“Climate change is an existential issue,” said former President Barack Obama at the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) 2019 Greenbuild International Conference and Expo on November 20. Thousands of attendees gathered at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta to hear the keynote in which Obama spoke with USGBC president and CEO, Mahesh Ramanujam, about sustainability and affordability. To kick off the conversation, Ramanujam asked the former president what he believes to be the “most compelling issue in the world today.” The answer? Climate change and global economic inequality. “This is one of those [issues] where you can be too late. So, I know of no other issue that is more urgent,” he explained while pointing to the huge gaps in wealth and opportunity around the world. Citing the lack of affordable housing in California as one example, Obama said that in metropolitan areas, “building codes are so onerous that it makes construction of affordable housing almost impossible.” He anticipated some pushback but believes that the creation of sustainable building codes might also usher in an erroneous public perception of higher costs of living. “If we want to think about sustainability, we have to do it in a way that also is thinking about affordability,” he stated, according to Architectural Record. The former president followed that thought by stressing the importance of empathy and active listening to the concerns of constituents, neighborhoods, or clients. “When you listen, it turns out that you get a sense of what people’s priorities are,” he said, “Then, figure out how to shape a sustainable agenda around those concerns.” In regards to the progress of Chicago’s new Obama Presidential Center, he spoke about his experience working with architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien by emphasizing how important it is to have a diverse team. “The goal is to have people around the table who can bring to bear a set of different perspectives and correct for each other’s blind spots—including yours.” He also praised the younger generations and what he has learned from them, including his own daughters, on the urgency of climate change and the challenges ahead. “It’s visceral, visual,” he said according to Buildings.“Those young people change the minds of their parents in powerful ways. That kind of grassroots movement, particularly among young people, is something that is always going to be key.” At the end of the keynote, he concluded with the disconnect often present between values and actions: “I think it’s very important in our personal lives, but also collectively, to get those back into alignment, so each of us can do our part.”
Atlanta could be poised to convert its now-defunct Atlanta City Detention Center into a mixed-use development catering to the formerly incarcerated and the community at large. The Reimagining Atlanta City Detention Center Task Force, which was convened at City Hall by Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms for the first time last week, is in charge of determining how the 17-story jail facility will be used. With a whopping 471,000 square feet of available floor space, the building will likely serve numerous needs in the neighborhood.
Mayor Bottoms ordered the closure of the jail earlier this year, due primarily to rising costs and a lack of inmates. She emphasized the need for any revisioning or adaptive re-use project to be of benefit to locals, and especially to those who have already been involved in the city’s justice system. Several justice-oriented organizations, including the Racial Justice Action Center (RJAC) and the Oakland-based agency Designing Justice + Designing Spaces, have been tapped to guide the planning process. RJAC director Xochitl Bervera encouraged people to think big when contributing ideas. So far, informal proposals have included spaces for a daycare center, a food service training restaurant, a skate park, recording studios, and a legal clinic with an attached coffee shop. So long as the new development is not cost-prohibitive and is accessible to diverse swaths of the local populous, Bervera says it has serious potential to be successful.
In terms of the detention center’s physical makeover, concerns that entering the building could be triggering or unsettling to some former inmates have prompted planners to adopt a more transformative approach. The task force and RJAC have asked Designing Justice + Designing Spaces to reimagine the menacing structure with a more transparent and open form. With a glass curtain wall and a far greater number of windows than the jailhouse, initial renderings of the project offer a glimpse of how RJAC and the Atlanta city government will create the proposed Atlanta Center for Wellness and Freedom.
Overall, the effort is reminiscent of similar adaptive reuse projects executed in New York and other cities across the country. In 2016, two years after a film company announced plans to purchase Staten Island’s Arthur Kill Correctional Facility and convert it into the borough’s first movie studio, Deborah Berke Partners won a competition to turn Manhattan’s former Bayview Correctional Facility into The Women’s Building. Elsewhere in the country, detention facilities have been transformed into everything from luxury hotels to apartment buildings. But while the potential for an upscale development certainly exists at the Atlanta City Detention Center, there are concerns that such a proposal could exacerbate changes already seen in one of America’s fastest gentrifying cities.
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.”
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 spoke with Bonner about stepping away from tradition and what’s next for MALL.AN Interior: So these collections allow you to explore multiple new typologies?Jennifer Bonner: 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.
Read the full interview and see all the images an aninteriormag.com.
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.
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.
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 Designersreleased 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.
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.