Modern Atlanta, reimagined: What’s next for the popular architecture tour

The annual event is changing its name to the Atlanta Design Festival to reflect its broadening reach
Modern Atlanta

Photograph courtesy of K Souki Design Studio

This year’s Modern Atlanta festival runs June 2 to 11, with the popular Atlanta architecture tour on the second weekend. Now entering its second decade, the event is changing its name to the Atlanta Design Festival. We talked with founders Elayne DeLeo and Bernard McCoy about the new name and how their mission has evolved.

Bernard McCoy
Bernard McCoy

Photograph by Erin Brauer

How did MA get started?
Bernard: I was organizing monthly gatherings with creatives, mostly architects. We used to meet at Octane. That was ground zero, where it all began. These architects were employed, but they weren’t doing what they loved, which was contemporary architecture. We did an event with Knoll at Design Within Reach; then we did some open houses, which drew hundreds of people. So I got the notion to do this tour. Elayne had just moved to Atlanta from Scottsdale, Arizona, and had reached out to me. So we met and agreed to collaborate. The 2007 tour launched at Context gallery and attracted more than 500 people. With this turnout, we felt something was brewing. We wanted to serve this audience in a stronger way. We chose to form a business rather than a nonprofit because we wanted to keep creative control.

When did you move to England?
Bernard: We launched in 2007, and that same year I decided to move to the U.K. Maybe it’s the visionary in me, but I felt it was important for MA to have an international presence. The move allowed me to meet people in positions of power. For example, the Design Museum in London asked me to be on the nominating committee for designs of the year. That put us in the same party with people like Paola Antonelli from MoMA [a senior curator at the Museum of Modern Art]. But I still have a place in Castleberry. Everything I do comes back to Atlanta in some shape or form.

Has Atlanta finally embraced contemporary design?
Elayne: We can’t take all the credit, but we feel we’ve influenced a much more robust growth in contemporary residential architecture. We see a lot more modern homes going up. When a visitor goes inside a home, they really experience how the homeowners live in it. And since the economy started to come back, especially in the last two or three years, ADAC has seen a lot of new showrooms coming in, and they’re really very modern or contemporary. I’m not seeing a lot of traditional furniture showrooms opening up.

Why did you change the event name to the Atlanta Design Festival?
Bernard: After 10 years we have a lot more confidence. We’ll always be about architecture, but MA is becoming involved in the bigger picture. Many U.S. cities have ignored how design can drive the economy. Furniture isn’t just about design. Someone has to be paid to make it, to transport it, to receive it at the dock. Cities like London and Milan understand this, and we see the same potential for design to drive the economy in Atlanta. We want to help shape the city’s growth.

Elayne DeLeo
Elayne DeLeo

Photograph by Stefan Kjartansson

Tell me about this year’s exhibition.
Elayne: This year we have four days of the expo. The first two days are aimed at professionals, so we’ll offer talks and continuing education for architects and designers. Saturday and Sunday we’re opening the expo from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. so that the public can check it out.

Your annual guidebook has become a collector’s item. How has it evolved over the last decade?
Elayne: The first year it was a small book that focused on the tour. Since then it’s evolved to include editorial and more international content. We do a lot on transportation not just here in Atlanta but all over the world. This year we’re working with a German designer we met at the London Design Festival.
Bernard: It will have more than 300 pages and a fun, interactive component. It’s really a special edition. We spend a lot of time in the book addressing international architecture because we want to embrace competition. Without competition, design starts to languish. We always need to evolve.

This year ADAC is serving as home base for the Design Economy Expo and other festival events. The Atlanta tour includes three commercial locations and 16 homes. Tickets are $40 (for metro-area stops as well as satellite tours in Athens and Asheville) or $90 for a VIP pass that includes a shuttle to select Atlanta tour locations.

This article originally appeared in our Summer 2017 issue of Atlanta Magazine’s HOME.