Posts tagged with "Atlanta":

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HOK’s oscillating Atlanta stadium is now LEED Platinum certified

HOK’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia, just became the first LEED Platinum–certified professional sports stadium in the world. The $1.5 billion project opened in August and is best known for its operable, aperture-shaped roof, but HOK and Buro Happold Engineering have also integrated a suite of sustainability features into the base design of the stadium. Replacing the now-defunct Georgia Dome as the home of the Atlanta Falcons, the 2-million-square-foot, 71,000-seat Mercedes-Benz Stadium is styled after the Roman Pantheon, as the entire arena is centered around a domed oculus. Because the building is multi-use—designed for holding football, soccer, and basketball games—and because Falcons owner Arthur Blank had wanted to build what he described as an “iconic stadium” with a retractable roof, a watertight aperture was designed for the roof. Comprising eight 200-foot-long, 450-ton blades clad in Ethylene Tetrafluoroethylene (EFTE) film, the roof’s semi-transparent iris is capable of opening and closing in only nine minutes. Because every petal needs to swing into place at a different speed, not rotate like a true aperture, the roof uses an algorithm to judge how much counter-balance is needed while the blades are cantilevering out over the field. Reinforcing the centralized focus of the design is a 350-ton, six-story, ring-shaped “Halo Board” seated inside the oculus itself that’s viewable from every seat and angle. Outside, the stadium’s base is a wall-to-ceiling glass curtain wall meant to give uninterrupted views of the surrounding city as fans make their way to their seats. Eight steel and glass “leaves” radiate out from the aperture at the top of the stadium and drape down over the glass at the bottom, referencing the swooping wings in the Falcons’ logo. According to HOK, Mercedes-Benz Stadium’s LEED score of 88 points is the highest of any sports venue. Through the use of its 4,000 photovoltaic panels, the stadium produces enough solar electricity to power nine football games, or 13 soccer games. By using water-conserving fixtures and infrastructure adjustments, the building uses up to 47 percent less water than a building of comparable size. The location was also key, as the stadium is located between three MARTA bus lines and next to a forthcoming 13-acre green space that fans can use between games. The site also features electrical vehicle charging stations, bike parking, and new pedestrian paths. An incredibly complex project that required coordination between architects and structural engineers at every step of the way, the stadium still isn’t fully operational even though it’s in use. Work on the roof is still ongoing, and engineers hope to have the aperture fully functional by the time Atlanta hosts the Final Four basketball tournament in 2020. The stadium's innovative high performance facade will also be discussed more in-depth at Facade Plus's Atlanta conference in January 2018.
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Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park gets a bland new redesign

The Georgia World Congress Center Authority (GWCCA) has just released new renderings for the renovation of Atlanta's Centennial Olympic Park. Built for the 1996 Summer Olympics and located in the core of Atlanta's downtown, the 21-acre park is one of the city's most frequented green spaces, crowned at its north end by a trio of tourist magnets: the Georgia Aquarium, World of Coca Cola, and the Children's Museum of Atlanta. Construction has already been underway for most of the year. The improvements focus on six specific areas of the park with staggered timelines for each. Phase One, which includes renovations of the West Lawn Promenade and the Fountain of Rings Plaza, is slated for completion in January 2018, while Phase Two, which includes a new events center, renovated amphitheater, streetside water feature, and Paralympic Plaza, is expected to wrap up in early 2019. The new renderings are also an improvement on those released in March 2017, which mostly depicted flatly nondescript grassy spaces with little appeal. Phase One largely targets footpaths and plazas. During this phase, a road that used to cut through the park, Andrew Young International Boulevard, will be completely pedestrianized. Many of the designs for the park leave much to be desired, with their monotoned pathways, expanses of shadeless lawn, and lack of seating or plant variance. Thankfully, some shade structures will be built near the Southern Company Amphitheater–in southern climes like Atlanta with year-round heat, temperature matters. According to the GWCCA, the park's legacy is twofold: to preserve and honor the Olympic Games of 1996, but also to ground development efforts downtown in an accessible public space. The organization was created in 1971 to create a convention center for downtown Atlanta, and now manages a number of properties around the park including the Georgia World Congress Center, the Georgia Dome, and the New Atlanta Stadium, as well as a conference center to the south in Savannah. Many cities left with vast, expensive spaces after hosting the Olympics face the question of how to repurpose and maintain them once the games are over–here, the GWCCA appears to have stuck to the model of keeping a banal park space to fuel corporate development at its fringes.
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John Portman’s Peachtree Center is now a Georgia landmark

