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Norfolk Civic Center

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1956–1965, Vincent G. Kling with Woodward, Oliver and Smith. 1967–1971, School Administration Building and Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court, Dudley, Morrisette, Cederquist and Associates; 1997–1998, renovation, Walker Woodward. 1994–1997, Public Safety Building addition, I. V. Harris and Associates. 810 Union St.
  • Norfolk Civic Center
  • Norfolk Civic Center
  • Norfolk Civic Center
  • Norfolk Civic Center

The award-winning Civic Center was the linchpin of Norfolk's postwar redevelopment effort and a potent symbol of its quest for modernity. Prewar Norfolk was characterized by narrow, twisting streets and small-scale, eclectic architecture in drab colors. The new city, as represented by the Civic Center, would feature wide boulevards, open spaces, and bright, International Style skyscrapers. Vincent G. Kling, a Philadelphia architect, then at the beginning of a long and distinguished career, and Charles K. Agle, the designer of the city's 1956 master plan, were chiefly responsible for this remarkable transformation.

The increase in the city's population during World War II and the annexation of outlying territory had increased the size of the municipal government to a point where the old city hall had become hopelessly outmoded. Preliminary discussions for a new civic center began in 1953. Kling became a consultant in 1954, and Woodward, Oliver and Smith joined Kling as project architects the following year. The city council debated several downtown sites, and the waterfront location emerged as the front runner only after it was identified in Agle's master plan. The availability of the site, its proximity to the new Berkley Bridge, and its plentiful off-street parking ensured its selection.

Kling's site plan is asymmetrically balanced along a north-south axis. Each building is conceived as a rectangular unit within a regular grid, and exteriors are unified by a light-colored brick. Dominating the complex is the eleven-story City Hall, sheathed in glass with special brise-soleil of tinted glass that extend three feet from the inner curtain wall. The tower houses the municipal administration while its sprawling, one-story brick base contains the city's public service departments. Immediately to the west of City Hall, facing St. Paul's Boulevard, is a two-story courthouse. These two buildings are separated from the Public Safety Building, at the northern edge of the site, by an open plaza with circular fountain. The narrow fenestration of the Public Safety Building identifies its function as the city jail, and this pattern is continued in the recent addition perpendicular to the original slab. Although considered a part of the Civic Center, the School Administration Building is visually and physically separated by City Hall Avenue. A Brutalist influence can be detected in its exposed concrete frame.

Writing Credits

Author: 
Richard Guy Wilson et al.
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Citation

Richard Guy Wilson et al., "Norfolk Civic Center", [Norfolk, Virginia], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—, http://sah-archipedia.org/buildings/VA-01-NK1.

Print Source

Buildings of Virginia: Tidewater and Piedmont, Richard Guy Wilson and contributors. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002, 399-400.

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