Skateboarding Wellcome

John Hill
19. January 2021
Photo: Screenshot

The current demolition of the former headquarters of the Burroughs Wellcome company in Durham, North Carolina, designed by Paul Rudolph in the early 1970s, alerted us to a three-year-old short film capturing skateboarders traversing the futuristic building.

Just like the swooping forms of Oscar Niemeyer's buildings in Brazil, the sloping walls of the Burroughs Wellcome HQ were readymade for skateboarding. When skaters Rob Wootten and Ben Horan accompanied director Bryan Soderlind to the building to shoot the film, the headquarters had been abandoned for around 25 years. Burroughs Wellcome, a medical research company, merged with Glaxo in 1995, per the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation's documentation of the building, after which it relocated to new facilities. United Therapeutics bought the building in 2012, demolishing part of the building two years later. Last September the company filed a demolition permit to pull down the rest of the building, work that is currently underway as revealed by photographs in The Herald Sun, a local newspaper.

I tweeted the photos from the Sun on Monday. Among the reactions by fellow architects and others aghast at the destruction was a reply linking to Soderlind's film, which is embedded below. Be sure to watch it with the sound on; the audio commentary from David H. Schroeder, a former Burroughs Wellcome employee, captures what it was like to work in a building with angled walls, lots of windows, and floor plates that got smaller as the building got taller. The commentary and skateboarding make a fitting coda to a building that unfortunately could not be saved from the wrecking ball.

2 bonus films:

In October 2012 the old Burroughs Wellcome HQ was opened to the public for a tour organized by Triangle Modernist Houses. One of the patrons edited their photos and video footage into a 12-minute film:

And more recently, here is some drone footage of the demolition as of last weekend:

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