Correction 10/2/17: This article initially stated that the Peachtree Center was added to the National Register of Historic Places. It was added to the the Georgia Register of Historic Places, an initial step in National Register of Historic Places nomination process.  For most Georgians, the Peachtree Center is a defining feature of Atlanta. A transportation hub, a shopping complex, and public plaza densely thatched in by hotels and office buildings, the Peachtree Center is a point of reference in the downtown area. The buildings within the Center were largely designed by John Portman & Associates from 1961 through 1988, beginning with the Atlanta Furniture Mart and expanding outward. It is the largest mixed-use center in one of the most populated cities in the South. Now it has been added to the Georgia Register of Historic Places, a first step towards possible inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places. Spanning 14 blocks, the Peachtree Center includes the AmericasMart (1957), the Hyatt Regency Atlanta (1967), the Westin Peachtree Plaza (1976), and the Atlanta Marriott Marquis (1985), as well as eight office buildings, retail space, restaurants, and parking garages. Taken together, the complex is a constellation of Portman's Southern late modernism and exemplifies the developer-architect approach that Portman, now 92, has built. Visually, the buildings are unified by their precast concrete and reflective plate glass curtain wall panels, as well as poured-in-place concrete elements. Though the Center is criticized by contemporary planners for the 24 suspended glass catwalks that connect buildings but remove pedestrian traffic (and commerce) from the street, the mixed-use, all-in-one typology that Portman pioneered was innovative urban planning in its time. The forbidding brutalist architecture of buildings like the Merchandise Mart and the futuristic cylindrical glass column of the Westin Peachtree Plaza are connected by the infrastructure layering them together. Portman's chilly glass facades and plummeting interiors have proved irresistible to film and television producers. The Peachtree Center is frequently featured in sci-fi and fantasy TV footage, as well as films set in the future, including The Hunger Games, Divergent, and The Walking Dead. As the site has evolved over the past 50-plus years, it has continually been redeveloped even when the surrounding downtown area was beset by economic change. Per Portman's plan to design supersize spaces to work at the pedestrian scale, the Peachtree Center is today a busy node of Atlanta's MARTA (mass transit) system and nearby bus terminal, funneling arrivals into an easily accessible network of restaurants, shops, markets, and more.
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Georgia Tech lab cultivates Atlanta’s high-tech building industry

Georgia Tech's Digital Building Lab (DBL) is at the forefront of AEC industry applications of emerging technologies, thanks in large part to founder Chuck Eastman’s groundbreaking work in building information modeling (BIM). New DBL director Dennis Shelden is positioning the Lab and Atlanta as a hub for innovation and entrepreneurship in the built environment technology sector by cultivating partnerships between academia and industry. On October 2-6, the DBL will participate in BuiltTech Week, a week of panel discussions, workshops, and new initiatives presented in partnership with Supernova South, the Southeast’s largest and longest-running tech conference, and BuiltTech.com “Atlanta has all the ingredients necessary to become a leading center in high-tech applications to the built environment,” Shelden said. “Atlanta’s growth is driven by the intersection of technology development and real estate investment serving high tech.”  Examples of high-tech innovation abound, such as Tech Square at the edge of the Georgia Tech campus. Tech Square is home to numerous startups, entrepreneurship support programs such as ATDC, Venture Labs, The Garage and TechSquare Labs, as well as dozens of corporate incubators. Shelden is not alone in his vision for industry transformation. Fellow Atlanta innovator, K.P. Reddy, is co-founder of The Combine and Shadow Ventures, a venture firm focused on seed investing in BuiltTech companies.  The Combine is an industry leading incubator that helps traditional building industry companies launch startups and is working with the Digital Building Lab to incubate a regional BuiltTech network. “We see the BuiltTech market as one of the emerging leaders in technology entrepreneurship” said Reddy.  Reddy will be leading the BuiltTech programming at Supernova South.  Another BuiltTech Week collaborator is Dave Gilmore of DesignIntelligence. Prior to becoming the CEO of DesignIntelligence, Gilmore spent years in the technology worlds of Silicon Valley, Boston, and Tel Aviv, facilitating funding for startups and established firms to help their strategic growth. Gilmore said, “The industry is ripe for the sort of disruptive technology plays we’ve seen in other markets, and it’s exciting to see the local academic, research, commercial and government leadership coming together to tackle this opportunity.” What are the future models of practice for architects, engineers, and builders? How will the existing organization of the design and construction industry evolve to capitalize on new opportunities? Will outside players disrupt entrenched AEC culture or will AEC leaders learn to become more like entrepreneurs?  Shelden, Reddy, Gilmore and the many innovators at DBL will be tackling these challenges head-on during #BuiltTechWEEK 2017, which convenes in Atlanta on October 2-6. This first-of-a-kind event focuses on built environment technology as an emerging high-tech market. The inaugural #BuiltTech Week will culminate in Georgia Tech’s Digital Building Lab's annual symposium on the theme of “AEC Entrepreneurship: Creating the High Tech Building Economy” on October 5-6, 2017 at The Historic Academy of Medicine at Georgia Tech. 
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Atlanta’s highway-capping park moves forward but seeks new partners and funding

