The American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists (AATCC) national headquarters near the east edge of the Research Triangle Park in southeast Durham County is one of the few remaining commercial structures designed by pioneering North Carolina architect G. Milton Small. It is representative of the International Style architecture he helped popularize in the region. As one of the first offices constructed in the recently established Research Triangle Park, the building aesthetic is representative of the movement to modernize the state’s reputation and regional economy in the early 1960s.
Small received a Bachelor of Architecture degree at the University of Oklahoma before studying under internationally renowned modernist Ludwig Mies van der Rohe at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) in Chicago. In 1948 he came to practice architecture in Raleigh on the recommendation of Henry Kamphoefner, his former professor in Oklahoma and founding dean of the North Carolina State College (now University) School of Design. Small was perhaps the most prolific architect Kamphoefner brought to North Carolina and is best known for a Miesian modernism reflected in the clean lines, planar geometries, and floor-to-ceiling glass curtain walls of the AATCC national headquarters. It shares a similar aesthetic with other buildings by Small, such as the Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company offices, the Gregory Poole Equipment showroom, and his studio office, all in Raleigh.
The AATCC project is a classic practice of relating architecture to landscape. The elevated, single-story building is on the edge of a clearing at the interface of pine forest and pasture. Roughly at the center of a ten-acre lot, visitors approach the building off-axis, under a canopy of trees covering the entry drive and parking lot on the wooded side of the building, with views of the pasture obscured by plantings. Two short flights of floating steps lead to the main entrance in the middle of a vitreous facade reminiscent of Mies’s iconic Crown Hall on the IIT campus. Small wrapped the building in floor-to-ceiling glass that encloses a hallway circumnavigating the office and serving as the main pedestrian system for the building. Occupants walking around inside have a slightly elevated but unobstructed view of the surrounding landscape, both forest and open lawn. Constructed of concrete, glass, and steel, the main floor comprises 10,000 square feet of labs, meeting rooms, and offices, with the lower level excavated for future expansion.
The building still serves as the AATCC headquarters.
Black, David R. “Small, G. Milton, Jr. (1916-1992).” North Carolina Architects and Builders: A Biographical Dictionary. North Carolina State University Libraries, 2014. Accessed February 12, 2019. http://ncarchitects.lib.ncsu.edu/.
Link, Albert N. A Generosity of Spirit: the Early History of the Research Triangle Park. Research Triangle Park, NC: Research Triangle Foundation, 1995.
Rohe, William H. The Research Triangle: From Tobacco Road to Global Prominence. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011.