perforated-metal rainscreen, which resembles the quilts that enslaved people fashioned from discarded scraps of fabric and that were often hung from the windows of safe houses along the Underground Railroad. This optimized rainscreen also enables a breathable building envelope, while limited glazing helps minimize energy costs.
Inside, the highly flexible, contemporary space includes exhibition areas, multipurpose space, retail and restaurant space, reception space to host community gatherings, and a “back of house” area for staff offices and exhibition preparation. Mechanical systems were zoned to tailor ventilation to the disparate requirements of public and gallery spaces.
The Center’s site, a 48-by-400 foot sliver of land, is adjacent to the 50-story Wachovia tower and the tower’s 10-story underground parking structure and service platform and was accessible only via a double-decker ramp at the eastern end of the Center’s site. The project also had to be sequenced with a five-block cultural streetscape master plan for the northern edge of downtown Charlotte. Despite these complications, the project was delivered on schedule.
(Project is through previous association with The Freelon Group. Victor Vines - Principal-in-Charge.)