National Register of Historic Places, 2002
Company headquarters commissioned by Richard Samuel Reynolds, Sr., founder of Reynolds Metals Company International. The main office building, set amidst 121 acres of pastoral land in the suburbs of Richmond, VA, was to serve as administrative headquarters for the company. Multiple minor service buildings are also part of the complex.
The result of a collaboration between premier corporate architect Gordon Bunshaft (Skidmore, Owings, & Merrill), Richmond landscape architect Charles F. Gillette, and the company founder Richard Samuel Reynolds, Sr., the Reynolds Metals Company International Headquarters occupies a 121 acre corporate campus in the suburbs west of the Richmond city center. Reynolds, Sr., desired to have a company headquarters that embodied the company's ethos and its products. Consequently, aluminum appears in furniture, window frames, bathroom tiles, and even the drapery and carpets (in the form of aluminum fibers).
The complex of buildings makes use of nearly 1.25 million pounds of aluminum, Reynolds' main product, in the design and construction. The historic property includes the Executive Office Building, located at the highest elevation, a service building, greenhouse, a landscaped park, and a reflecting pool (all listed as contributing structures by the US National Register of Historic Places). There are four other support buildings on the site that do not meet the National Register Criteria but are not detrimental to the character and reading of the property as a whole.
The Executive Office Building has been singled out as “an archetype of suburban corporate headquarters: a medium height office building in a park-like setting.” (Sadler, National Register Nomination) In the words of architectural historian Richard Guy Wilson, “[the Reynolds Metals Headquarters] exemplifies the genius and promise of post World War II American modernism…. [U]tilizing modern materials such as glass steel, and especially aluminum, the Reynolds also makes use of time tested forms such as the palazzo type of format, an the courtyard” (Wilson, 1998).
Landscaping and site:
Gillette may have been hired for the project on account of his history with the Reynolds family, for whom he had designed gardens and mausoleums since the 1930s. Like Bunshaft in the New York corporate architecture circles, Gillette was considered to be the preeminent landscape architect in Richmond. As Bunshaft sought to establish a typology of American corporate architecture with his establishment of the International style –infused corporate Versailles, Gillette’s gardens and landscape designs sought to develop a regional landscape architecture that communicated the characteristics of the Piedmont and the Tidewater (Longest 1992: 58). At the Reynolds Metals campus, the plantings serve a variety of functions: acting as a parking screen, controlling and framing views to the main EOB, articulating a formal entry, and embellishing the EOB courtyard as well as providing a landscaped park at the EOB’s southern face. A 250 foot long reflecting pool flanked by willow oaks not only adds drama to the setting but also supplies the water for the primary grounds’ sprinkler system. In this way even the Reynolds campus’ seemingly superfluous elements—landscaping and a reflecting pool—serve a functional purpose while also continuing the gridded textures and structural bays of the buildings in parterre patterns that are asymmetrical but balanced, in the same way as the buildings.
The Executive Office Building is a steel framed building that used state of the art glass-and-aluminum curtain walls. The aluminum entrance canopy pushed the limits of the metal's structural capacities. Aluminum threads were also utilized in the fabrics.
Fourteen-foot high solar louvers on the east and west building facades shifted according to the time of day, controlled by an astronomical clock, which was overridden on overcast days by a light sensor that signaled the louvers to stay open to allow maximum natural light. At the time of the building’s construction this respresented the largest installation of movable louvers in the world.
The Reynolds Metals Company was at the head of the metals industry not only in the US but also in the world. The company introduced aluminum siding in 1945 and aluminum -backed building papers a few years later. The Reynolds company desired a headquarters that would articulate its ethos of sound business sence and the focus on the packaging and marketing of products. The corporate campus, taken from the university model, indicated an increased concern for employee well being. On the other hand, the move to a more widespread but controlled environment meant greater efficiency and less distraction.
During the 1950s and 60s Bunshaft worked to persuade corporations that contemporary American architecture could serve as a company's signature. As corporations followed factories out of the cities mid-20th century. Bunshaft looked to the precedent set by Albert Kahn, who led the movement towards a horizontally oriented, single story factory, and Eero Saarinen, who pioneered the corporate campus at the General Motors Technical Center (Warren, Michigan, 1948-56). In this new context, designs now had to acknowledge and respect a "natural environment that was cherished and often fiercely guarded by local inhabitants, and provide a stimulating setting for a workforce that had grown used to concentrated amenities...of most central cities" (Harris, 452). Bunshaft and SOM established the low-rise, suburban company headquarters in park-like surroundings and crafted in a desirable modern style. Bunshaft manipulated the International Style language he had previously employed in his renowned Lever House (New York, NY (1952)), to fit the pastoral setting of suburban Henrico County. As at Lever House, Bunshaft lifted the bulk of the building off of the ground and places the cube-like building atop slender columns. The ground level loggia provides a transition between the interior and exterior spaces at the periphery of the building as well as in the off-center peristyle courtyard. In the courtyard, Bunshaft makes one of his many references to Reynolds Metals’ star product, aluminum, by cladding the loggia piloti in the material. The interiors of the building reinforce the International Style language of the exterior, and modular partitions and openings accommodated changes in size or functions of a space. In the words of historic architect Mary Harding Sadler, “Improbable combinations of aluminum, cherry panels, brick, plastic laminate, and striated black and white book-matched marble create an interior of undeniable elegance and sophistication” (Sadler, National Register Nomination). The majority of the original finishes and furnishings were designed or specified by SOM with original furniture from the hands of Florence Knoll, Eero Saarinen, and Hans Wegner.
This is one of the first great examples of American suburban corporate campus as well as a major point of transition in Gordon Bunshaft's work in the International Style (particularly at his famous and ingenious Lever House skyscraper in Manhattan (1952) from urban to suburban contexts. Bunshaft essentially turned the corporate skyscraper on its side and thereby making circulation horizontal instead of vertical. Bunshaft also followed this approach in the Connecticut General Life Insurance Company Headquarters (1957)
The Reynolds Metals Company International Headquarters is important not only for its usage of cutting-edge building materials in a manner that adheres to the tenets of the International Style or simply because Gordon Bunshaft designed the Executive Office Building. The complex as a whole demonstrates a definitive moment in the evolution of the corporate campus strategy still in use today, and the buildings and landscaping successfully work together to deliver a deft design and a masterpiece of modernism.
Harris, Neil. "Architecture and the Business Corporation." In The American Corporation Today. Carl Kaysen, ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996. pp.436-86.
Sadler, Mary Harding and Peter McDearmon. "National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form: Reynolds Metals Company International Headquarters." Virginia Historic Landmarks Commission. Richmond, VA, 1999.
Terry Pristin. "Philip Morris USA Starts Its Move to a Historic Building." New York Times. New York, NY. 26 Nov. 2003.
Wilson, Richard Guy. 1998. Letter to the Virginia Society of the American Institute of Architects. 25 July.