An ambitious plan to build a park over a highway in Atlanta’s Buckhead neighborhood is moving forward after the Buckhead business district voted to create a nonprofit organization that will manage future development, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

The nine-acre linear park—proposed last year and planned for a section of Georgia 400—would be designed by the two New York–based firms ROGERS PARTNERS Architects + Urban Designers and Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects. The Buckhead Community Improvement District (CID), a public-private organization that invests taxes from commercial property owners within the district into the public realm, released today an updated timeline for the project. The next five months will be dedicated toward the creation of the nonprofit, as well as the planning and design of the park. The CID has also dedicated up to $262,500 in order to sustain its contract with the design team through 2017.  

“The goal would be for us to truly hand this off to the new entity where they could count on some funding from the CID to help stand them up and help attracting additional partners,” Buckhead CID Executive Director Jim Durrett said to AJC.

Buckhead Park Over GA400, the park’s current tentative name, is a push from the city to encourage walkable environments and green spaces. The park is located at the confluence of Georgia 400, Peachtree Road, the MARTA red line, and the Path400 Greenway Trail. 

The current design is an open scheme with various public spaces—a Commons, a Plaza, and the Gardens—that aim to create diverse experiences through the park. It will also be built over a MARTA station (acting as a roof, almost) and will be connected to various pedestrian paths. Public engagement is expected to play a role during the design phase, as well as in the formal naming of the park.

The approval was a narrow vote, 4-3, with dissenters citing a lack of key details—including funding sources. The estimated cost of the project is as high as $245 million, with Buckhead CID officials saying they expect funding to come through both public and private sources, including MARTA when the Buckhead MARTA station goes through a redesign.

With this approval to move forward, the Buckhead CID is hopeful that pre-construction work will begin in January 2018, groundbreaking will happen by 2020, and a fully operational park will open by 2023, according to AJC. 

Explore the park in 3D here.
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Atlanta’s $50 million fight to end homelessness is moving forward

Atlanta’s city council approved major funding for a plan to end homelessness, voting unanimously on Monday to issue $26 million in bonds to match another $25 million promised by nonprofit United Way of Greater Atlanta, as first reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The city’s mayor, Kasim Reed, has made tackling homelessness a priority during his time in office. During his “state of the city” address back in January, he announced United Way’s commitment to match any city funding towards the homeless initiative.

“I am proud to announce that with the unanimous approval of the Atlanta City Council, we will move forward with our $50 million commitment to make homelessness rare and brief in the City of Atlanta,” Reed said in a press release.

The bonds and the matched donation will indeed bring in more than $50 million. The city will also leverage (i.e. taking on debt to increase the return on investment) an additional $66 million to make a total investment of more than $115 million to tackle homelessness.

