For some of the architectural inspiration behind the Devon Energy headquarters, look beside the Devon Energy headquarters.
The 12-story, 112-year-old Colcord Hotel, although dwarfed by its shiny new 50-story neighbor, was the Devon Tower of its day and the talk of the town in its time.
The Colcord, 15 N Robinson Ave., was Oklahoma City’s first skyscraper.
How fitting that it shares a city block now with Oklahoma City’s tallest skyscraper.
The sleek lines of the Colcord — acquired by Devon for $19.53 million in 2008 — are a legacy of Louis Sullivan and the Chicago School of architecture active at the turn of the 20th century.
Provenance comes by way of William A. Wells, a protégé of Sullivan and the architect picked by the developer, city father Charles Colcord.
The connection to Devon comes by way of Jon Pickard of Pickard Chilton, the New Haven, Conn.-based architecture firm that designed the Devon corporate headquarters, where employees started moving in from other downtown buildings just last month.
The Devon headquarters, 333 W Sheridan Ave., borrows from the Chicago School with a design that allows for large expanses of windows that seem to speed it up and discourages ornamentation, which might seem to slow it down.
“When Mr. Sullivan spoke of a skyscraper, he preferred the skyscraper as where every inch should be a proud and soaring thing — that it should, with great exaltation, reach to the sky without a dissenting line,” Pickard said in 2008.
He said he also borrowed from other well-known edifices downtown.
Pickard said the Art Deco 33-story First National Center, finished in 1931 at 120 N Robinson Ave., inspired the diamond-shaped faces at top of Devon Tower.
The Crystal Bridge at Myriad Gardens, across Sheridan Avenue south of Devon, influenced the glass rotunda, 100 feet across and 100 feet tall, the heart of the Devon building.
“A skyscraper has a different attitude. It is an attitude that embraces issues beyond just the pure, rational solutions to a problem. It looks at how a building fits into the city, and what it says about public values,” Pickard said.
The 1.8 million-square-foot Devon headquarters “will be more than an office building,” Devon promised the Oklahoma City Urban Renewal Authority four years ago. “It will enrich community life and contribute to an ongoing downtown revitalization that has seen more than $2 billion in private investment over the last decade.”
Architecturally, the Devon building, locally inspired features notwithstanding, fits well in Pickard Chilton’s portfolio of turn-of-the-21st-century skyscrapers, said David Payne, principal and vice president of Oklahoma City’s Bockus Payne Associates Architects.
“It looks a whole lot like buildings they’ve done in Dubai and the Pacific Rim. It’s graceful. It’s their bailiwick,” he said. “I think it’s graceful and it significantly impacts, in a positive way, our skyline. As an iconic design, I don’t think it gets there.”
Payne pointed to four other Pickard Chilton buildings that have similar features to Devon’s: 1180 Peachtree in Atlanta, The Pinnacle at Symphony Place in Nashville, Wells Fargo Center (formerly Norwest) in Minneapolis, and River Point in Chicago.
“Devon fits in their genre, and it’s a really fine, logical step in the architecture of Oklahoma City,” Payne said.
The 50-story skyscraper has been a head turner since it started to creep above the rest of the downtown skyline months ago. It literally stands taller than any other building in the city — in the state, for that matter.
But will it stand the test of time, architecturally? Will people still be talking about it 50 or 100 years from now?
Time, truly, will tell, and only time can tell, said Melvena Heisch, deputy state historic preservation officer.
Heisch declined to speculate as to the long-term or potential historic significance of the Devon building. No architecture historian or historic preservationist would, she said — or could.
“We don’t know the future. We’re not clairvoyant,” said Heisch, who works in the State Historic Preservation Office of the Oklahoma Historical Society.
But she was glad to talk about the kinds of questions historians ask now about buildings in deciding their historic significance, which likely will be the kinds of questions historians will be asking about today’s new buildings in 2062 and beyond:
“What you’re going to look at in 50 years — who the architect was who designed it, perhaps his body of work. Is this a good example of it? We would look at the literature — what are the architects, the professionals who are assessing this line of work, saying? We would look to see if this particular style caught on and became the thing, en vogue at that time, like the Art Deco period. What happened inside that building? Are there historic events or personages who occupied that space? Was that building changed over time?”
The answers to these questions of history will come the only way they can: in time.