The angular mid-80s architecture of a derelict shopping center in Duluth, Georgia, has garnered fame in recent weeks after the release of the third season of Netflix’s hit series Stranger Things. Avid fans of the show may recognize that Gwinnett Place Mall—an actual mall located in a suburb of Atlanta, was transformed as the setting for major moments that take place in Hawkins, Indiana’s newest attraction: The Starcourt Mall. Production designer Chris Trujillo spoke with The L.A. Times about the search and intense-build out for Starcourt Mall, as well as why the writing team chose to center the plot on the all-too-familiar, small-town-gets-big-mall storyline. In the interview, he said it made sense to showcase how Hawkins was changing with the introduction of the mega-shopping center, right alongside how the main characters were themselves changing. No longer little kids who saved the world, everyone was growing up facing their own relationship and materialist concerns. Much of teenage life in Midwestern America at that time was spent at the mall.
After investigating a dozen structures built from 1984-85, the production team settled on Gwinnett Place Mall, a 1.3 million-square-foot space that, during its first 16 years of operation, attracted people from all over Georgia as well as neighboring South Carolina. By 2001, with the opening of both the Mall of Georgia and Sugarloaf Mills, the space began its slow descent into obscurity. Now, thanks to the production team’s massive retrofit—gutting and rebuilding nearly 40 stores and restaurants—as well as a slew of tweets from curious fans that tried to sneak a peak of the set last year, the mall has experienced a meteoric rise in popularity.
According to Trujillo, most of the filming inside the 34-year-old mall took place around its food court, a gem of 1984-era interior architecture with a soaring atrium and vaulted geometric ceilings. It was the showpiece of the mall, he told the L.A. Times. But more than that, the large, two-story interior gave way to the “dynamic camerawork” that the Duffer brothers are famous for.
This is amazing—Stranger Things 3's Starcourt Mall wasn't a sound stage. It was all built inside an actual dying mall in Georgia. And the set designers made more than simple storefronts—they made FULL INTERIORS, even for stores that were never seen on-screen… pic.twitter.com/v5RahFLPeR
In an effort to make the Gwinnett Place Mall truly feel like a time warp set specifically for the horror sci-fi series, the production team not only recreated the facades of iconic retail spaces with all period-appropriate signage and window displays, but in some cases, the entire stores themselves were redone. From Orange Julius to the Gap, Radio Shack, and JC Penny, the brief moments these places popped up on screen helped paint an authentic picture of 1980s consumerism. One of the most-filmed spots within Starcourt Mall was Scoops Ahoy, the made-up ice cream shop where Steven Harrington works. Trujillo called that project, which was built entirely from scratch, “our special little baby.” Spoilers ahead: In that ice cream shop is where Steve, Dustin, and newcomer Robin decode secrete Russian messages that lead them to discover there’s a world-ending operation taking place beneath their feet—the portal to the Upside Down is being reopened. That importance to the overarching plot helps explain why so much attention was paid to the layout of the mall.
Apart from a scrapbook found on location with old images of the Gwinnett Place Mall from its heyday, the inspiration for the build-out came from the memories of staffers on the production and decoration teams. Most people on the team's leadership grew up in the 80s and 90s and made decisions for Starcourt based on what they remember it felt like to be in those spaces as a kid.
“There is a homogeneity to the architecture of malls,” Trujillo told the L.A. Times. “They’re all calibrated to be similar spaces. We had to be somewhat specific about the regionality, but I definitely brought a lot of my childhood and teenage memories of hanging out and working in malls.”
Though the set is closed to the public and is already being dismantled, according to one reporter who chronicled his visit for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution(AJC), that hasn’t stopped fans from trying to take photos of the interior through fences. As a focal point of “Stranger Things 3,” Gwinnett Place Mall will forever live on in memories of fans forever, despite its soon-to-be demolition. The AJC reported in February that a sports stadium developer plans to build a mixed-use complex with a 20,000-seat cricket arena on the site.
Phil Freelon, the Durham, North Carolina–based architect who helped design the monumental National Museum of African American History and Culture, has died at age 66. The cause was complications from ALS.
Freelon founded his firm, The Freelon Group, almost 30 years ago. He was best known for his most recent project, his work on the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) with J. Max Bond, Jr., principal of New York's Davis Brody Bond, and David Adjaye, principal of London's Adjaye Associates. The D.C. museum opened in 2016 to rave reviews of both the building and exhibitions on the history of African Americans and African American life. The structure is clad in tessellated cast-aluminum panel inspired by patterns made by black artisans in the New Orleans and Charleston, while the form echos a crown and a group raising their arms in celebration.
The Freelon Group also completed projects like Atlanta's National Center for Civil and Human Rights and Houston's Emancipation Park, the News & Observerreported. The Freelon Group was acquired by Perkins+Will in 2016, and Freelon joined the firm as a principal and design director in North Carolina.
