New Book Recalls Little Rock's Architectural History

by Luke Jones  on Monday, Aug. 26, 2013 12:00 am  

“I was raised, obviously, with the architectural world all around me,” he said. “I traveled with my dad to projects and worked there in the summers as an apprentice draftsman.”

The Wittenberg firm developed and struggled through the Great Depression. Similar to the situation faced by young architects during the recent recession, Wittenberg recalled that for a time, architects had almost no job prospects.

“They had at least two years where they didn’t have a single project to work on,” he said.

But when the Works Progress Administration was founded, federal funding started flowing into new building projects, and Wittenberg’s firm found its legs again.

Eventually, Gordon Wittenberg succeeded his father as a principal in the firm.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the firm pioneered innovations in the redesign of some of the state’s mental health facilities.

“In the old days, it was just a matter of locking them up,” he said. “But when the innovation of new drugs came along, proper drugs, it changed the way they could treat patients. All those influenced the type of buildings you could do.”

New buildings had bigger spaces, Wittenberg said, so patients could see and interact with each other.

“It was an openness to help the patients not feel closed or closeted in,” he said.

Later, Wittenberg’s firm worked with Winrock International, and Wittenberg got to know former Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller.

“We were personal friends,” he said. “I knew him from my participation at the Arkansas Arts Center. I was president of that for one year, and I worked with his wife, Jeannette Rockefeller.”

In those years, the firm started working on the state’s correctional facilities, making improvements similar to those made in mental health facilities. “There were just deplorable conditions,” Wittenberg said.

 

 

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