In 1975, Curtis
and Davis Architects and Planners reached its twenty-ninth year of
operation. The firm could point to its work in twenty-six states and
nine foreign countries. The office corridors contained over 100 awards
for architectural excellence. Work of the firm had been published
in every professional publication in the U.S. and in numerous foreign
publications. In three instances, the entire issue of a magazine had
been devoted to the firm and work that had been produced from its
offices in New Orleans, New York, Los Angeles, and London.
|Click on the image to enlarge.
Drawing by Curtis, 1978.
outstanding completed projects of the firm were as follows: the
Teaching Hospital for the Free University of Berlin, largest hospital
in Europe; the Forrestal Building for the Department of Defense,
largest building in Washington, next to the Pentagon, and the first
modern building to be approved by the Fine Arts Commission; the
New Orleans Rivergate Convention Center, longest span pre-stressed
post-tensioned concrete barrel-vault roof ever built; Louisiana
State Penitentiary at Angola, the first prison ever designed to
house a rehabilitation program; and the Fox Lake Correctional Institution
in Wisconsin, first campus-type corrections center ever built. These
two prisons were the first of the more than seventy-five such correctional
projects from the Curtis and Davis drawing boards, more than all
other architectural firms combined.
had pioneered the use of interstitial space for hospitals and with
the New Orleans Public Library had coined the phrase "Life
Cycle Costing." A new structural system was invented for an
office building for IBM in Pittsburgh. The construction of the main
facility of the U.S. Department of Health Ambulatory Care Center
for Heart and Cancer Research in Bethesda, Maryland was nearing
completion, and the Louisiana Superdome, largest building ever built,
a project that had taken eight years to create, had just been opened.
I stood on the threshold of a new direction.
a recession in the building industry occurred in the U.S., and many
smaller firms went out of business. New York banks would not lend money
to contractors and architects, and the larger firms, wise in fiscal
matters, were closing their offices in New York, the area hardest
Davis decided to keep open its office in New York and borrowed its
operating funds from banks in New Orleans and with careless abandon funneled the funds to New York. After lengthy discussions on
the rather bleak situation, the firm decided to look to Saudi Arabia.
I headed for Riyadh on 16 September 1975. Between 1975 and 1978,
Saudi Arabia was a country going through the agony of becoming "modern."
time I was there in 1981, I found that conditions had improved a
great deal. A new French-designed telephone system that almost worked
had been installed. A contract had been let for garbage and trash
collection, and the cities were much cleaner. Saudi airline reservations
had become computerized, and new airports for Riyadh and Jiddah,
much larger than any in the U.S., were nearing completion. Citibank
had been nationalized and occupied a new modern building with working
elevators. Many streets had been built, others paved, and numerous
"flyovers" or overpasses were installed. Several new hotels
opened, even a Marriott, so that the Intercontinental wasn't the
only place to stay.