All posts by Laura Haygood

Aliamanu Valley Community

BW Aliamanu

The Aliamanu Valley Community in Honolulu was designed by Beverly Willis in 1978 for the US Army Corps of Engineers. This planned community was built in an inactive volcano crater. The design incorporated housing, a school, parks, and a central gathering place. There were four villages in the plan, each split into 2-3 neighborhoods. Each neighborhood had a rec center, as well as single unit and multi family housing. The population would be approximately 11,500 people, so adequate housing and schools were a must. The army told Willis they wanted the design to feel familiar to services members and their families who were from mainland United States. Willis succeeded in this plan where other architects failed, and managed to plan and design all 525 buildings in just 9 months.

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IRS Computer Center Prototype


Unfortunately this building was never built, but I found the design interesting so I chose to share it. Beverly Willis won the opportunity to design the first Computer Center building, in 1976.  At this point, computers were large and the IRS wanted something different than the typical large, boring, rectangular buildings that typically housed government offices. The IRS wanted a flexible design, that could be expanded as needed, so the design had to accommodate the removal of exterior walls. Willis and her firm designed an octagonal shaped building, with a hallway that could attach it to the older buildings on the IRS’s campus. The center of the octagon was initially designed as an open-air courtyard, but if the building expanded to hold additional floors then a dome over the courtyard could be added. The design also called for raising each floor about a foot from the slab to provide space for all the electric wires needed for a technological building. Removable floor panels were to be installed to provide easy access to said wires.

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Robertson Residence

BW Robertson

In 1960, Beverly Willis designed a home for the Robertson family in Napa Valley, CA. The Robertsons needed a disability accessible home, and requested a ranch style layout. Willis utilized an open floor plan, making it easier for someone in a wheelchair to move about. She designed a high, peaked ceiling and a large fireplace, so that the home would feel open and inviting. Unfortunately things like handicapped accessible bathrooms were not being manufactured at this time, so Willis did the best she could with the situation. She lowered light switches and door latches to put them within reach of someone in a wheelchair.

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Union Street Stores

BW Union

In 1965, Beverly Willis converted historic residences into shops on San Francisco’s Union Street. These historic homes had crumbling foundations, so she raised the level of the homes and restored the foundation. She then added a new floor, on the foundation, just below street level. She extended the porches of the homes and added a staircase to join the three buildings. Willis’ respect for and skill at historic renovation turned this project into a bustling center of shops and restaurants.

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Manhattan Village Academy

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The Manhattan Village Academy, which was built in the mid 1990’s, was created as part of New York City’s attempt to incorporate small schools in the district. The school rented three floors of an existing building for the school. Beverly Willis, the architect, designed a “locus plan” for the classrooms, grouping each grade level together with 3-4 classrooms and a common area. Just inside the entrance, she designed marble steps in the style of a Greek temple, and a spiral staircase . Her design makes use of glass walls that look over common areas so that students are fully supervised.

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San Francisco Ballet Building

BW SFBallet

The San Francisco Ballet Building is Beverly Willis’ most famous building. Willis extensively researched the needs of ballet dancers when she designed this building. In Willis’ design, the mirrors are tilted in the studios so that dancers can see their complete reflection, even during lifts. There are 8 rehearsal and classroom studios, all built with high ceilings, so the dancers have adequate space to rehearse. There are also offices for administrative staff as well as a library and conference space designed to accommodate the study of choreography. Willis also thoughtfully included space for physical therapy, exercise space, and locker rooms. Due to the building’s location, Willis worked with the San Francisco City Planning Department to ensure the design fit the Neo-Renaissance design of other buildings in the area.

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Bass Performance Hall



The Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth, Texas is home to many area performing groups. I first visited Bass Hall in 2001 for a Fort Worth Opera performance. It was a wonderful experience, seeing the new venue and attending my first opera. It was built in 1998, and designed by architect David M. Schwarz. I remember during the intermission we stepped out onto the balcony and were treated to a nighttime view of downtown Fort Worth. I recall feeling like a classy young lady attending the opera in such a beautiful setting. Limestone was used to build Bass Hall, and it was designed in the spirit of many European opera houses. Photo credit: wikipedia article on Bass Hall.

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum


I visited the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in April 2015, and was deeply impacted by my visit. The building has a very solemn feel to it, long before you reach the exhibitions. The museum was designed by architect James Ingo Freed, who fled the Nazi regime with his parents in 1939. Freed researched post WWII German architecture for this design. The building houses a hexagonal shaped Hall of Remembrance, where guests can light candles for those lost. There are a series of glass walkways in the building with etched names of every city, town, and village who lost a citizen in the Holocaust. The sheer number is overwhelming. Throughout the exhibit, I was filled with a horrific sense of loss and sadness. The museum did a wonderful job of making you relate to the victims. Photo credit: wikipedia page on USHMM.

National Archives


The National Archives Building in Washington, DC houses the U.S. Constitution. The architect, John Russell Pope faced many challenges with this design. The building must be reinforced throughout to hold all of the government documents stored there, as well as house a specialized air handling system, due to the sensitive documents on display. The building was completed in 1937 and boasts 72 Corinthian columns, as well as bronze doors that each weigh 6.5 tons. I first saw the building from across the street, as I was approaching the National Gallery of Art. I snapped this picture from across the street, as I loved the columns and steps. I’m sure it’s due to our culture, but the building seemed to emanate feelings of justice and citizenship, and I was in awe at the history held within.

Bizzell Memorial Library


One of my favorite buildings on OU’s campus is Bizzell Memorial Library. Bizzell was designed by the architecture firm Layton, Hicks, and Forsythe and was built in 1928. As an avid reader, I have always loved libraries, but there is something about Bizzell that feels cozy to me. The library has a dark, old feel to it, but not in a negative way. I can generally find a quiet, cozy place to study that newer, open floor planned libraries cannot offer. I have visited UCO’s library, and their open floor plan is not conducive to quiet studying, as the building has great acoustics.