As Hartford gets energized by signature architects designing new landmarks, one of the region's corporate citizens is quietly moving ahead with plans to destroy two landmarks of the recent past.
With the town of Bloomfield's approval now in hand, CIGNA is proceeding with plans to demolish perhaps the most historically significant office complex built in the latter half of the 20th century -- the Wilde Building and its environs.
Earlier this month, the Yale School of Architecture held a two-day symposium entitled ``Saving Corporate Modernism.'' It included an exhibition on the Frazar B. Wilde Building, completed by the Connecticut General Life Insurance Co. in 1957, and two other buildings designed by Gordon Bunshaft of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill.
The others were Lever House in New York, built in 1952 and now being restored for continued use as an office building, and the Emhart Building, completed in 1962. The Emhart Building sits with the Wilde Building on the Bloomfield campus now owned by the CIGNA Corp. of Philadelphia.
Each of these three buildings is an extraordinary and pioneering example of post-World War II International Style architecture, and as such each is deserving of National Landmark status. But it is the Wilde Building that stands out for the boldness of its vision and the sublimeness of its execution.
This suburban campus was conceived by one of the icons of American business, Frazar B. Wilde. He assembled a consummate team of design professionals, managers, artists and builders, led by Bunshaft, to carry out in exquisite detail his vision for Connecticut General.
The campus represents the full expression of the values and culture that he held dear. He hoped it would be his legacy for Connecticut General and the men and women who served it after his turn at leadership came to an end.
For CIGNA to destroy this site is an act of barbarism. It obliterates its own legacy, mocks its past stewardship and robs this region and this nation of the manifestation of a transforming vision of the American workplace.
This proposed destruction comes as Hartford shakes off the pessimism that has paralyzed it for over a decade with a remarkable string of architectural plans and visions.
First, Ken Greenberg gave Hartford a primer on urban place-making (that the city has failed to heed). Then the Learning Corridor opened this past fall with a stunning ensemble of newly designed educational facilities.
Next it was announced that Frank Gehry would favor Hartford with one of his rolling, undulating masterpieces; Maya Lin would re-present the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art to Main Street; Robert Stern would give the Mark Twain House a visitor's center that was a worthy adjunct to the home of Samuel Clemens; and Pulitzer Prize-winning architectural critic Paul Goldberger would help the folks at Adriaen's Landing get it right.
Now, Ben van Berkel and Caroline Bos of UN Studio in Amsterdam have been hired to design the out-of-the-box expansion and renovation of the Atheneum.
These are big dreams in the making. They represent the aspirations we have as a community. Individually, they reflect the values of those creating them. Taken together, the past structures and the proposed ones represent both our collective memory and our hopes for the future.
Those who see the power of new landmarks but do not act to save the landmarks of the past undercut the very foundation on which their own dreams are to be built.
Tyler Smith is an architect in Hartford. For additional information on the CIGNA campus, see the Web site www.saveconngen.com.
CIGNA Destroying A Landmark
Two Masterpieces, Two Fates
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