Friends, family, and colleagues took to social media to remember Freelon:
Such sad news. Phil Freelon was a visionary genius who gave us so many artistic gifts. Prayers for @OfficialNnenna and his family. I remember this pic from the media walkthrru at @Nmaahc while still under construction. Just look at his pride. Rest in Power pic.twitter.com/i3fFj7VM8H
My father-in-law, Phil Freelon, made his transition today. ALS may have cut his time here short, but we are so grateful for everything he gave as a father, grandfather, architect and humanitarian. He lives on in his buildings and his legacy: https://t.co/4IJUXGl44n
A brilliant mind. Incredible architect and esteemed designer. One of my biggest influences. I am grateful for the many opportunities I had to meet you and discuss your inspirational buildings and moving projects. Rest Well Mr. Phil Freelon. pic.twitter.com/siVUER57a4
Most recently, Freelon and his wife, Nnenna, a Grammy-nominated jazz singer, unveiled their renovation of the NorthStar Church of the Arts, a house of worship and space for creative activities in Durham. In a message on NorthStar's website, the Freelon family requested the bereaved donate to the church in lieu of buying flowers.
A 755,000-square-foot tech facility in Atlanta embodies the latest evolution of the city as a hub for innovation and creativity, and also stands as a symbol for the changes happening at the firm behind it. John Portman Architects, newly dubbed Portman Architects, designed CODA at Tech Square in collaboration with Georgia Tech to be a tech hub with one of the largest data centers in the Southeast. It’s no surprise that as the firm transitions into partner-based leadership and new work in tech-centric architecture, it also pushes forward an evolved identity. CEO Jack Portman, son of the late John Portman, told AN that this project is the next big step in the company’s 66-year story. “Each evolution of our firm has been a motivation to create anew,” said Portman. “My father created the super atrium, then modern mixed-use developments, and he was the first to move his firm and work overseas in China. CODA is one of these evolutionary points in our firm’s history. We’re back in Atlanta and looking to advance the future of design.”Portman Architects is currently working on three projects in Midtown Atlanta—north of downtown and east of the university. CODA is the first building completed in what will be the city’s T (tech) Zone. At 21 stories, the glass-clad, L-shaped building features room for 3,500 tech employees, as well as students and faculty, and is designed around a series of six, three-story vertical atriums that connect various wings. One of its defining design moments is the white spiral staircase—the tallest freestanding, helical stair in the world—which links the building’s “Collaboration Core.” According to Luca Maffey, vice president and design director of CODA, the piece of interior infrastructure allows views past the end of the city and it only takes a few minutes to climb to the top. The staircase, which is located right near the facade, also overlooks the grand piazza that cuts through the center of the site. Maffey said this outdoor living room-like space is already attracting people to the building. “Atlanta is known for great, internal and insular spaces, largely thanks to Portman himself,” he said. “CODA really opens up to the public and the streets with this plaza and with its transparency. It’s now a reference point for not only navigating Midtown but it also is a destination in and of itself.”Portman Architects integrated almost 40,000 square feet of restaurant and retail space on the ground floors in order to enhance that indoor-outdoor connectivity. A surprising exterior column that resembles a martini glass extends from the lower levels of the building and punches the plaza below. The entirety of CODA’s lower half also sits in dialogue with a historic, 1920s building on the site. Major design moments such as this elevate what could have been a boxy office structure with a glass curtain wall. Instead, these moves activate the efficiency of the site both in a sustainable aspect and in its circulation. Developed by Portman Holdings (the development company also started by John Portman), CODA is the first project Portman Architects has ever done for Georgia Tech, the largest tenant in the building. Other tech companies are starting to fill in the rest of the spaces, while others are finding a way to be next to CODA, Jack Portman says. “The 1.5 million square feet of expansion happening at tech square is the result of the excitement created by the design of CODA,” he said.The firm recently started construction on the adjacent Anthem Technology Center, which features a cluster of four towers connected at the core. Unlike CODA, not all the atriums will be connected, but the buildings will circle around a staircase that goes up to the top floor. Overall, the architecture is quite different—sections of the structures feature varied materials and textures, while CODA is pinstriped, calm, and elegant, Maffey said.“On the bottom half of the building, we wanted something that was more active and played with the light more,” he said. “The cladding has small folds of silver metal that will interact with the sun as it changes throughout the day.” Portman Architects is currently designing a “sibling” for the Anthem Tech Center which includes another building with three, interlocking facades.All of these high-profile local projects in Tech Square coincide with major changes happening at the firm. “Ten years ago, my father started to think about how his firm would continue to evolve once he stepped down,” Portman told AN. “He then created a partnership that better represented our motivation for working as part of a team, giving credit to everyone involved. The name change also helps differentiate buildings that we design now versus what he worked on.”Along with a new name comes a new visual identity for the firm as well. Portman Architects’ new logo is a six-point star, or a spark, which pays tribute to Portman’s old signature. Maffey noted the spark also alludes to the company’s history sparking change in the field of architecture. He now believes the firm is positioning itself to ignite more innovation in the future. “The firm’s evolution has also been in this crescendo mode,” he said. “Right now the energy in our office is higher, the average age of our employees is younger, and we’re pursuing new technologies to create our architecture. There’s also no singular approach to the way we work, and we’re more collaborative than ever. Everybody here is a Portman Architect.”
