All posts in Southeast

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Highway Hangover

Three deck park proposals pop up over Atlanta’s congested urban core
Three groups in Atlanta are proposing to cover portions of the city’s congested downtown highways with deck parks, or green spaces built over highly-trafficked roadways. Riffing off the recent rails-to-trails developments found in New York such as the High Line or Hudson Yards, these park-like platforms would attract newcomers and new development to Atlanta’s urban core while still allowing cars to continue crossing underneath. According to the Wall Street Journal, several schemes are underway to reimagine Atlanta’s notoriously crowded interstates with deck parks. One proposal, dubbed The Stitch is being touted by Central Atlanta Progress (CAP), a nonprofit community development organization that works to improve and preserve the downtown area. If built, the 14-acre park plan would span the I-75 and I-85 Downtown Connector from the Civic Center MARTA Station to Piedmont Avenue, creating a series of urban plazas and corridors for walkable and recreational space as well as special programming surrounding Emory University and the Georgia Power headquarters. Mixed-use residential projects, restaurants, retail, and medical buildings are also envisioned for The Stitch.  Though it seems like an ambitious undertaking—creating a new elevated public space with room for future tall construction—projects like this have been done before. In 2012, the 5.2-acre Klyde Warren Park was completed over the Woodall Rogers Freeway in Dallas, Texas. The city is currently constructing another one near the Dallas Zoo designed in collaboration with OJB Landscape Architecture. Similar initiatives set over abandoned infrastructure have also been erected over the last decade like Atlanta’s own Belt Line, boosting real estate values and enhancing green spaces in underutilized areas. The WSJ notes this is a growing trend. Nearly 30 cities around the U.S. have suggested deck park developments in recent years. Given Atlanta’s rising population and booming downtown development, it looks like the leading Southern city is on track to level up as an urban hub. Georgia already boasts the nation's largest tree canopy in a major metropolitan area, so adding serious acreage to downtown seems like a logical next step. And because Atlanta didn’t secure Amazon’s HQ2 bid, creating one or multiple deck parks in the city center could actually be a viable way to charm tech companies that want dynamic urban environments for their young employees. Besides The Stitch, another plan under consideration in Atlanta is a $250 million proposal for a 9-acre deck park covering Georgia State Route 400. Buckhead Community Improvement District (BCID) and Rogers Partners Architects + Urban Designers released renderings of the project in 2017 and announced a planned groundbreaking for 2020. Over the last year, the BCID has been busy raising money for the project. In another section of the city, it's rumored that Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy is looking to build a deck park along North Avenue at the I-85 and I-75 interchange in order to better connect Midtown Atlanta with Georgia Tech. Further details on the idea have not yet been released.
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Structural Surprises

Atlanta’s nature-filled Serenbe community allows residential architecture to pop
Set deep within the Chattahoochee Hills of northwestern Georgia are four carefully-curated, close-knit communities each designed to emulate architectural styles that could be found around the world. Serenbe, a 1,000-acre neighborhood housing over 350 homes outside Atlanta, offers its residents vastly different aesthetic experiences from hamlet—as they call them—to hamlet via the power of placemaking. Conceived over 15 years ago by Atlanta restauranteur Steve Nygren, Serenbe is designed around a quartet of individual hamlets—Selbourne, Grange, Mado, and the upcoming Mado West—all connected by a few roads and miles of nature trails. The entire site has become a sprawling live and play destination that attracts a diverse group of young families, part-time residents from Atlanta’s core, as well as retirees. Since opening, some have called it a New Urbanist enclave, while others see it as an oasis that provides both access to ample greenery and comforts of city life like walkable downtowns and unique cultural opportunities. For the design-minded, what’s most curious about Serenbe are the various building types packed within each hamlet. From straight-laced Southern homes to metal-clad boxes and Scandinavian-inspired apartment complexes, Serenbe’s architecture is an education in the field of residential design itself. According to Nygren, each hamlet’s architecture is largely influenced by the purpose it serves. For example, Selborne, the first hamlet completed, serves as Serenbe's culture and arts sector. Its Main Street resembles an American downtown with touches of Italian influence found on the building ornamentations. The structures in Grange, which houses Serenbe’s agrarian efforts, evoke both a farmhouse and agro-industrial feel. Mado, a two-part hamlet that’s now under construction, is Serenbe’s sector for health and well-being where the architecture takes on more minimalist designs inspired by Copenhagen and cities in Sweden. Though it may sound like Serenbe is a cookie-cutter community full of non-site-specific architecture, and, if you go there, the whole community will look practically pristine in every way and almost too idyllic, the reality is that the build-out of Serenbe has been meticulously planned to maximize authenticity. Dictated by the Nygren family and the new architecture firm, Serenbe Planning and Design, led by Steve Dray and Cecilia Winston, every adjustment made to an existing home, as well as every new structure built, goes through an extensive design review process where the site, architectural language, floor plan, and other community guidelines are considered before a design decision is made. All the materials used for construction must be original, sustainable, and in keeping with the style found throughout each hamlet. What’s more is that Serenbe’s architecture, much like the popular outposts of Atlanta restaurants on site, is actually an eclectic mix of Serenbe’s strict style and that of other outside architects. Collaborators have included Bill Ingram Architect, J Ryan Duffey Architect, Peter Block Architects, Kemp Hall Studio, and Smith Hanes Studio. AN toured Serenbe during the Nygren Placemaking Conference where the Nygren family annually spells out the story of Serenbe and how it functions as both a business and living destination. Part of what attracts people to Serenbe, according to its residents, is the collection of surprising structures populating the hamlets and how, architecturally, they express the personalities of the people living there.