By Guest Columnist MELODY L. HARCLERODE, a local architect and 2015 president of the Atlanta chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA)
The metro Atlanta region finally enjoys solid economic growth after the Great Recession.
Large companies, such as Porsche, Mercedes-Benz, and athenahealth, have located their regional and national headquarters to the area. Numerous television and movie production companies are shifting their operations into various areas into and around the City of Atlanta.
As people spend more money for goods and services, the growing tax base allows city leaders in the metro area to better fund local schools as well as essential police, fire, justice, parks, and public works operations. These expenditures help to maintain a strong quality of life in neighborhoods.
With this improved economy, civic institutions and organizations are also in a better position to replace antiquated facilities with new ones and build new structures. As the 2015 president of the Atlanta chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA Atlanta), I see this moment as a golden opportunity for our civic and business leaders to fund the construction of great civic architecture in more communities around metro Atlanta.
The public often perceives great architecture as monuments only for the powerful and affluent, and historically much of our country’s most celebrated buildings served exclusive groups.
The Biltmore Estate, the largest privately owned home in the United States at 175,000 square feet, spellbinds visitors with its chateau-like beauty and opulence. Completed in 1895, architect Richard Morris Hunt designed the 250-room mansion in the rolling hills of Ashville, N.C. as a summer retreat for railroad magnate George Washington Vanderbilt and his family.
Further north, tourists flock to see the Chrysler Building in New York City, once the home of the Chrysler Corp. and the titleholder of the tallest building in world at 1,046 feet after its 1930 completion. Designed by architect William Van Alen, this tower features ornamentation inspired by the company’s automobile designs, and stands tall as one of the most unique skyscrapers in the country.
While these landmarks remain favorites among the public and architectural critics, great architecture does not need to be immense in size or budget. Well-designed, well-honored, and well-received structures do not have to be located in the most high-profile business districts.
To the contrary, great architecture can serve the public at a small scale and in modest communities.
In 2007, the AIA conducted a poll of nearly 2,000 people to name the 150 most appealing buildings in the United States. Large-scale and much-loved projects with their rank include the Empire State Building by William Lamb of Shreve, Lamb and Harmon (#1); Atlanta’s High Museum by Richard Meier FAIA (#96); and the Hyatt Regency Atlanta by John Portman FAIA (#103) as well as the Biltmore Estate (#8) and the Chrysler Building (#9).
In the midst of the big projects were stand-out little buildings. Modest in size at 4,350 square feet, yet substantial in elegance, the Ames Public Library (#58) in North Eaton, Ma. underscores architect H.H Richardson’s command of stone and granite on the exterior and his mastery of wood in the interior at its completion in 1883.
This list also features the Thorncrown Chapel (#60) by architect E. Fay Jones FAIA. Constructed in 1980 along the Ozarks Mountains of Arkansas, this Gothic-inspired, glassed chapel at a mere 1,440 square feet captivates visitors with an intricate, wood structural system and a fluctuating pattern of light and shadows.
Exciting, small, and prize-winning projects like the recently completed 23,000 square foot Anacostia Library in Washington, D.C. by architect Philip Freelon FAIA could also make a future list of the AIA 150 most appealing buildings.
Since I assumed the position of president, I have been asked, “Why doesn’t Atlanta have more great architecture?” I would like the question to be re-phrased as “How can we foster more great architecture in metro Atlanta?” Great architecture requires not just a gifted architect and project team for the exceptional design, but savvy clients for the support and funding of the projects as well.
Dallas has added beauty and pride to its diverse communities over the past 10 years with the construction of state and national award-winning park pavilions by a host of talented architects. Families and neighborhood groups now use the parks more than ever before.
Working with architects and project stakeholders, leaders around metro Atlanta should champion design excellence for the small projects such as libraries, fire stations, pavilions, recreation centers and art centers, along with the huge, high-profile landmarks.
The benefits of small, but great civic architecture can be enormous for our communities.
Note to Readers: The Atlanta chapter of the American Institute of Architects will host the AIA National Convention May 13-16, 2015.
Also Melody Harclerode has authored a recently-released book in collaboration with a team of AIA Atlanta volunteers called Discover ARCHITECTURE.