Young New Yorkers, Jennifer Bonner of MALL, and f-architecture, are among the people and firms to receive the 2019 Architectural League Prize for Young Architects + Designers. Now in its 38th year, the prestigious program created by the Architecture League of New York selected six emerging talents under the theme of Just, which explores architectural action within the discipline. The annual portfolio competition is open to designers who are 10 or fewer years out of an undergraduate or master’s degree program and live and work in North America. To submit for the 2019 prize, entrants were challenged to “consider the just in how they approach the practice of architecture,” by detailing their experimental research, design advocacy, or unique techniques and methodologies of practice. According to the Architectural League, “JUST explores architectural action with the understanding that a multiplicity of coexisting and contradictory attitudes may be constructive, liberating, and justified.” This year’s firms, selected from a jury that included past winners of the prize, will have the opportunity to lecture in New York in late June and showcase their work in an exhibition at the Sheila C. Johnson Design Center at Parsons School of Design/The New School. Check out the recipients below:Cyrus Peñarroyo of EXTENTSAnn Arbor, MIPeñarroyo and his partner McLain Clutter founded the Ann Arbor–based practice EXTENTS just two years ago and the duo are gaining widespread recognition for their unique use of contemporary digital tools in exhibition design, installations, and research projects. According to the Architectural League, the firm is “interested in architecture, urbanism, media, digital culture, and other instruments of life that can be impacted by design.” Peñarroyo currently serves as an assistant professor of architecture at Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, where he was the William Muschenheim Fellow in 2015-16. Last month, EXTENTS opened the installation, “Lossy/Lossless” (pictured at top) at Materials & Applications (M&A) in Los Angeles.Virginia Black, Gabrielle Printz, Rosana Elkhatib of f-architectureBrooklyn, NYVirginia Black, Gabrielle Printz, and Rosana Elkhatib founded the Brooklyn-based feminist architecture collaborative in 2016. Self-described as “a three-woman architectural research enterprise aimed at disentangling the contemporary spatial politics and technological appearances of bodies, intimately and globally, ” the trio works on temporary installations, exhibitions, and research-based projects. They simultaneously tackle writing, activism, and performance pieces meant to reach a broader audience.Gregory Melitonov of Taller KENNew York, Guatemala City, San José, CRInternational practice Taller KEN was founded in 2013 by Gregory Melitonov and Inés Guzmán. Based initially in New York and Guatemala City, the duo recently expanded their work to San José, Costa Rica. Their colorful and playful projects, ranging from commercial spaces to public installations and residential habitats, are created with “social and cultural relevance,” according to the architects. Taller KEN’s robust portfolio includes a mid-rise apartment complex with a verdant facade, a 4,500-square-foot café and event space, as well as a prismatic canopy built with recycled elastic ribbons. In 2016, the firm was named one of AIANY’s New Practices New York.Mira Hasson Henry ofHenry Architecture
Los Angeles, CAFounded in 2016, Henry Architecture is the personal practice of SCI-Arc design professor Mira Hasson Henry. In her work, she draws on common building elements such as windows, cladding, and eaves to explore social and architectural topics such as inclusion and identity, according to the Architectural League. Additionally, she utilizes different mediums such as models, wallpaper, photographer, and installations to examine various modes of architectural representation. Henry also serves as SCI-Arc’s DID Coordinator. Jennifer Bonner of MALLAtlanta, GAA native of Alabama, Bonner began MALL in 2009 when she was working as a professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. Though she currently lives in Boston and serves as the director of the Master in Architecture II Program at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, she’s interested in experimenting and building architecture in the American South. Inspired by her students and the flexibility that comes as an academic practitioner, Bonner uses MALL as a way to explore and invent new ways to represent architecture. Her most recent project, Haus Gables, is a cross-laminated timber structure that hacks the traditional multi-family residential typology and is designed around the gabled roof plan.Rachel G. Barnard of Young New YorkersNew York, NYRachel G. Barnard founded Young New Yorkers (YNY) in 2012, a restorative justice project that provides arts-based diversion programs to teens prosecuted as adults by the New York State criminal justice system, as well as young adults up to age 25. By empowering participants to explore their creative side utilizing photography, video, illustration or design, the young defendants also learn skills related to accountability, leadership, responsibility, and choice, among others. Barnard has established partnerships with agencies across New York City and since its inception, Young New Yorkers had successfully graduated over 1000 participants who, by completing the program, are rid of their criminal record, jail time, or other adult criminal justice sanctions.The League Prize 2019 exhibition will be on view for free from June 21 through July 31.
