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In Love With: Mid-century Modern

02.26.2008 by André Natta · → 9 Comments

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The Parliament House may be gone, but its swinging ‘60s spirit lives on just over Red Mountain. That’s where you’ll find Office Park, probably the greatest concentration of mid-century modern architecture in the Birmingham area.

You know mid-century modern architecture, with its sleek lines, cool facades, and prominent use of glass and metal. It can be beautiful (such as in the Parliament House’s circular lobby with the floating staircase) or hideous, and while that modern look was a dominant architectural style nationwide in the 1950s and 60s, Birmingham doesn’t seem to be teeming with examples from that era—except at Office Park.

When I turn off Highway 280 into the east side of Office Park, it feels like I’ve driven into another time, when architects thought outside the great glass box to make each office building unique and interesting. I particularly like the building just past the entrance, up on the hill, with a front door surrounded by windows in a harlequin pattern. Now seriously, have you seen a façade like that anywhere else? Further down the street, at 2 Office Park Circle, I’m fond of the ornamental brickwork that stretches three stories high. And just around the bend, there’s a building lined with bright blue panels and windows that remind me of a blocky Mondrian painting. But Office Park’s piece de resistance has to be its cascade of fountains, which, according to an old postcard, were a tourist attraction in their early days. With that kind of setting, I expect Frank Sinatra or Doris Day to pop out of one of the buildings, stride confidently to the water’s edge, and burst into song.

By the way, have you ever wondered how the place got the bland, matter-of-fact name of “Office Park”? It’s because this is supposedly the first office park ever—the forefather of them all. According to information provided by the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce, the concept was radical in its day; its founders believed that office workers deserved parking areas just like laborers in the city’s industrial plants.

Want to go and see it? Office Park is located off Highway 280 in Mountain Brook.

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8 comments
Andy Olds
Andy Olds

Great to see this blog post! I have recently started working for John Fuller at Fuller & Thompson Architects, Inc. and we just finished our website: www.fuller-thompson.com . There are several cool mid-century modern structures that you can see on the site. John still has his skills, so if anyone is looking for modernist architecture look us up!

Caroline
Caroline

To All Mid-century modern lovers in Birmingham: My grandmother's house in Vestavia Hills will soon be for sale. It was the 1955 Better Homes and Gardens idea house. It is mostly in its orginal state, including fixtures and furniture, but needs restoration. We would love to see it go to someone who will preserve it. Please email me: caroline_bolt@bus.emory.edu

john
john

We need to document everything we can and form a organization for the presevation of these wounderfull buildings and homes. Every year there are fewer of these structures. I know of only a couple of these great structures by hte likes of John Fuller, Evan Terry and Fritz Woehle, They are all being replaced with android sudo euro f***o stucco crap. No one here is even aware of how great this architecture is and was, they just raise it almost every day now. Last year it was the Barber house on Cherokee road this year the Hicks residence on Abingdon road the Smyer house at Smyer lake, gone. The new owners are building a gabled roof traditional .. why is this town so far behind? I sure am glad we have a multi million dollar group James Carter garden homes that all look alike on Cahaba Road now instead of the The Unitarian Church ( they have a lovely structure in an oh so convienent location now) and then Pilgram congregational ... that was a great re-development of land. All while the Bill Ingrams cool building in english village just sits there empty. I wish I could put together a couple of mill... I'd live there. I'm sure Office park is on the slate right now, the count down has started! count on it!

Philip Griffith
Philip Griffith

I love that place and it is a gem! I have photographed it numerous times just to document it, you never know when it will be renovated. Thanks Charles.......

Stephen
Stephen

never knew this was there, though i've driven past it numerous times - thanks charles - got any more architectural gems up your sleeve?