The Gantt Center's design creates a cultural resource above a dynamic, slender site
The Gantt Center’s mission is to preserve, promote and present African American art, history and culture through comprehensive programs including presentations in the visual arts, performing arts and innovative educational initiatives.
The Center totals 46,500 sq ft and is located in the heart of Charlotte, North Carolina’s new cultural district. Flanked by mixed-use development, the Gantt Center is also a close neighbour to the new Bechtler Museum (Mario Botta), the Mint Museum (Machado & Silvetta) and the Nascar Museum (Pei Cobb Freed).
The site is a narrow 60 x 400 ft strip of land which is penetrated by car and truck access ramps leading to below grade parking that serves the adjacent development. The dynamic subsurface activity and elongated site provided a wonderful opportunity for a poignant response to the building’s program and its physical and socioeconomic context.
This area of Charlotte was once a vibrant African American community that was ultimately displaced during the 1960s by the post-segregation expansion of the downtown core (urban renewal). The Center takes design inspiration from the Myers school, which was located in the heart of this neighbourhood. The school’s prominent exterior staircases inspired its nickname - 'Jacob’s Ladder School'. This historic reference was a key driver for the design of the Center.
The stairs and escalators together with the articulation of the central atrium pay tribute to 'Jacob’s Ladder', establishing a connection to the Center’s historical context and to African American culture. Functionally, elevating the main lobby to the second floor allows the truck and car ramps to enter the site without conflicting with the primary spaces above.
The exterior façade is derived from African American quilting patterns. Perforated metal panels are 'stitched' together by diagonal steel channels. The assembly forms a rain screen as windows are provided to areas needing daylighting.