Over the next three years, the money will be distributed to provide different services, including 264 new emergency shelter beds and housing interventions. Approximately $7.6 million will be used for the acquisition and renovation of shelters over the course of the next three years. The majority of the money (around $16 million), however, will go towards the primary goal of the city’s homeless initiative: buying or renovating 500 units that will be used as permanent homes for the homeless.

Atlanta has more than 3,500 individuals and families in need of shelter, according to an analysis by non-profit Partners for Home. But homelessness in the city has been on a downward trend, decreasing by 16.5 percent from 2015 to 2016, according to National Alliance to End Homelessness’ report 2016 The State of Homelessness in America. This approval of funds brings Reed’s pledge one step closer to reality.

“We now have the opportunity to end chronic homelessness in our city and ensure that all men, women, and children—regardless of circumstance—have the chance to live stable, meaningful lives and participate fully in their communities,” Reed said. 

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Emory University, CDC, and others seek to be annexed by the City of Atlanta

The City of Atlanta would gain 630 acres, and an entire university campus, under a proposal that would dramatically change the city’s footprint. Emory University, currently part of the Druid Hills section of DeKalb County, Georgia, filed a petition this week to have its campus annexed by the City of Atlanta, while also remaining part of the county. Emory is one of three institutions that have filed petitions to become part of the city. Others include Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Egleston Hospital and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a federal agency. If Emory’s plan is approved, Atlanta would be able to say it is home to yet another well-known institution of higher education, along with the Georgia Institute of Technology, Georgia State University, Morehouse College, Spelman College, and Clark Atlanta University. Atlanta would also become home to Emory-affiliated medical facilities that are not already in the city. Established in 1836 as Emory College, Emory is a private research university with 14,913 students as of fall 2016, 29,000 employees, and an endowment of $6.4 billion. It’s the second oldest private institution of higher education in Georgia and one of the 50 oldest private universities in the United States. Emory President Claire E. Sterk said in a prepared statement that the annexation into Atlanta will complement the university’s commitment to both the city and the county. “We are enriched by our relationships with the county and the city as well as the larger region and the state and look forward to building upon our commitment to community involvement, academic excellence, innovation, and entrepreneurship,” she said. The university indicated last year that it might petition for annexation, but this week’s action makes it official. “Emory’s annexation into the city of Atlanta has always been viewed as one of the most viable, long-term options and one that provides consistency and alignment relative to the University’s marketing and branding initiatives,” officials said in a statement last August. “Emory already promotes its location as Atlanta, is known internationally as being in Atlanta, routinely recruits faculty and students to Atlanta, and has an Atlanta address and zip code. The prestige of Emory as an international university and Atlanta as a global city are inextricably linked.” The Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Egleston Hospital is on Emory’s campus, and the hospital sought annexation to be consistent with what Emory is doing, officials said in a statement quoted by The Atlanta Business Chronicle. The annexation would be for the Egleston Hospital on Clifton Road but not the entire health care system, they explained. The CDC filed its petition after “careful consideration,” the federal health agency said in a statement. The petition is for its Edward R. Roybal Campus on Clifton Road to be annexed by the city of Atlanta. “Annexation by the city of Atlanta allows CDC to continue working with DeKalb County’s critical response capability while linking to Atlanta’s infrastructure and municipal services,” the organization said. The petitions will now be considered as part of the city’s public meeting process for annexations. If the requests are approved, officials say, the annexations could take effect as soon as this fall.
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New seven-acre Atlanta public park will sit atop parking facility

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has announced plans for a new parking center and ‘mobility facility’ in the city's Grant Park neighborhood. The $48 million project, titled Grant Park Gateway, will sit on what is currently an eight-acre surface parking lot that serves Zoo Atlanta. The new deck will be partially underground and will provide approximately 1,000 parking spaces, more than double the current lot's capacity. A rooftop park and other vegetation on the structure are intended to help manage storm water run-off and to help the project reach LEED-certified status. A multidisciplinary design-build team led by Atlanta-based Winter Johnson Group and Smith Dalia Architects will helm the project. "The Grant Park Gateway will be the first facility of its kind in the City of Atlanta, and earned its name because it provides an entirely new way of looking at the entrance to a community," said Mayor Reed in a press release. “The design benefits the Grant Park neighborhood and respects its history as Atlanta’s oldest park, while addressing parking demands, reducing traffic congestion, and improving the overall safety in the area.” The parking garage itself will utilize an intelligent parking system that will be able to tell visitors where to find empty spots and help manage some of the traffic jams that have plagued the area. As if the rooftop park was not enough to make the area a destination, a new restaurant, which the Mayor said will highlight local cuisine, will also be placed on the deck’s rooftop for visitors to enjoy. The Department of Parks and Recreation will host several meetings with the community in the coming months to engage local residents about the project, which is projected for completion in late 2018. To learn more about the project, you can visit Smith Dalia Architects’ website here.
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John Portman & Associates unveils a tech center for Midtown Atlanta

