A White Knight in the Land of Black Gold: An Oklahoma architect fills a void on Main Street and helps bring hope to a community with a Modernist field office for a family-run oil company.
Main Street in Hennessey, Oklahoma, is everything you'd expect of a small-town, Western main street. Seventy miles north of Oklahoma City, just beyond open prairies where cattle graze to the rhythm of nodding pumpjacks, red-dust-streaked pickups roar past Terry's Pump & Supply and the local farm bureau, and weathered grain elevators and a water tower rise nearby. There's Fun-Time Video & Tanning, Town Hall, the local newspaper office. And then, bookended by the Head Over Heels dance school and Bullfoot Station Antiques, set perfectly into the streetscape, is Elliott + Associates' gleaming new field office for Kirkpatrick Oil Company. At once camouflaged by its modest scale and highlighted by its glaring whiteness and pristine lines, it causes a double take.
- Masonry: Acme Brick
- Door entrances: Oldcastle
- Paints and stains: Glidden Paint
A time-lapse video shows an outdoor space in the Hennessey, Oklahoma project. View more architecture videos
An oil field, cattle, and farming town of 2,100, Hennessey was founded in 1890, a year after the Oklahoma Land Run. The Kirkpatrick family has been drilling here for generations and, until recently, housed its field office in a squat, deteriorating building south of town on Interstate 81. On October 1, 2007, as Hennessey worked to improve its downtown, fire tore through its center, destroying the Independent Order of Odd Fellows hall, the American Legion building, and Dinkler Drug Store. It dealt a blow. “There were just holes—it was depressing,” remembers Barb Walter, co-publisher and managing editor of the Hennessey Clipper.
Christian Keesee, chairman of Kirkpatrick Oil (and great-grandson of its founder), saw the void as an opportunity—both from a business and a civic perspective. He recognized the potential to create a presence for the company as well as give back to a place that's been so pivotal for Kirkpatrick. “Billions of dollars have come out of the ground around that little town,” says Keesee. “Every major oil and gas company in Oklahoma has a presence there, but as a community, it's sort of ignored.”
Elliott + Associates principal Rand Elliott, an Oklahoma native with a long list of renovation and adaptive reuse projects under his belt, understood that filling the gaping hole did not lie in a historicist approach. Instead, he created a bold, 21st-century building that relies on proportion and scale to fit into its historic context. The building is sensitive to the street's 25-foot-wide lots and the height of adjacent buildings, as well as other details of the surrounding vernacular.
The building greets the public with a striking steel-plate brise-soleil, comprising three sections that reflect the dimensions of the original facades. Kirkpatrick's calling card, it is painted white in deference to the grain elevators and set off from the building's glass and aluminum storefront to reveal old masonry party walls. Elliott divided his steel-framed building behind the brise-soleil in two, with the north side housing the company's offices and the south portion left raw for future development. Just beyond the reception area, the architect created the main interior event: a soaring, double-loaded corridor that terminates in a conference room and lounge at the back. A skylight runs the hall's length, admitting the big Western sky and casting intense light and dappled raindrop shadows on the white walls. The cavelike offices off the hall, which were empty on a recent visit, feel incidental—indeed, the building functions more as a home base for oil-field hands rather than white-collar workers.
The architecture far exceeds the basic programmatic requirements for this building type. But Keesee's instinct to do something special has had some surprising consequences. “We did not need to spend that much money to build a field office,” he admits. “But it has brought us good will, and added spirit to the community. There always needs to be a balance struck between commerce, philanthropy, and community enrichment.” If Kirkpatrick hadn't moved in, says Hennessey mayor Wes Hardin, “I promise you it would still look like we had our tooth knocked out. They're helping preserve our downtown—our community.” Barb Walter agrees: “It has been a renewal for us.” When the building was recently awarded an AIA Oklahoma honor award, local businesses banded together to buy a full-page congratulatory ad in the Clipper.
Besides giving a boost to local morale and the physical streetscape, the building has proved an invaluable resource for the people of Hennessey, who are welcome in the offices and who have adopted the raw space as a community center. The Christmas bazaar was held there and, this spring, it will host Hennessey High's senior prom. Then again, the building's local appeal might simply be visceral. “It's a quiet building,” notes Elliott. “It doesn't whimper or hide, but it's not something that would reach out and yell at you. That is a personality trait in this part of the world.”
Footloose on Main Street
The senior class of Hennessey High in Hennessey, Oklahoma, had an unusual venue for their prom this year. Rather than the normal location—the local elementary school’s auditorium—the event was held at Kirkpatrick Oil Company’s new field office, a gleaming presence on Main Street designed by Oklahoma-city-based Elliott & Associates Architects. As part of the festivities, the party moved out to the street (which was blocked to traffic), where students performed a number from the school’s production of “Footloose” against the dramatic backdrop of the building’s white brise-soleil. Hennessey High’s principal, Brady Barnes, says the location was far superior for 2012. “It was good to get the kids out of the school for the prom this year,” he says, “and into this more formal atmosphere.” Not only did Kirkpatrick Oil provide use of the space gratis, they also chartered a bus and sent a team of 17 employees from their Oklahoma City office to decorate the 3,450-square-foot raw space that occupies the building’s southern half. “It’s almost like a warehouse,” explains Ross Powell, Kirkpatrick’s marketing director and one of the volunteers, “which was cool because it was a blank canvas.” On Friday April 13, the day before the prom, the team, joined by a group of students and Hennessey-based Kirkpatrick employees, set up the dj booth, and, in accordance with the evening’s theme, “Starry Night,” transformed the rough interior with gauzy fabric, twinkling lights, and paper stars.
|The Hennessey High School Prom spills into the street dancing to Footloose!
Completion Date: September 2011
Gross square footage: 9,400
Elliott + Associates Architects
35 Harrison Avenue
Oklahoma City, OK 73104
405.232.9554 – telephone
405.232.9997 – facsimile