Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture

Charlotte, North Carolina
Celebrating a Once Hidden Culture

The Gantt Center for African American Arts + Culture tells the story of a lost community and the school that once stood on this portion of uptown Charlotte. Known as the Jacob’s Ladder School because of the large stair that rose up on its exterior to represent progress through education, the symbol of this site became an organizing element for the design. Visitors enter either end of the long building and rise up to a sky lobby overlooking Charlotte. Framing this large glass wall is a highly textured building façade inspired by African quilting patterns. The bold, copper tones of the Gantt Center stand in strong contrast to the neighboring corporate towers of uptown Charlotte.

The center’s stairs and escalators, together with the articulation of the central atrium, pay tribute to Jacob’s Ladder, linking the building to its historic context.
Design Inspiration: Jacob's Ladder School
The historic Myers Street School that once stood nearby in the Brooklyn neighborhood was also nicknamed the Jacob’s Ladder School due to its prominent external staircase.
African American
Quilting Patterns

The exterior façade is inspired by African textile designs and African American quilting patterns. Perforated metal panels are “stitched” together by diagonal steel channels, with windows provided in areas needing daylight.

Art and Culture

The Center is a cross-generational cultural hub connecting Charlotte’s diverse population. The center celebrates the contributions of African Americans to our nation’s culture and serves as a vital resource in Charlotte for music, dance, theater, visual and film arts, arts education, literature, and community outreach.

Overcoming Site Challenges

The Center’s design developed an “unusable” site into an award-winning cultural nexus. The design had to fit into a very narrow tract of land above ground-level car and truck access ramps leading to underground parking.

The Center’s main lobby was elevated to the second floor allowing for the needed traffic flow and uninterrupted visitor access to galleries and event spaces.

This subsurface vehicular activity and the narrow site constraints provided a great opportunity for a powerful architectural response to the building’s program and physical context.
This civic project exemplifies how an institutional mission can inform architecture, turning destinations into landmarks rooted in their physical and cultural places.

Project Team

Phil Freelon (1953-2019)