John Portman & Associates (JPA) has unveiled the design for a hybrid complex in Atlanta that blends classic Portmanian forms with a distinctly 21st-century approach to urbanism. The Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) asked the Atlanta firm to design Coda, a 750,000-square-foot mixed-use complex with some unusual features. The development is a key addition to the school's Tech Square, a mini-neighborhood in Midtown planned in the early 2000s as a hub for education, operations, and real-world learning. To embody its future-forwardness, Georgia Tech wanted to move away from stately collegiate brick towards a glass-clad mix of education space, offices, and an open-air gathering space that ties Coda to its surroundings. Though firm founder John Portman's work defines the city's skyline, some critics maintain that his theatrical-but-insular designs do little for the city streets. Instead of reproducing the forms for which Portman is best known, for this project JPA extended a core atrium outdoors to create a public plaza and mid-block conduit to nearby development. Furnished with long, zigzagging planters that double as seating, the "outdoor living room" will parallel a multistory indoor piazza where local food vendors and two anchor restaurants should sustain the area's activity even after the office workers go home. "Those Portman atriums in Atlanta and elsewhere were the products of a different era, there were different reasons why those were built," said JPA vice president of design Pierluca Maffey. "This project is a turning point for our firm in opening up—the right thing to do now is open up to the street. We made a commitment to create a place for the people with this project." The development builds on similar context-focused developments, like the revamp of Colony Square, but it is especially well-positioned for placemaking: The nearby intersection of 5th and Spring streets, Maffey said, is the busiest by foot traffic in Atlanta. In addition to its more traditional elements, Coda, bounded by 4th, West Peachtree, and Spring streets, hosts a program not found on the typical campus. To support the high-performance computing modeling, JPA was asked to design a 63,000-square-foot vertical data center that sits behind a cherished 1920s building on the site. Prior to this project, the building's footprint was reduced by a partial demolition, but its Italianate character remained. To honor the remaining structure, the design team arranged the tower's lower massing to dialogue with the scale and proportions of the older building without swallowing it. Across the plaza, a white tulip-shaped column at the base of the tower is an homage to Portman formality, to his playfulness with shapes. "We call it the 'martini glass,'" Maffey said, laughing. "We always tell Mr. Portman his interiors are great for Gregory Peck, walking around with his martini." The reference may be vintage, but the gesture is not. Sprawling Atlanta is doubling down on density at key nodes in the center city, fostering demand for more—and better-designed—public space. There's little demand, Maffey noted, for the enclosed, monumental plazas of the 1960s and 70s, and that attitude will be reflected, he hopes, in the eventual reception of the project. "We're interested in designing the object, yes, but we're much more interested in how it ties into the ground, how this piece fits into the city."
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Georgia Tech moves forward with plans for a Living Building on campus

