Editor’s Note: Buildings are changing Atlanta and the way Atlantans live

Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Marriott Marquis, Fox Theatre—these iconic structures have shaped our city
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Mohsen Mostafavi, Atlanta’s Marriott Marquis
Mostafavi’s book contains spectacular new photos of Portman’s work by Iwan Baan, including this image of Atlanta’s Marriott Marquis. An exhibit of Baan’s work is planned to open at the High Museum in 2018.

Photograph courtesy of Iwan Baan Studio and John Portman and Associates

Our offices are located downtown, right across from Peachtree Center and the Hyatt Regency—which pretty much gives us a front row seat to life in Atlanta. In the 14 years we’ve been here, we’ve witnessed spontaneous celebrations and sudden tragedies. Our workdays have been interrupted by snowstorms, picket lines, and SWAT teams.

Most entertaining, though, are the conventions. Our year starts optimistically, with the fresh young faces of the Passion conference, the catchy drumbeats of the Honda Battle of the Bands, and two-story banners hawking Teeny Tys at AmericasMart. Spring brings monster trucks, volleyball players, and fans of anthropomorphism who dress in animal costumes. Countless other groups filter through, all looking alike even when there isn’t a designated T-shirt or dress code. Cultural anthropologists would have a field day here. It’s an enviable vantage point for journalists.

However, like many Atlantans, we have a love-hate relationship with the concrete behemoths lining our section of Peachtree Street. Brutalist buildings are an acquired taste. Today’s architects design projects to face outward, placing their grandest features at street-level for passersby to admire. The Mad Men era’s inward-facing towers can seem, well, unfriendly. We have come to take their undulating 20-story atriums, glass elevators, and rotating restaurants for granted.

But let’s not make the same mistake as developers who wanted to tear down the “outdated” Fox Theatre in the mid 1970s. Want to rekindle your wonder for downtown’s midcentury skyscrapers? Just visit the Hyatt Regency or the Marriott Marquis with a child.

A publicist recently sent me a new Harvard monograph called Portman’s America & Other Speculations edited by Mohsen Mostafavi, dean of the graduate school of design. In his introduction, the professor writes that John Portman’s atriums were designed “both as participatory theater and as surveillance—watching and being watched.” In more familiar lingo, the soaring lobbies are the rooms where it happens. Without Portman’s hotels, would people-watching be half as much fun at DragonCon?

Humans shape buildings, but they also shape us. This year’s edition of our annual Groundbreakers Awards is dedicated to visionary architecture. Of course, the soon-to-be-iconic Mercedes-Benz Stadium immediately comes to mind. But more subtle revolutions—New Urbanist communities, historic renovations, sustainable construction—are also changing the way we live.

This article originally appeared in our November 2017 issue.

 

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