Let’s make Atlanta as beautiful as it can be — so advise five legacy architects who helped build our city

By Maria Saporta

Five “legacy” Atlanta architects came together on Sept. 21 and agreed that our city could be more beautiful.

The panel discussion, titled: Reflections — Atlanta Legacy Architects, was part of the AIA South Atlantic Region Conference that took place at Midtown’s Loew’s Atlanta hotel. It was a fitting location for five men to reflect on the evolution of Atlanta’s architectural heritage.

Tom Ventulett, chairman of the TVS (Thompson, Ventulett, Stainbeck & Associates) architectural firm, championed the message that Atlanta could and should be more beautiful.

“Our expressway system is one of the ugliest in the country,” Ventulett said.

Jerry Cooper, co-founder of the Cooper-Carry firm, did not dispute the claim, but he said: “we are probably saddled with what we’ve got.”

The lively discussion, which I tried my best to moderate, brought out the inter-connected and complicated relationships between the legacy architects — some whom had worked together, some who had competed with each other and two who actually are related by marriage.

Cooper’s wife is the sister of Stanley Daniels, chairman of the Jova/Daniels/Busby architectural firm.

Bill Stanley, co-founder of the Stanley Love-Stanley architectural firm, reminisced about the Atlanta that was — the beautiful and airy Peachtree Arcade at Five Points— now a distant memory.

George Heery, formerly with Heery International and now with the Brookwood Group, said that after the development of the interstate system, Atlanta’s population began to sprawl, leaving the urban core. Today, young professionals are moving back in, seeking an urban lifestyle where they can “live, work, play” and be able to walk, bike or ride transit.

Atlanta’s Legacy Architects: (left to right) Bill Stanley, George Heery, Jerry Cooper, Stanley Daniels and Tom Ventulett (Photo by Brooke Taylor — AIA Georgia)

But while this transformation has taken place, Ventulett said much more emphasis should be given to our physical environment. He was particularly pleased that Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said he would make that a priority.

In an August interview about a possible new stadium, Reed said it was important for Atlanta to present “our best selves” to the world.

He went on to say the following:

“We in the city of Atlanta are going to be more and more focused on beauty and aesthetics. Every city that is world class — a place you want to visit or live in — cares about aesthetics.”

The architects agreed that “there are a lot of things this city can do to be more beautiful,” and they welcomed the sentiment expressed by the mayor.

They talked about the notion of “citizen architects” — professionals who want to be constructively engaged in their community. As such, they said they should be at the table sharing their thoughts about how the city can enhance its attractiveness.

“There’s no better architectural city in the United States than Chicago,” Ventulett said, adding that former Mayor Richard Daley made it a point to be actively involved in the design of buildings and public spaces to make sure they lived up to Chicago’s standards. Specifically, Daley always asked for more flowers to be part of the cityscape.

The architects also agreed that the AIA (American Institute of Architects) could serve as “a vehicle” to speak about design and the city’s beauty.

The conversation reminded me of “The New South” speech given by the editor of the Atlanta Constitution — Henry Grady — on Dec. 22, 1886, when he talked about how Atlanta was burned to the ground by Gen. William Sherman during the Civil War.

“I want to say to General Sherman — who is considered an able man in our hearts, though some people think he is a kind of careless man about fire — that from the ashes he left us in 1864, we have raised a brave and beautiful city….”

Sadly, many of the beautiful buildings that have been built in Atlanta have been demolished — Terminal Station, Union Station, Loew’s Theatre, the Carnegie Library — to name a few.

(Cooper did jokingly say there might be a building or two that he had designed that he wishes had been torn down).

But the legacy architects were quick to say that several great buildings are still with us — such as the Fabulous Fox Theatre and the Academy of Medicine.

When asked about their favorite buildings, several mentioned the High Museum of Art — both the original Richard Meier building on Peachtree and the Renzo Piano addition that turned the space into a plaza.

And when it comes to selecting architects to design Atlanta’s future landmarks, they all agreed that local architects should not be given preferential treatment.

Instead, developers should seek the “best architectural talent that they can find” and let Atlanta’s architects compete among the best.

