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A new gateway to downtown? See how architects re-imagine a Durham landmark

The winning design from Perkins+Will’s worldwide design competition based on the Durham Police Headquarters redevelopment. The design – created by Durham-based architects Jessica Braverman, Sarah Dickerson and Jayne Kim – would turn the current police headquarters into affordable housing with an adjacent public park.
The winning design from Perkins+Will’s worldwide design competition based on the Durham Police Headquarters redevelopment. The design – created by Durham-based architects Jessica Braverman, Sarah Dickerson and Jayne Kim – would turn the current police headquarters into affordable housing with an adjacent public park. Courtesy of Perkins+Will

The City of Durham has been flooded with more than 1,000 responses about what it should do with the Durham Police Department Headquarters on West Chapel Hill Street after it is vacated next year.

Now it can add a host of young architects to the mix.

National architecture firm Perkins+Will has made the old police headquarters the subject of its annual design competition.

Young designers from across Perkins+Will’s 24 offices worldwide, including one in downtown’s NC Mutual building, have submitted ideas for what to do with the four-acre lot that contains the police headquarters and a surface parking lot.

“This is the last large and available development site within easy walking distance of the Durham train station, (American Tobacco) and the downtown business district,” Perkins+Will North Carolina-based Design Director Phil Freelon said. “Because West Chapel Hill Street is an important gateway corridor between Duke University, the Durham Freeway and downtown, this parcel is well positioned for mixed-use redevelopment.”

The Durham Police Department is expected to move to a larger, new construction on East Main Street sometime in the middle of 2018, and what becomes of its old space at 505 W. Chapel Hill St. has been much speculated. Many have pointed toward the four-acre property as being a suitable location for the city to build affordable housing and office space.

Many of the designs offer ambitious – though probably unrealistic – designs of how the space could be transformed. Freelon said the designs are the firm’s way of offering “creative ideas and fresh thinking for urban spaces.”

The winning design – created by a team from Perkins+Will’s Durham’s office – imagines turning the former police building into affordable housing and office space, while adding a large, sloping green space next to it. All of the entries can be viewed online at dlc.perkinswill.com.

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The winning design from Perkins+Will’s worldwide design competition based on the Durham Police Headquarters redevelopment. The design – created by Durham-based architects Jessica Braverman, Sarah Dickerson and Jayne Kim – would turn the current police headquarters into affordable housing with an adjacent public park. Courtesy of Perkins+Will

“The big opportunity (here) is to create a revitalized zone within the expanding downtown that respects the existing building while addressing the current and future need of the Durham community,” he said. “With the pace of development in our city accelerating and the cost of housing and office space pushing out longtime residents, businesses and creative entrepreneurs, we must look for imaginative approaches to address gentrification and displacement.”

Built in 1958, the police headquarters was originally the home of the Home Security Life Insurance company and won awards for its mid-century design.

The City of Durham has brought on consulting firm HR&A Advisors and Durham’s Duda Paine Architects to create recommendations for future uses of the site. The city is also weighing the comments of the public from surveys and workshops. Responses will be shared next week on the city’s website, durhamnc.gov.

Stacey Poston, a special project manager with the city, said so far 902 people have completed the city’s online survey, 360 people have attended four pop-up events and two community workshops and 180 people have completed a paper version of the online survey.

One of the biggest issues that has emerged so far around the redevelopment of the police building is whether the 59-year-old building should be torn down. Groups like Preservation Durham and North Carolina Modernist Houses have been pushing for the city to renovate the building rather than tear it down. The building was designed by architect George Milton “Milton” Small Jr., who studied under the famed architect Ludwig Mies “Mies” Van Der Rohe.

In a memo sent to the city on Sept. 19, HR&A and Duda Paine said the current building has “good bones” and could be renovated, while any new development could not exceed a maximum height of 175 feet under current ordinances.

The current floor plan of the building is “suitable for an open office or unassigned seating layout” and “for development into boutique residential apartments or condos,” the report states. At least 2 percent of the total site has to be reserved for public open space as well.

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One of four designs created by Duda Paine Architects showing how the West Chapel Hill Street Durham Police Department Headquarters can be redeveloped. This idea would tear down the headquarters building. Eanes, Zachery Courtesy of the City of Durham

Duda Paine has also created four different design sketches of how the property could be developed – with or without the current building included.

HR&A and Duda Paine will present its findings to City Council on Nov. 9.

Zachery Eanes: 919-419-6684, @zeanes

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