There’s a blighted train depot east of downtown Atlanta that’s getting the Hollywood treatment. In an upcoming $100 million mixed-use project, the historic Pullman Yard in the Kirkwood neighborhood will transform from a 27-acre underutilized industrial site into a new “creative city” for the entertainment industry.
Spearheaded by the site’s new owner, Atomic Entertainment, the plan involves building a series of lofts, co-working spaces, a boutique hotel, retail, restaurants, and an outdoor concert venue to attract startups and other creatives to the east Atlanta site. A new set of renderings of the Pullman Yard masterplan was recently unveiled, featuring designs by Brooklyn-based studio OCX and Raleigh, North Carolina, firm Hobgood Architects. Atomic, led by two Los Angeles-based film producers, aims to turn the 115-year-old former railyard into Atlanta’s newest moviemaking mecca, a pedestrian-centric campus devoted to the city’s $9 billion film and television industry, and its booming music scene.
Adam Rosenfelt of Atomic believes the entire project will become a “paradigm for development” going forward. “We’re coming at this from a slightly different perspective as people that work in a collaborative art form,” he said. “This is our first building project, so we’re trying to figure out how to build a mixed-use lot blending the creative and cultural economies of food, entertainment, living, and working, rather than setting up space for the traditional big-box retail economy, which could have easily overtaken this historic area."
The site itself is formally known as Pratt-Pullman Yard and encompasses 12 buildings totaling 153,000 square feet. Constructed in 1904 as a sugar and fertilizer processing plant, it eventually developed into a repair facility for railroad sleeper cars, and during World War II, it housed munitions manufacturing. It has most recently served as the backdrop for scenes in futuristic films such as Hunger Games, Divergent, and the critically-acclaimed action movie Baby Driver. In 2009, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, though it has suffered from serious neglect for decades. In 2016, it was designated a local landmark.
The site’s main facilities, two brick-and-steel, barn-like warehouses, will be renovated under Atomic’s vision as the central architectural focus of the preservation project. The renovation is part of the first phase of construction, now underway, and is led by OCX and local firm Lord Aeck Sargent. The rest of the masterplan, designed in collaboration with Hobgood Architects, includes upgrading other existing structures, constructing new buildings, and integrating a site-specific landscape component by James Corner Field Operations.
Karen Tamir, principal-in-charge on the project, said Field Operations may use local relics in new ways to preserve the yard’s industrial roots. They’ll also add a new piece of parkland that stretches from the center of the site to the south as a nod to the old railroad delineation.
“There’s also a large swath of woodland to the east of Pullman Yard that we’ll connect via existing trails, so overall there’ll be ample greenery and room for exploration and relaxation,” Tamir said. “We won’t, however, propose many trees for the historic core because traditionally, they weren’t there when the yards were built.”
Keeping the site’s existing industrial conditions, while simultaneously promoting a verdant outdoor environment means thinking critically about the logistics of jobs that will take place there. To accommodate pedestrians and trucks coming in and out of the facilities, Luke Willis, principal of OCX, intends to connect all programs on-site via a diagonal axis that cuts through the various building blocks. “This allows us to diversify the building typologies and program use to ultimately contribute to the mixed-use development that Atomic envisions for their creative city.”
At the heart of the campus will be the renovated warehouses and a series of soundstages, one of which will be born from an existing 20,000-square-foot steel-clad structure situated near Roger Street, which is the entrance to Pullman Yard, and the rail line leading to downtown Atlanta. Rethinking these historic structures, among other playful design ploys to attract residents and visitors, will make Pullman Yard both a live-work-play destination and a place that not only showcases its former value with pride but also brings new value to the city today, according to Rosenfelt.
An official completion date for Pullman Yard has not yet been revealed, but Atomic hopes to finish the renovation projects by the end of 2020.
Two major players in art and design fabrication are merging into one powerhouse. UAP (Urban Art Projects) announced this week that it is acquiring the near 50-year-old, New York-based Polich Tallix Fine Art Foundry. The merger, according to a press release, will give both businesses a stronger geographical foothold and connect them to more artists, architects, designers, and developers. Together, both mainstay institutions have over 70 years of experience with the fabrication of fine arts and architectural projects. UAP, a global firm with 8 satellite offices, helps clients deliver bespoke structural art and design pieces for public and private use. The New York team has recently collaborated with Kohn Pederson Fox on the newly-opened 10 Hudson Yards, the Public Art Fund on the 2017 exhibition Ai Weiwei:Good Fences Make Good Neighbors, as well as SHoP Architects, and the Madison Square Park Conservancy.
