The JS Dorton Arena, originally designed as a livestock judging pavilion for the North Carolina fairgrounds, was a deliberate political statement for the North Carolina State University about the courage of progress and value of taking risks. The architect, Matthew Nowicki, imagined a symphonic spatial experience where design, material and construction are choreographed in a highly challenging and sweeping, ambitious vision. Foregoing interior columns, the building combines intersecting parabolic arches of reinforced concrete with a grid of draped tension cables inspired by the tension system of the Golden Gate Bridge to support the entire span of the roof - the first of its kind.
Reflecting the optimism and openness of post the World War II world, Nowicki designed the Dorton Arena along Modernist principles, creating a public space that was dynamic, formally innovative, functionally adaptable and technically groundbreaking. Dr. Wayne Place, professor of Architecture in the College of Design, explains, "We could learn a lesson from this building about what enthusiasm and optimism can do when people really embrace it."
Nowicki tragically died in a plane crash before witnessing the manifestation of his vision, but it is clear from the legacy of the Arena that the architect designed much with the same philosophy with which he lived his life. Born to a Polish family as Maceij Nowicki (pronounced “Novitski”) in Chita, Russia, Nowicki had a multinational childhood, and began his career as an architect and educator in Warsaw in the early 1930’s.
During the subsequent Nazi invasion of Poland, Nowicki secretly taught courses in architecture and urban planning disguised as bricklaying lessons. He was later drawn into guerrilla warfare near Warsaw before escaping with his family. After the war, Nowicki was appointed Chief of Planning for central Warsaw, and worked with the Polish embassy in the United States and as a consultant for the United Nations.
In 1947, he moved to the United States, working briefly as a visiting critic at Pratt Institute before joining the young, modernist faculty put together at the newly established School of Design of the North Carolina State University in Raleigh. As an educator, Nowicki sought to integrate values of humanism and regionalism in order to counteract the sometimes detached and impersonal effects of the technical emphasis of Modernism's rational and scientific approach.
A dynamic and inventive architect, Nowicki was involved in a wide number of regional and international projects. In 1950, on his return to the United States from India, a plane crash near Cairo tragically took his life. Although only forty years of age, Nowicki left an outstanding legacy, including the overall plans and material palette of native stone and concrete for Chandigarh, ideas that provided foundations for and were executed by Le Corbusier.