Columbia University Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Joseph W. Molitor Photograph Collection
Lost – Burroughs Wellcome Building
by Paul Rudolph, Durham, USA, 1969-1972

Docomomo International received the sad news that the Paul Rudolph designed Burroughs Wellcome Building (Elion-Hitchings Building), by Paul Rudolph, Durham, USA, 1969-1972, – the most important modern site in North Carolina, and perhaps Rudolph’s 2nd most influential built project to Yale – is being demolished.

“A landmark building that helped raise the profile of Research Triangle Park and where scientists pioneered the use of AZT to prolong the lives of countless people infected with HIV is coming down. The Elion-Hitchings Building is both an important part of Paul Rudolph’s architectural legacy as well as the only Rudolph-designed structure in North Carolina. Beyond its architectural importance, it is also home to several cultural and historically important events: the facility’s laboratories developed the antiretroviral drug AZT – first as a drug to fight cancer, and later as the first drug approved to treat HIV/AIDS in 1987; the building was also the location of subsequent protests by the activist group ACT-UP; the building’s interior and exterior were used as sets for the 1983 science fiction film ‘Brainstorm’ starring Christopher Walken and Natalie Wood (the movie was Natalie Wood’s last film); the building is named in honor of Gertrude Elion and George Hitchings – research chemists who shared the 1988 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Sir James Black for work done in the building.

In addition to being widely celebrated in the architectural press at the time of its construction, the building became the subject of a Historical American Buildings Survey (HABS) Report prepared by the National Park Service and the U.S. Department of the Interior with assistance from the Society of Architectural Historians (SAH) and support from United Therapeutics.” If fact the building is “acknowledged, by historians and by critics and the people who worked there, as an architectural work of the greatest significance (and a wonderful environment in which to work); as a building where the most careful attention was applied to its design and details; as a key early success—and the most architecturally prominent work—in the Research Triangle Park development; as an example of the practical power of building flexibility-expandability into the building’s design and geometry.” (Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation)

Designed by Paul Rudolph “the building, a locally and nationally beloved Brutalist icon dedicated in 1972 and joined by a 1986 annex also designed by Rudolph, was acquired from then-owner GlaxoSmithKline by biotechnology company United Therapeutics in 2012 as part of a campus expansion project. Two years after the sale, United Therapeutics razed portions of the sprawling, S-shaped structure while pledging to eventually restore and reuse the still-standing sections of the building, which had since fallen into an advanced state of neglect and disrepair. United Therapeutics was unable to keep that promise and, as of this writing, the entire structure is in the process of being bulldozed out of existence.” (the Architect’s Newspaper, link)

Already initial news that the United Therapeutics Corporation obtained a permit to demolish the Burroughs Wellcome Building without consulting local or national preservation groups  in September 2020 sparked widespread outrage and frustration, having the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation, which works to preserve and protect Paul Rudolph’s work, organized an online petition to save the building  – Change.org petition.

For more details about the building and the ongoing situation, please go to the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation website, namely the page dedicated to the project.