What's the worst building in downtown Raleigh? (Twitter poll)

NC Insider reporter Colin Campbell has a Twitter poll up asking people what’s the worst building in Raleigh. The choices are the Holiday Inn, the Archdale Building, the N&O building and the Legislative Building.

These are all perfectly reasonable choices (the poll is currently very close), but for my my money the worst building in Raleigh has to be the AT&T Building at McDowell and Morgan. It’s a brutalist colossus that takes an entire city block in what’s otherwise a vibrant area and turns it into an aggressively uninviting wall of concrete.

Anyway, feel free to vote in Colin’s poll or suggest your own nominations here.

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The Archdale Bldg. It gets more points because it’s ugly and big.

Residence Inn, Capital Bank Tower, basically most all mid-1900’s buildings.

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The Legislative Building is the Prettiest Flea Market Emporium in the World.

I take exception to the inclusion of the Legislative Building on this list.
There are so many worse buildings DT inclusive of a lot of the crappy stick-built apartment buildings.
For more “commercial” buildings, I’d add Skyhouse and Hue to the list.

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The main Wake County courthouse building with its pebble-clad facade and weird feet at the base, gets my vote. I work in the Archdale and after all these years it’s still not ugly to me…but it’s orientation to the rest of the city sucks. It’s front door faces a courtyard/mall and it touches no side walk…its majorly set back from every street. It is difficult for pedestrians to get to it…it was designed to be primarily accessed from the underground parking deck it’s connected to. The Dobbs building similarly suffers with its tiny front door facing Halifax mall as well and a huge, blank wall facing Salisbury St. And I will give the AIA building an honorable mention for 99% ignoring Peace St. What’s with architects forgetting all their urban planning classes? Put your Frank Lloyd Wright stuff out in the woods like he intended and let urban planners handle the downtown please. Also Archives (spin around) and the old lab are horrendous windowless boxes)

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Just curious, is your criticism of the AIA building that its primary entrance is from the other side, or just that it’s a harsh street edge?

I think both are valid critiques, but I have to come to the architects’ defense here… Both Frank Harmon and Matt Griffith are some of the best advocates for quality urban architecture that we have in North Carolina, and it would be unfair to characterize them as the opposite – I just think the AIA building was an unfortunate misstep. If I recall correctly, the design had extensive landscaping and trees along the Peace Street edge, but the city ended up expanding the road there which cut the curb back by 10-15’. Matt himself (project architect, now owner of In Situ Studio) told us how disappointed he was by the harshness of the Peace Street front when we toured the building.

I think landscaping would’ve helped soften the edge, but it’s still questionable whether that would’ve been enough. Needed more transparency.

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Thanks for the back story. My critique encompasses both points. The building itself is quite nice to look at and the environmental stewardship aspects are excellent. I know that they have it facing the legislature to ‘keep an eye on them’ or something along those lines, and the eaves are designed based on southern exposure, but really, to me, it feels like the whole things should be turned around, or perhaps the raised seem siding on the rear should have been yellow cypress too…not totally sure, but additional landscaping on the rear would not change the fact that a mostly blank metal wall faces a primary street…one that should be properly activated and engaged by the building along it. Even the Anglican Church next door understood that.

Thanks, elevatoroperator, for that interesting post! If we’re sticking to Colin Campbell’s four choices, then the worst, of course, is the N&O Building - hopefully soon to be gone. IMO, none of the other 3 choices belong on a “worst in Raleigh” list. The Archdale Building is not a favorite of mine, but it does have a sharp verticality and contrast between white and black. Looks nice. Then there’s the Holiday Inn - I have no problem with the height or cylindrical profile. But it does have one big flaw - that street level cylindrical parking garage - destroys the street level experience. That leaves the Legislative Building - in my opinion, one of the best buildings in Raleigh, both exterior and interior. Those who dislike it are either height-obsessed or perhaps unable to separate the architecture from the regressive, anti-urban GA politics happening inside.

Final note: I agree with DavidDonovan that the AT&T Block is easily the #1 worst. If I were to add a #2 it would be the brutalist Bath Building. And of course, we’re leaving out visible parking lots - all ugly in the extreme, and also vacant lots - the worst two of which (by virtue of their prominent locations) are the north side Davie Street between McDowell and Dawson - where the years keep ticking by as we wait for a hotel or something - anything - to bring life to that spot… and the south of side of Davie Street along McDowell - the “Enterprise” block. Every time I see those two blocks, I imagine a new visitor entering downtown on McDowell Street. Before they ever reach Nash Square their mind is made up - Raleigh gets a “thumbs down”. If there is really no imminent development on those 2 blocks (which is hard to believe if we’re really such a happening town), couldn’t they just plant a billboard at each corner with a picture of a beautiful building “coming soon”, or maybe install giant curtains around the blocks like they did on the next block before the L Building was installed.

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@Mark That’s fair… I guess it’s preference to a degree; I quite like the zinc, and I find that facade to be tastefully composed. I think the concept sketches struck a much better balance in addressing Peace Street on the pedestrian level though; it’s a shame the transparency got lost.

The challenge with a building like this is that it has no backside – there’s always going to be a conflict between the way it’s used and its urban condition (that’s not actually all that urban, since the vast majority of users will be approaching the building from a parking lot on the opposite side).

I’m no brutalist fanboy, but I actually really like the Bath Building… best brutalist building we have in Raleigh imo, although I certainly wouldn’t want to work there. Anyone know how it’s currently used?

This is the last I knew of the Bath Building’s use.
I get why it’s interesting, though my critique of the building would apply here too. The Bath Building is better off as the center piece of a World’s Fair than as an attempted functional urban component. As an aside, isn’t brutalist necessarily concrete? By definition? This baby is a bunch of wasted marble from what I can tell.
Last thought on the AIA building…the concept drawing, like all concept drawings it seems, leaves a lot of the real situation out…those roads for instance…that’s not at all where this thing landed. The landscape drawn looks more like NCMA courtyard area. Gotta walk the site sometimes…

isn’t brutalist necessarily concrete?

Usually, but not necessarily – brutalism was actually coined after a brick building, and some of the best examples are brick or stone (see Louis Kahn’s work). I’m not sure if the Bath Building is technically brutalist or not, but its attitude certainly is, with its imposing quality and the legibility of function in the facade. I’m lifting this from a comment here, but the pyramid shape on the upper floors resulted from having to combine a basic laboratory module with an office module. The floors were rotated 45 degrees to accommodate vertical structural elements not being in the middle of halls or rooms… so the end result in the facade is a pure expression of program.

No argument from me that it’s a nightmare from an urban perspective. Most buildings here from that era were. It’s ugly-cute though lol

After walking by this horrible horrible monstrosity (spin around to see some of what I love and why I was extra abhorred to see this library shat out here) and started researching and made sure I had my definition down…my understanding is that ‘brutalism’ is descended from the french term for raw concrete, beton brut. Hence my thought that brutalism is concrete primarily. But, yes, the Bath building certainly is brutalist in every regard other than its clothing (and may still be by expanded definition).
Interesting info on the construction form…does that mean it’s modular?

Form follows function for the faux-window AT&T building along Hargett St. The central office serving downtown is inside. The building required special design for heavy floor loads, high ceiling clearance, and a roof capable of supporting a tower for microwave horn antennas in high winds. Also, security is a real concern at facilities like this. The older portion of the building (1948?) along Morgan St is more attractive. The lot was originally purchased by the Capitol City Telephone Co in 1913.