Georgia Tech has approved a 42,000-square-foot project for their campus that aims to pass the Living Building Challenge; construction could begin as soon as this fall. The project began when The Kendeda Fund (an Atlanta-based private foundation) gifted $30 million to Georgia Tech specifically for the creation and operation of a Living Building at the school. (A Living Building has passed the Living Building Challenge's (LBC) stringent standards, which range from energy performance to social equity). The school then hosted an ideas competition and selected a joint design from Atlanta-based Lord Aeck Sargent and Seattle-based The Miller Hull Partnership. The university’s Planning & Design Commission approved the scheme in December and the project has now moved into the design development phase. Despite its approval, the project has presented some challenges due to its lack of programming specifics. A committee of faculty members from Georgia Tech has been working with the design team to refine the program and make sure it addresses the needs of the university. For now, the building program consists of offices, labs, “maker spaces,” classrooms, study spaces, and an auditorium. The program is housed in two rectangular “sheds” joined by a large atrium and featuring a west-facing porch. The structure will be a post and beam system made of locally sourced glue-laminated timbers, adhering to the LBC's strict material requirements. In order to meet the performance standards of a Living Building, the project must also produce 105 percent of the electricity it uses through renewable clean-energy means. The current scheme will use a combination of radiant pipes for heating and cooling, a custom Dedicated Outdoor Air System (DOAS) for dehumidifying the Georgia summer air, and photovoltaic panels on the roof to generate almost 300 kilowatts of electricity. As part of the LBC’s Urban Agriculture requirements, the project must set aside a certain percentage of the site for agriculture initiatives, or 12,577 square feet in this case. Philadelphia-based Andropogon Associates, the landscape architects for the project, is proposing many strategies including pollinator gardens, blueberry orchards, medicinal plants, and edible vines spread across rooftop gardens and surrounding forest to help with water drainage and shading for the building. Lastly, the building will utilize a combination of “foam-flush” composting toilets and a greywater treatment system to recycle wastewater from the building on site for use around the campus. The building is currently expected to begin construction as soon as this fall. The Kendeda Fund has set up a timeline of the project on their website to keep track of its progress through the many design and construction phases. To learn more, visit the fund's project description and timeline.
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Atlanta-based BLDGS brings new creativity to adaptive reuse projects

The Architectural League’s Emerging Voices award and lecture series spotlight individuals and firms with distinct design “voices” that have the potential to influence the discipline of architecture, landscape architecture, and urban design. The jury, composed of Sunil Bald, Mario Gooden, Lisa Gray, Paul Lewis, Jing Liu, Thomas Phifer, Bradley Samuels, Billie Tsien, and Ian Volner, selected architects and designers who have significant bodies of realized work that creatively address larger issues in the built environment.

The Architect's Newspaper featured the Emerging Voices firms in our February issue; stay tuned as we upload those articles to our website over the coming weeks. The firm featured below (Atlanta, GA–based BLDGS) will deliver their lecture on March 2, 2017, at The Architecture League in New York City. Click here to learn more!

When Brian Bell and David Yocum first founded BLDGS 10 years ago, they didn’t plan to specialize in adaptive reuse—certainly not in Atlanta, a city not necessarily known for exploring the past.

But after they continued to land such commissions, they began to relish the role and have elevated this ever-expanding realm of architecture to a more creative, thoughtful, complex level than almost any firm has been able to achieve.

“We take a lot of pleasure in uncovering,” Yocum said. “If we can find the truth in each of the challenges and kind of reflect the presence of that truth it gives us a lot that we would not be able to layer onto a project.”

Bell and Yocum met at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design and then worked together at Mack Scogin Merrill Elam Architects in Atlanta. They founded their firm in 2006, spurred mostly through work from art galleries, whose budgets and interests called for work within existing spaces. One of their first, Whitespace Gallery, is located inside an 1880s carriage house. Impressed by how clearly the original functions were expressed structurally, they set out to not only maintain that core, but also express the building’s new artistic focus with equal intensity. They hid lighting and HVAC along the periphery, and installed thin, floating panels—framed in steel—to display art.

Yocum calls this inserting the “featherlike presence of the new while respecting the gravity of the old.”

“We’re pushing and pulling off things that are seen and unseen rather than inventing from our own imagination,” added Bell. “There’s a lot of fascination with the situation that’s already there.”

Their work has continued along these lines, pushing and pulling on the complex layers of existing materials and techniques and the addition of contemporary ones. The installation Boundary Issues at the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center removed contemporary plaster walls to display a mesmerizing combination of existing paint and bricks.Essentially they practiced addition by subtraction, architecture’s version of etching away a solid in a block print.

For their Caddell classroom and faculty building at Georgia Tech, they took cues for a new canopy from the structural logic of the existing 1950s building, whose steel frame is hidden behind a concrete exterior. The resulting canopy of aluminum louvers looks ultra-light from below, but like the original building, its thick steel frame is hidden above, out of sight. At Congregation Or Hadash Synagogue, they converted a former Chevrolet paint and auto body repair shop by carefully carving away its tilt-up concrete and sheet metal cladding, creating a radically different typology, nonetheless informed by its bones.

