15 September 2005

Magic Chef Bldg. -- overview

Harris Armstrong's Magic Chef Building was his first major project following the architectural 'drought' of World War II. This project was as significant in Armstrong's career as his early success with the Shanley Building.

The American Stove Company hired Armstrong to design their national headquarters to be located on a major north-south street, Kingshighway, in South Saint Louis. Everything nearby was low rise construction, two to three floors typically. The Kinghighway corridor is a major thoroughfare with many commercial and industrial sites located along its length. The building Armstrong was asked to do involved the executive offices for the corporation, regional offices for various portions of the country, and a large display room to highlight their latest appliances.

At that time, Magic Chef was the largest manufacturer of gas stoves in the U.S. Armstrong was hired by Arthur Stockstrum, chief executive of the company, to do this flagship structure. Since modern design and new technology were integral to the Magic Chef brand, their selection of Armstrong was an excellent choice. However, up to that time, he had not designed any structures that could be characterized as 'high-rise'.

In developing the design, Armstrong created a powerful, functional form that fulfilled many of the requirements in a unified manner. He opened the ground floor to the greatest extent possible with tall glass walls to create the ultimate showcase to display their products. On several levels above the ground floor exhibition area, the regional offices were located within the main rectangular volume. The top floor was reserved for the executive staff.

Armstrong's studies of passive daylighting and solar design brought him to the realization that the primary glazing should face either to the south or the north, where it could be effectively controlled. The east and west walls were largely kept solid to protect the interior from the intense morning and afternoon sun. While Armstrong was already conscious of the significance of these orientations in his early work (such as the Shanley Building), his development of the concept.

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