Polich Tallix, established in 1968, has worked on public art projects with prominent artists like Louise Bourgeois, Roy Lichtenstein, Jeff Koons, Alexander Calder, and Richard Serra. The company has also worked alongside major architectural studios such as Zaha Hadid Architects, John Portman & Associates, Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects, and Herzog & de Meuron to produce special art pieces for building projects.UAP’s Group Managing Director Matthew Tobin noted the importance of the acquisition. “UAP’s global reach, collaborative vision, and investment in advanced manufacturing and design robotics,” he said, “combined with Polich Tallix’s unmatched knowledge of traditional manufacturing, makes us a strong, dynamic and highly responsive art and design resource for world-class creatives.”Dick Polich, founder of Polich Tallix, expressed a similar sentiment: “Our greatest asset is the skill of our craftspeople and by joining forces, our firms have boldly expanded our capabilities and expertise.”A previous version of this article said that Polich Tallix's facility would be moving, however, we have since learned that is not the case.
Last week, Atlanta’s Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announced the city will be setting up its first-ever transportation department. As one of the largest municipalities in the United States and one with debilitating congestion issues, this is a huge step in bringing more equitable mobility for Atlanta locals. The move is part of the mayor’s One Atlanta agenda, which aims to advance equity, diversity, and inclusion through the creation of a safe and welcoming city with world-class infrastructure, services, employment opportunities, and more. She aims to build a better-connected city through the new DOT, which will oversee the management of Atlanta’s 1,500 miles of streets, as well as its sidewalks and bike lanes. The agency will consolidate the road construction and repair efforts of the City’s Department of Public Works along with the planning department’s Office of Mobility. Capital roadway projects that are currently part of the city’s infrastructure investment program will also be integrated into the new DOT’s list of duties.Janette Sadik-Khan, former head of New York’s DOT and transportation official at Bloomberg Associates, will advise Atlanta in the creation of its own office. “A city’s success begins with its streets, and a dedicated department is critical to putting the transportation pieces together,” she said in a statement. “Atlanta has an unprecedented opportunity to change course on transportation, and Mayor Bottoms is showing the strong leadership that a city needs not to just grow but to make real progress for Atlantans.”The Atlanta Regional Commission estimates the metro region—which consists of nine Georgian counties and 5.8 million people—will increase in population by 2.5 million before 2040. While many working-class families in Atlanta rely on the city’s public transit services, including the MARTA system, it’s still a car-ridden town and organized offices such as the new DOT are expected to boost the region’s connectivity and help with long-term planning. Last December, Mayor Bottoms released Atlanta’s new transportation plan that will concurrently guide the future expansion of the city’s transportation services, increase its access and affordability, and help diminish Atlanta's overall dependency on cars.
MALL stands for Mass Architectural Loopty Loops or Miniature Angles & Little Lines, among other variations. Just like its ever-changing moniker, MALL’s work is constantly shifting. Founded by Jennifer Bonner in 2009, the Boston-based studio develops collections of projects that iteratively build from one to the next. As a graduate of Auburn University’s Rural Studio and Harvard Graduate School of Design—where she currently serves as faculty—Bonner channels her love of the American South and uses her teaching to experiment with new typologies and invent new modes of architectural representation.
Her colorful, out-of-the-box approach to design is just one of many reasons why she is named one of AN Interior’s top 50 interior architects. AN associate editor Sydney Franklin spoke with Bonner about stepping away from tradition and what’s next for MALL.
AN Interior:What would you say are the driving forces behind your aesthetic project?Jennifer Bonner: As you probably noticed from looking at my work, each of the projects are very different formally. At MALL, we begin by working on a conceptual and intellectual project first, and the formal emerges out of these considerations. I am against producing an overall “MALL aesthetic” and much more interested in many architectures. Yet within a single project, the process I’ve set up for my office is to work through many iterations around singular ideas—never discarding any, but creating a cute collection. You can see these collections in the work of Domestic Hats and Best Sandwiches. The latter is a colorful spatial experiment questioning how architecture might stack, in which we are interested in reimagining the extruded midrise office tower.
AN: So these collections allow you to explore multiple new typologies?JB: Each of my larger conceptual projects has the potentiality to question paradigms, which is what I’m most interested in. Take the roof forms in Domestic Hats and Haus Gables, a single-family house opening this month made from one of the original Domestic Hats models. I believe the roof plan can be an instigator of space rather than using Le Corbusier’s free plan and Adolf Loos’s raumplan. Here I was looking to expand different roof typologies, which is a topic I dove into while teaching at Georgia Tech.
AN: You’re also keen on expanding your use of unique materials, textures, and colors in your formal projects.JB: Yes, I really want to keep pushing the boundaries of materiality. I’m currently working on this through a project called Faux Brick, a distant cousin to the Glittery Faux-Facade study I developed in 2017. In preparation for this year’s Bauhaus Centennial, I’ve studied a pair of houses by Mies van der Rohe in Germany where I argue that authentic bricks are used as a fake structural strategy. In this project, we’re trying to figure out how the rendering and other representational techniques involving bad bump maps and bad meshes might create new faux-brick facades.