Even their only ground-up building, the Burned House in Atlanta, plays with history. Its cladding is painted with dozens of layers of paints, stencils, metallics, and other markings, which are meant to become exposed as the paint decays. Its interior plays with solid and void, with spaces pushed and pulled in unusual configurations to maximize exposure and push the boundaries of expectation.

“We wanted to think of history in reverse,” said Yocum. “Everything has a historical presence. If you’re not exploring that you’re missing opportunities.”

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Emory University to replace a remarkable John Portman building with a new campus center

Emory University celebrated the opening of its new postmodernist campus center designed by hometown architect John Portman in 1986. Today, the school is preparing to knock it down and replace it with a contemporary structure that, according to Emory, aligns better with the school’s founding aesthetic: Mediterranean-style buildings in pink and gray Georgia marble. What does Emory’s decision tell us about aging modern buildings on more traditional American campuses?

In the early 1980s Emory University picked an architect with an oppositional style—Portman—to design its campus center and largest dining hall. Portman, whose Peachtree Center and Hyatt Regency define the Atlanta skyline, merged new and old at the Dobbs University Center (DUC) with the same drama of his supersized work. The three-story, 150,000-square-foot DUC adheres to the rear facade of one of the older 1920s buildings on campus. The two structures meet in the Coca-Cola Commons, a capacious indoor piazza and tiered dining hall that references Palladio’s Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza, Italy.

As a campus center (and main student dining hall), the DUC must do the heavy lifting of an increasingly commoditized typology. At American colleges and universities today, the campus center is both a social nucleus and a potentially powerful marketing tool. Emory decided the existing DUC was not fit for either task.

Though some schools like Emory have commissioned progressive architecture (or works by high-profile “starchitects”), universities competing for talent are almost obligated to furnish their campuses with ample, top-of-the-line amenities to lure prospective students. Middle-aged modern buildings—perceived as ungainly or unlikable—are the first obstacles to be eliminated in this fierce race.

Late modern architecture, in particular, can feel totalizing—deeply proportional, but scaled to giants—and outright hostile to context. But where does a school draw a line between saving a semi-dysfunctional building or demolishing it, potentially losing a structure of merit?

Emory studied renovation options for the DUC, but ultimately concluded there was no reasonable way to fix all of its issues, university architect Jen Fabrick said. As a dining hall, the DUC’s service layout makes food delivery massively inconvenient: Pallets have to be unpackaged at the loading docks and lifted in small elevators to third-floor kitchens, a daily labor-intensive task. The kitchen is too small to accommodate a growing student population and, in true Portman fashion, the dining commons is almost completely windowless.

The new Campus Life Center (CLC), designed by Durham, North Carolina–based Duda Paine Architects, addresses the DUC’s shortcomings while honoring its neighbors both materially and in orientation. A central stair divides a dining area, meeting rooms, and offices arranged on limestone plinths and connected by a wraparound terrace. University officials said the $98 million project, complete with a solar panel–clad roof, is expected to cost only slightly more than a renovation of the Portman addition.

In keeping with university design guidelines that honor tradition but don’t necessarily call for strictly traditional forms (there are new buildings with glass curtain walls, for example), the CLC “is very non-traditional in many aspects,” Fabrick said. The new design is tied to a 2005 campus master plan, which aims to “bring back a sense of place and then build on that as we go forward with our newer buildings,” she said. “In the 1980s there was an attitude to do something different and modern—I don’t know that they realized what they were doing.”

The original Beaux-Arts plan for the Emory campus was conceived by Pittsburgh architect Henry Hornbostel, who arranged its first buildings around central quads surrounded by lush ravines. Through World War II the campus retained its classical orientation, but after the war, campus design bent to the automobile. Buildings were oriented toward roads, and according to the college, experiments with modern architecture in the 1970s “ignored the original design etiquettes” of Hornbostel’s positioning, volume, and materiality.

