City Beautiful 21 » Architecture, Burlington (VT), Cesky Krumlov, Chapel Hill, Density, Economic Development, International Cities and Towns, Piazzas, Plazas, Parks and Squares, Street Design, Vernazza » Five Great Reasons to Bulldoze the BCBSNC Building In Chapel Hill
Today Blue Cross Blue Shield of NC announced they are consolidating their operations in Durham and vacating their dated, modernist solar-cooker-on-cinder-blocks digs in Chapel Hill, because the building is inflexible, expensive to operate, and bad for workers:
Blue Cross officials said the insurer’s distinctive Chapel Hill headquarters – a rhomboid, glass structure designed by the architect A.G. Odell Jr.’s firm – had become more costly to operate than its other buildings and didn’t fit the way employees work today.
The article adds:
Blue Cross expects the move to Durham will ultimately save it more than $2.5 million annually in utilities and operating costs.
“It will be a walkable, flexible environment, and create a community of literally all of our employees,” Borman said.
As for the Chapel Hill headquarters, Blue Cross plans to work with town officials to determine the property’s future, Borman said.
McMurray [the building’s designer] worries what will become of his building.
“It’s sad that they’re leaving it,” he said. “I don’t know what you do with it.”
I visited this building this past year on a day with temperatures in the 60s to low 70s. The air conditioning was cranked up like it was in the high 80s or 90s outside, which I assume is part of the reason why their utility costs are so high- whoever occupies the building must combat massive solar gain through the roof. Even the guy who built the building can’t think of a reason to keep using it.
The site layout is as flawed as the building, with curvilinear roads in a mid-century suburban layout that wastes space with both pavement and grass. But as much as anyone hates the announcement that a major employer is leaving, the silver lining is an opportunity to redevelop over 30 acres, or more than 1.5 million square feet of land. If this dysfunctional building was torn down, what could fit there instead?
For inspiration, here are five other examples of quality urban development that could fit in that area or less:
1. Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic (photo by Flickr user Iurbi)
This picture perfect town is mostly enclosed by a bend in the river that winds through it. The area within the river bend is about 80% of the size of the BCSBNC site.
2. Vernazza, Italy (photo by Flickr user damianocerrone)
Hemmed in by the see and a hill, Vernazza only takes up about 40% of the BCBSNC site, and that includes some of the harbor.
3. Downtown Shelburne Falls, MA (photo by Flickr user neonlike)
Picturesque small town in Massachusetts with a waterfall, an abandoned bridge covered with flowers, and a trolley museum – in about 25% of the BCBSNC site.
4. The entire pedestrian-only section of Church St and the 8 surrounding blocks in Burlington, VT. (photo by Flickr user devils4ever)
About 91% of the size of the BCBSNC site.
5. The Downtown Core of Black Mountain, NC (photo by Flickr user Bass Player Keith Hall)
East of Asheville, the downtown of Black Mountain is about 50% the size of the BCBSNC site.
6. And One Bonus Location: East Franklin St (photo by Flickr user Zannie Gunn)
The space bound by Columbia St, Franklin, Rosemary, and Henderson takes up about 25% of the BCBSNC site.
Any of these building patterns are more resilient for changing times than the modernist design of the BCBSNC building, which was always more about making abstract aesthetic statements than being useful to the people using the building or embracing the neighboring parcels in a constructive way. When was the last time you heard someone say Franklin St “doesn’t support the way people work or live today?”
Build a street grid on this site and populate it with many smaller buildings, public spaces, and much less parking, and Chapel Hill can have a tremendous new urban neighborhood built to last. This is an exciting opportunity. What could you imagine here?