AN: How has your experience teaching and living in different places like London, Istanbul, Los Angeles, and Boston informed your work?JB: As someone who has one foot in academia and one foot in practice, it has been exciting to absorb all of these cities into the way I imagine architecture. Having grown up in Alabama and recently living in Atlanta, I have decidedly made an effort to work on architecture in the American South. It is not by accident that my first architecture, Haus Gables, is located in Atlanta.
AN: For Atlanta, Haus Gables is a really avant-garde residential design. It’s made of cross-laminated timber and features quirky exterior and interior finishes. How were you able to make it so different?JB: It’s completely self-funded without a traditional client—so my partner and I have taken on all of the risk. It was important for me that the design be as radical as possible in my first built work, and not diluted by many external factors. Radical, however, does not mean there wasn’t a fixed budget (which there certainly was). Throughout my career, I’ve worked with several clients associated with the public realm, such as institutions and galleries, but that kind of client is different from, say, a client who wants you to design a house.
AN: So you want to design and develop your own projects too?JB: I wouldn’t call myself a developer just yet. But I’ve always been into what John Portman did in Atlanta in the 1960s as an architect who both developed and found financing for his projects. By doing this, he was able to produce a new typology, the super atrium, which I’m not sure he would have been able to accomplish so early in his career if he had faced typical constraints.
Grace A. Tan, principal and president of the Atlanta and Shanghai–based John Portman & Associates, passed away at the age of 58 on January 27. Tan had been a stalwart fixture at Portman & Associates and had just marked her 34th year with the firm in 2019.
Tan was born in the Philippines and joined Portman & Associates shortly after receiving her Master of Architecture from Ohio State University in 1985 and would later go on to earn a Master of Design Studies from Harvard University. In 1993, Tan was integral in the opening of the firm’s Shanghai office.
Tan trained under John Portman, FAIA, the studio’s late founder and chairman, who died in 2017. Portman was remembered for his futuristic urban hospitality interiors that evoked space stations more than conventional hotels, and Tan readily followed in his footsteps. Her role as the firm’s president put her in a position to strategically grow the company by retaining top talent and participating in competitions.
A service for Tan will be held in Atlanta at a later date.
On Sunday, all eyes will be on Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the new arena that, less than 18 months after opening, is hosting the biggest sporting event in the nation: Super Bowl LIII. The National Football League (NFL) championship game—this year between the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Rams—will be played with an architectural backdrop unlike anything in the world.The $1.5 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium is the most sustainable sports facility on earth. It is LEED Platinum and the only stadium of its kind with a kinetic, retractable roof. Designed by HOK in collaboration with BuroHappold Engineering, the building broke ground in 2014 and officially opened in August 2017 during the Atlanta Falcons’ pre-season. The sculptural structure replaced the 25-year-old Georgia Dome which was demolished the previous month.Ahead of the game this weekend, here’s everything you need to know about the 2-million-square-foot Mercedes-Benz stadium:Situated in downtown Atlanta, the Benz (as locals call it) houses 71,000 seats for NFL games and 32,456 seats for Major League Soccer games. It features a motorized scrim attached to the roof structure that can cover several sections.Designed to emulate the Pantheon in Rome, it features a semi-transparent retractable roof that’s nicknamed “the oculus” that lets sunlight into the interior. Bill Johnson, design principal of HOK’s Kansas City office, said this “literal out-of-the-box” thinking was what won the over Falcons’ owner Arthur Blank who bankrolled the project. “We wanted to move away from the typical square roofs you see on most stadiums and come up with something that created energy in the middle,” Johnson said. “The vision was that the opening would create a very tiny pinpoint of light on the Falcons’ logo at the 50-yard line, and as the roof retracted, the spotlight would become bigger and bigger.”The stadium’s kinetic roof consists of eight, 200-foot-long triangular “petals” made of lightweight ETFE(ethylene tetrafluoroethylene). These petals are fixed to 16 individual tracks that can move at different speeds. The Benz now holds the record for the largest application of a single ETFE membrane in the world at 143,000 square feet. The angular facade of the Benz consists of wing-like sections made of insulated metal panels that wrap around the bowl. As a nod to the swooping wings found on the Falcons’ logo, these sections overlap one another and create a feeling of movement on the exterior. The base of the building features a floor-to-ceiling glass curtain wall that lets light into the facility during the day and serves as a 16-story panoramic window to the city. To Johnson, the success of Mercedes-Benz Stadium has been its ability to create social experiences for visitors. “Fans' tastes have changed and people want a big, game-day experience,” he said. “Some of it is driven by social media, and some of it is driven by younger fans who want to get up and move around throughout an event, gathering together and watching things from different angles.”Several aspects define the Benz as ultra-green. It’s powered by 4,000 photovoltaics, including an array of solar panels designed as carports. Alone, these generate 617 kilowatt-hours of energy each year for the stadium and the surrounding neighborhoods. According to Johnson, up to 10 NFL games can be powered with this amount of energy. Additionally, underneath the stadium is a 600,000-square-foot cistern that can hold up to 2 million gallons of rainwater. Johnson said the intervention has helped decrease flooding in this area of Atlanta, while simultaneously providing irrigation for local trees. One of the most impressive features of the Benz, according to Johnson, is the 360-degree halo scoreboard that wraps the oculus. It stretches 1,075-feet-wide and six stories high. Over 4,000 miles of fiber-optic cable support the ring-shaped screen, as well as the 2,000 televisions, and other technology found in the building.While this is the first time the Benz has hosted a Super Bowl, it’s the third time Atlanta has won the bid in 25 years. The city put out a proposal midway through the construction of the new stadium. Post-opening, its first big test came last month when it played host to the 2018 Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. The college playoffs will come back to the Benz in late December and next year, it will host the NCAA Men’s Final Four.