Since then, university officials spent almost two decades determining how, and what, to build. The master plan, initiated in 1998 and updated seven years later, puts pedestrians before cars at every opportunity. To the university, as well as planners Ayers Saint Gross, a walkable campus was a beautiful one, and this included replacing some modern buildings with those that channeled the campus’s original architecture. So far, construction under the plan has added 3.8 million square feet of new space to campus.

Despite the crisis calls of preservation discourse, especially online, American colleges and universities aren’t out to sack every modern building—many have a strong history of stewardship for outmoded, expensive-to-maintain structures that could be easily replaced with lower-maintenance, high-performing alternatives. Off-campus, though, there’s growing concern that hard-to-love buildings of the modern movement are disappearing, only to be replaced with neo-traditional, historicist, or plain old contemporary structures that may be easier to live with but lack the radical appeal of their predecessors.

By choice or necessity, universities are essential custodians of modern architecture, but they also play to the market. “If a campus doesn’t look put together, or have a cohesive atmosphere, students may choose to go elsewhere,” said Barbara Christen, an architectural historian and former director of the CIC Historic Campus Architecture Project. “At the heart of this is an audience issue—there can be valid reasons why people don’t like late modern buildings especially, but by the same token, they might not know about what the architecture represents or how it expresses American culture.”

That’s especially true for Portman. Through the 1990s, he was best known for self-contained buildings in city centers that replaced the city center itself. In addition to his Atlanta work, Portman built his reputation on Detroit’s Renaissance Center, New York’s Marriott Marquis, San Francisco’s Embarcadero Center, and—critic Fredric Jameson’s favorite—the Bonaventure Hotel in Los Angeles, each of which offered lavish cities-within-cities that turned their glass backs on a decaying urban core. Lauded at the time for their vertiginous atria and theatricality, today, when walkable downtowns and energetic streetscapes are enormously popular with practitioners and the public, Portman’s holistic work can seem cold, corporate, and downright anti-urban.

The firm Portman founded tracks evolving public attitudes toward his work and its place in history. Walter E. Miller, principal and design director at John Portman & Associates, said he noticed a desire for campus buildings to be more “traditional in appearance” beginning in the 2000s. He added that the trend seemed more prevalent at public schools, with many buildings catering more to the preferences of alums and parents, rather than current students.

The trend plays out broadly: In Los Angeles, the University of Southern California (USC) sold and relocated an International style steel post-and-beam structure to build Fertitta Hall, a historicist new home for its business school, while in New London, Connecticut, Connecticut College redid the facade of its 1961 North Complex (“the Plex”), by Shreve, Lamb, and Harmon (the architects of the Empire State Building) to hide its distinctive modern features. DePaul University in Chicago is replacing its “cheese grater building,” designed by Holabird & Root in the 1960s, with a contemporary music school by Antunovich Associates. While not a replacement, Yale honors a preference for neo-traditional forms with a new $600 million collegiate gothic residential college by former architecture school dean Robert A.M. Stern. In 2011 Ezra Stiles College, designed by Eero Saarinen and completed in 1961, reopened to students after a sensitive $55 million dollar renovation that created more common areas and softened some of the complex’s harsher features. Recollections of veteran preservationists yield countless other buildings that survived, but barely.

To check changing taste, Christen said campuses should think about what the Class of 2100 will see: “The goal for campuses is to not only have a grasp of what their architectural and landscape inventory is, and consider what it represents about their past, but also to have a system in place for good guidance around future decisions.”

Emory cares for a particularly strong portfolio. Its stock of late modern architecture includes contributions from the giants: The Michael C. Carlos Museum by Michael Graves, William R. Cannon Chapel and the Pitts Theology Library interiors by Paul Rudolph, and the George W. Woodruff Physical Education Center by Portman. The school, Fabrick assured, has every intention of keeping these buildings.

Commissioning exciting contemporary buildings is a way for schools to visibly strengthen commitments to new ways of knowing, but modern architecture, especially late modern architecture, has a lot of catching up to do in eyes and minds of the public. What can be done to build appreciation? Christen, Miller, and other preservation experts all emphasize education that brings historical context into the conversation. They praise Docomomo’s education and advocacy work, and Christen noted that her alma mater, Williams College, has a semester-long course on reading the university’s (and American) history through the campus built environment. It’s a start.