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What’s wrong with Atlanta (and its environs)

Originally posted 2.18.08 

THE CITY TOO BUSY TO BE INTERESTING

BuckheadIt would be an overstatement to label the Buckhead Library a historic landmark, considering it was built in 1989. Of course, in Atlanta years, that’s damn near medieval. Regardless, the “deconstructivist” facility is an architectural standout, a funky island in a sea of sameness.

“It’s one of the most important buildings of the last quarter-century” in Atlanta, said Robert Craig, an architecture professor at Georgia Tech. “It’s one of the handful in the city known well beyond the city itself.”

Yet the library is a likely casualty of the ongoing movement to transform Buckhead into Alpharetta. Seems you can’t have enough mixed-use developments.

Developer Ben Carter, the builder of the $1.5 billion Streets of Buckhead project, is offering Fulton County $24 million for the 2-acre site. He proposes demolishing the building, which sits in the middle of his eight-block redevelopment, and relocating the library to a future mixed-use building with condominiums and retail.

Might as well change the city’s name to Mixed-Use Development. (The same fate awaits the first solo effort of I.M. Pei.)

Atlanta’s disdain for the original is nothing new — back in the 1970s, The Fox Theatre was nearly torn down to make room for a BellSouth office building.

1atlantaWe’re still waiting for the new Atlanta Symphony Center, an ambitious structure — designed by Santiago Calatrava — that’s languished on a sketch pad since it was introduced three years ago. Fund-raising efforts have fallen well short, and the city has done little to promote the project, choosing instead to waste $27 million on a since-discarded theme song and slogan.

In retrospect, the Calatrava building was probably too good to be true. AJC critic Catherine Fox (no link; from the archives) reviews a bland history:

Atlanta is not without memorable buildings. The 1929 Fox Theatre still delights as a Moorish fantasy. John Portman’s 1967 Hyatt Regency Hotel, the first of a national trend, attracted crowds with its atrium and revolving restaurant. Richard Meier’s design for the High Museum of Art catapulted both the client and the rising-star architect to prominence in 1983.

None, however, became the city icon, and the past 20 years have produced little but missed opportunities. The 1996 Olympics came and went without leaving a souvenir of architectural consequence. The 17th Street Bridge got DOTed.

Atlanta’s reputation is taking a well-deserved hit, as architect David M. Hamilton noted in his defense of the Buckhead Library:

In the relentless pursuit of reputation, wealth and growth, some important things have been overlooked. The city’s increasingly large but still struggling arts community fights against the perception (and too often the reality) that Atlanta is not an arts-friendly town. It is because of that, I believe, that the reported destruction of the Buckhead Library seemed to strike such a deep chord with so many artists and architects in the city.

The very notion that a developer seemingly committed to public art would advocate for the demolition of what is arguably one of the most significant pieces of art and architecture in Atlanta seemed to confirm their worst fears about the direction of the city.

Here’s an idea for a slogan:

ATLANTA
Just slightly more interesting than Orlando

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5 thoughts on “What’s wrong with Atlanta (and its environs) Leave a comment

  1. As a native myself, I can only say, “Amen, brother.”

    Don’t forget the mid-century Art Moderne Constitution building which sits downtown collecting rats and homeless squatters. Also, in addition to the waste that is/was the bullshit Atlanta slogan, you forgot how eager the state and city were to shell out money for the proposed NASCAR museum downtown. It’s funny – they haven’t been nearly as forthcoming with money for a world class symphony hall. Gee, I wonder why?

  2. Actually, the Fox Theatre demolition was worse than you describe: The land was going to be used for a parking lot for the Bellsouth office building. There was literally a wrecking ball in place before the Fox was saved at the last minute. One of Atlanta’s all-time WTF-were-they-thinking moments.

  3. Now I’ll need to check out that branch.

    I used to walk by that old building at Alabama & Forsyth. I do like that Moderne curve along the corner, but otherwise the building is fairly undistinguished–even subtracting years of neglect. If only we could count on a developer actually having some decent style…ha, ha! Oh, OK.

  4. Now I’ll need to check out that branch.

    I used to walk by that old building at Alabama & Forsyth. I do like that Moderne curve along the corner, but otherwise the building is fairly undistinguished–even subtracting years of neglect. If only we could count on a developer actually having some decent style…ha, ha! Oh, OK.

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