For more, check out this timelapse of the Benz's build-out courtesy Earthcam.
Metropolitan Atlanta is undergoing something of an urban moment; new developments and towers are cropping up across the city at a dizzying pace in tandem with public parks, pedestrian zones, and new transit lines. Initiatives such as the BeltLine and The Gulch promise a discernible shift from the car-centric planning that has been the city's course for decades.
On January 16, Facades+ Atlanta will bring together the leading architectural firms executing projects within the city, including Beck Architecture, Mack Scogin Merrill Elam Architects, HKS Architects, Duda|Paine Architects, and John Portman & Associates (JPA).
In anticipation of the conference, AN interviewed JPA's conference co-chairs Gordon R. Beckman, principal and design director, and Pierluca Maffey, principal and vice president of design, to better understand a city in flux and the storied firm's role within this transformation.
The Architect's Newspaper: Atlanta is undergoing a period of incredible growth that is reshaping the physical character of the city. What do you perceive to be the most interesting facade and structural innovations in Atlanta today?Pierluca Maffey: Just like people in many other cities in the U.S., Atlantans are rediscovering the advantages that urban living means to everyday life. The idea of buying a big house with car garages that look like hangars is shifting towards the purchase of more efficient spaces possibly near or well connected to public spaces and activities where human interaction occurs and social experiences unfold. This is the sociological change at the base of the new urbanism that is shaping many cities in the U.S. Share more space instead of owning it; share a mean of transportation; share experiences instead of having exclusive ones and so on. Even the workplace is based on sharing more knowledge to spark innovation, and the hospitality business is doing the same by transforming exclusive hotel lobbies into urban hubs where people and events take place.
In that sense, Portman was way ahead of its time when in the early '60s, while America was abandoning every downtown to escape in the promise land of suburbia, he invested in redeveloping downtown Atlanta. Designing, developing and promoting the heart of the city was and is the best way to build the identity and the culture of a town. The less risky route of urbanizing more land in the outskirts of an older city is far more devastating to the development of a community. Today, we see people demanding for a higher quality of urban living and the administrations and the developers must cater to this “new” idea of a city, one in which people can feel safe to occupy and live during the day and night. Unfortunately, Atlanta does not have the same density as other important cities in the U.S. however, it is moving in the right trajectory to attract the new generations of citizens. Capitalizing on some of the major assets that the city owns like Georgia Tech and the busiest airport in the world, the city is becoming a hub for many industries, and it is attracting a cosmopolitan population that will enrich the experience and the development of this city. These newcomers, like myself, are bringing in new ideas and demanding more updated public space throughout the city.
The results are visible in many recent projects around town, from large to small, where the leading factor is no longer the efficiency and the return on investment, but the public demand for better public spaces and streetscapes where the building facades represent the edges like walls in a house. Unfortunately, the demand for cars is still high because the public transportation grid quality is still very weak but hopefully it will change in the future with the right policies and a good collaboration between public and private partnerships on how to address traffic and development in the city.
Gordon R. Beckman: It's a great time to be in Atlanta. The last two or three generations seem to have found a renewed interest in urban living and its associated benefits, culturally, socially, and environmentally. The result has been an influx of people, an influx of ideas, and a necessity to increase opportunities for living and working. This is a huge plus for the city as it demands increased density, further defining edges between private and public spaces resulting in a more walkable place-oriented city fabric.
