Surprise demo permit for Paul Rudolph's Burroughs Wellcome causes outcry


Michele Racioppi


Docomomo US staff


Endangered, Threatened, Advocacy, Paul Rudolph, North Carolina
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Planned as an "M.I.T. of North Carolina," the Burroughs Wellcome Corporation Headquarters in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina was designed by Paul Rudolph starting in 1969 and completed by the Daniels Construction Company in 1972. First owned by the pharmaceutical company Burroughs Wellcome, the ownership changed as the company went through mergers over the years and most recently in 2012 was purchased by United Therapeutics. Featuring a dynamic and expressive design, rhythm and space are achieved through the use of strong external forms arranged in a contemporary "ziggurat fashion." Lighting within the interior spaces effectively adds to the building's design. The interaction of bold forms with the rolling hillside is intriguing as well as harmonious. In her book A Field Guide to Landmarks of Modern Architecture, Miriam Stimpson described it as "one of its kind in the nation."

In addition to its architectural features and pedigree, it is also has a significant social and cultural history. The facility's laboratories developed the antiretroviral drug AZT which became the first drug approved to treat HIV/AIDS in 1987. Scientists Gertrude Elion and George Hitching won a Nobel Prize for work they did in the building, and it was later renamed the Elion Hitching Building in their honor. The building was even used as a shooting location for the movie 'Brainstorm' starring Christopher Walken and Natalie Wood (Wood's last film). 

Current Threat

United Therapeutics demolished a portion of the structure in 2014 but maintained that they would restore and reuse the remaining portion. However, earlier this month the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation received a tip that construction fencing had gone up. Upon investigation, they discovered a demolition permit was secured on September 4. 

What you can do

The news spread quickly and Docomomo US and many others spoke out in support of preserving on of Rudolph's most significant projects. A petition was started which has quickly gathered over 3,000 signatures.