One theme is that Atlanta — like other modern cities — is constantly evolving, providing ample new opportunities to improve its architectural attractiveness while making its street-scapes more people friendly with wide sidewalks and lush landscaping.

Yes, Grady did see a more beautiful Atlanta rise from the ashes. We just have to keep trying to raise a braver and more beautiful city.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

10 replies
  1. Cary Aiken says:

    It is very unfortunate that the Georgia Tech Foundation is moving ahead with plans to demolish 2/3 of the Landmark Crum and Forster building in midtown. This callous stewardship of our built environment is a large factor in our degraded cityscape.Report

    Reply
  2. Rob Augustine says:

    Our own ATL architects are wondering “What went wrong” here over the years. The city’s loss of appeal will take decades to restore. By emphasizing paved roadwork, with mimimal and unpleasant sidewalks, and concrete facades with narrow entrances, we have destroyed ground level attractiveness and walkability. Look at the stretch of Peachtree from 14th at Colony Square north to 17th. Build that look going forward in the rest of the city. Maybe retail storefronts and shoppers will return some day. By all means emulate Chicago as stated in Maria’s column. Just do something different, please. No more concrete without some sense of scale and pedestrian attractiveness. Report

    Reply
  3. scfranklin says:

    I have two reactions.
    1. “Beauty is as beauty does” and Atlantans in the city and region have been badly battered by the Great Recession with record high unemployment, high foreclosures, wicked immigration law and now talk of denial of healthcare benefits for those in need. I’ll take beauty from the inside any day.
    2. Atlanta’s parks are beautiful  among them Adams, Grant,  Piedmont, North Avenue  as are the new Beltine pedestrian and bike trails and the Botanical Gardens.
    Thanks for reminding me to think about what is right about Atlanta as I think about where we can improve.Report

    Reply
    • Guest3363 says:

       @scfranklin
       The Atlanta Botanical Gardens is not a park.  It’s operated by a private entity and charges admission.  Most Atlantans cannot afford its “beauty”.Report

      Reply
  4. Rob Augustine says:

    This morning started off reflecting on Maria’s article. Of course years of experience with all of this leads either to indifference because nothing much can be done to change poured concrete, or at best some glimmer of hope that things will somehow be different in years ahead. That the process will be reversed eventually.

    This reminded me of two things: First, Emory’s efforts to redo its campus architecture. To change as much as possible from those cubist concrete monoliths with no appeal whatsover to the human spirit. The second thing was the major redo of the High Museum. The elimination of the stark, concrete flying buttress walled exterior to create an open, inviting presence on Peachtree. Both of these efforts were successful. Clearly the High’s original building is now attractive and inviting.

    So what we need is no less than a civic effort to reconstruct and reface those buildings that are so uninviting with cavelike entrances and all the worst about architecture. Perhaps one day, as the economy and budgets allow, we will see a resurgence of downtown with some structures redone to make them once again part of the fabric of the city’s streetlife. And this effort will no doubt be accompanied by new retail and stores and people who will once again enjoy downtown as I did so much while I was growing up here.

    .Report

    Reply
  5. ATLpeace says:

    Living in a great city like Atlanta it is easy to become a ‘cup-half-full’ citizen. When thinking about how to “make Atlanta as beautiful as it can be” I am reminded of two quotes. A) From Pericles, born ~2,500 years ago and referred to as “History’s most productive mayor (ancient Athens).”  He stated: “All things good on this Earth flow into the City because of the City’s greatness.
    Well, we were great once. Can we not be great again?” And B) Plato: “The beginning is the most important part of the work… This City is what it is because our citizens are what they are.”Report

    Reply
  6. ATLpeace says:

    Living in a great city like Atlanta it is easy to become a ‘cup-half-full’ citizen. When thinking about how to “make Atlanta as beautiful as it can be” I am reminded of two quotes. A) From Pericles, born ~2,500 years ago and referred to as “History’s most productive mayor (ancient Athens).”  He stated: “All things good on this Earth flow into the City because of the City’s greatness. Well, we were great once. Can we not be great again?” And B) Plato: “The beginning is the most important part of the work… This City is what it is because our citizens are what they are.”Report

    Reply

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