Building enclosures fulfill numerous roles, the most basic being to separate us from the elements, but they also form a significant part of the building identity and in the best cases they integrate ideas and ideals of energy to boost occupant comfort while minimizing energy consumption. Importantly, they also become the enclosure system for the public realm and the public spaces of the urban environment. Atlanta, as most cities are, is composed of multiple distinct neighborhoods. As a result, there are numerous projects throughout the city both planned and completed that are unique in their image, form, and enclosure systems.
A key part of Tech Square, the JPA-designed Coda project, derives out of the idea of creating a public open space within the urban block. Its elegant glazed exterior wall defines the street edges, is modulated to define a pedestrian scale at the street and, together with the data center and historical Crum and Foster building, define the inner public space. High-performance glazing together with view glass in a unitized curtain wall contributes to the expectation of LEED Gold status.
Historic preservation is gaining in popularity in Atlanta. How do you perceive this trend altering the city, and how can architects embrace it?LM:Historic preservation is a must. Buildings of the past represent a culture and decisions that were taken at a certain time by people who came before us. That said, when a building loses its main purpose, I see an opportunity for us to reinvent that same structure and breathe new life into it without losing its richness and history. A lot of structures were torn down in the past decades, and that was the trend around the nation. Perhaps it was not the best thing to do, judging with today’s mentality, but we can’t change that anymore. What we can do is preserve what we have today and what was left from before.
Our 230 Indigo is a repurpose of the first office project designed by Portman in the '60s. We converted the first nine floors into a hotel and preserved the rest as an office. The massing composition of Coda was all based on the 1926 Crum and Forster building. It was a priority to preserve the structure as a jewel and that led to a decision to create active space around it and place all the higher structures away from it to create a neutral background for its classical unique architecture.
I am glad that the developers and designers are preserving a lot of the industrial structures bringing new life into them. Ponce City Market and Krog are the best examples we have in town, but there are many more done by other developers and very good architects who understand the richness and responsibility of preserving older structures. What I really do not like is new developments and designers promoting new buildings to look like industrial warehouses. That is tricking the customers, just like giving them a fake 1500 Tuscan Villa in the outskirts of a U.S. metropolis.
Atlanta's skyline is defined by your firm's projects. Can you expand on the relationship your firm has cultivated with the city? LM: Like many other cities in the U.S., Atlanta has seen the exodus of the middle class towards suburbia. The fact that Atlanta has no natural boundaries like mountains or water that could constraint its sprawl in the territory caused the “explosion of the city” into many other satellite cities. At a moment in which Downtown Atlanta lost most of its economic force and middle class, Portman decided to reinvest in the city and never left its core. The office never left downtown, and the investments that were made through the years into what is now a large master plan were able and still can bring millions of visitors to the city. The design aesthetic adopted at an era when brutalism was spreading around the world is seen today as very stark and not inviting. The decision to create an alternative to the open public space offered by the streets was a way to provide safety for people and businesses that were catering to the visitors coming to the conventions and to the fair held by America’s Mart and the Georgia World Congress Center. It is understandable how today we see those solutions as unfavorable to the evolution of the activity and safety of public open spaces however, they provided a viable solution at the time they were conceived and are still significantly successful today with thousands of people meandering through the food court of Peachtree center and the atriums of the Hyatt Regency and Marriott Marquis. Today Ponce City Market and Krog Street offer the more appealing “food hall,” but the concept is the same: an introverted world where the public space is privately owned and managed. We still can’t take a stroll down the street looking at shops and choose a restaurant out of hundreds available like you would do in Europe.
Coda is opening to the city again and it reflects the current city culture. We deliberately created an open plaza easily accessible from two major streets and widely open to the sidewalks. It's a place for gathering and connecting with other people. It's still a privately owned and managed place but exposed and available to everyone to experience. That said, the owner decided on building an adjacent food hall to energize the outdoor space and activate it throughout the day. We are still far from the great public urban space seen in other cities in the U.S. or elsewhere in the world, but those are not developed by private companies. Those public spaces are built by the administrations and they reflect the culture of the society at a particular time. We might not be there yet, but we are certainly ready to play our part in designing them.
GB: Atlanta has a rich and varied architectural legacy. Our founder John Portman contributed to the vast array of projects that define this city. He recognized that for Atlanta to remain a vital urban place, the energy of the urban core needed to be maintained through comprehensive economic planning, as seen in the offices and hotel of Peachtree Center. At the time these projects were being executed, the city was blighted by suburban flight that challenged the primacy of urban living.
Portman and his internal public squares recognized the need for public spaces within the city. Now, our practice is seeking to blur the boundary between interior and exterior. The contrast between the Marriott Marquis and the new Coda project demonstrate this idea in a powerful way.
Atlanta is on fire with its growth, with the metropolitan area projected to grow to nine million residents by 2040. This exponential growth means more work, more housing, more cultural projects, more urbanism, transportation systems, infrastructure, and so on. The future vision of the city largely rests on Atlanta's community of architects, planners, and developers.
Further information regarding the Facades+ conference can be found here.