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P & Z Approves Redesign of 2 Station Place

The flat, square box at 2 Station Place—the former Norfolk Corner—has never been much to look at. But on March 21, architect Kate Johnson presented a redesign of the building at a Planning and Zoning Commission hearing that’s going to change all that. Two glass pyramids will project eight feet above the roof, visible from the street below and from Route 44.

The idea, said Johnson, is to draw light deep into the building through a pair of skylights, and at the same time to make a piece of public art. The pyramids will, on a small scale, echo the famous glass pyramids at the Louvre in Paris and the East Wing of the National Gallery in Washington.

“There’s also a tradition of architectural follies in Norfolk, whether it’s the gargoyles on the Norfolk Library or the archways and escutcheons of the Royal Arcanum building, which this design honors and extends,” said Johnson.

The building, which is to be known as the Norfolk Hub, will be the headquarters of the Norfolk Foundation and a shared workspace for the many of the nonprofit organizations in town. The hope, says Johnson, is that the space will foster the exchange of news and ideas and serve as a creative center for Norfolk.

Other proposed changes include a red-and-green awning across the building’s front and lighting for the façade.

The question was immediately raised by Michele Sloane, chairman of the commission, whether glass pyramids could be considered either “compatible” or “harmonious” with the existing downtown. The commission is meant to be guided by these two criteria in reviewing proposals for the village district.

If the commission did approve the pyramids, Sloane pointed out, it would be difficult in future to reject any design on the basis of harmony or compatibility.

Members of the public were quick to point out the crazy-quilt diversity of Norfolk’s downtown architecture, from 2 Station Place itself to the flamboyant Royal Arcanum building across the street, the red siding of the Berkshire Country Market and the solid stone of Station Place. In this context, a contrasting style can be harmonious.

The commission ultimately agreed, with Larry Freedman observing that each proposal needs to be judged and evaluated on its own merits. After a number of related questions were examined, including the reflectivity of the pyramid’s glass and the amount of spillover from the façade lighting, the proposal was passed with near unanimity.

Construction of the building is planned to start in April, according to Norfolk Foundation executive director Dawn Whalen, and to be finished by early August, in time for this year’s Weekend in Norfolk.

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