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Saturday
Nov262005

A quick visit to Atlantic Station (Atlanta)

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(Pictured: The Park District at Atlantic Station)

Atlantic Station is a new mixed-use development in Atlanta's Mid-Town section (MARTA: Arts Center).  The development is now open for business (but still under construction), and I had the opportunity to visit for a few hours in November.

In some regards, it is an outstanding example of "new urban" infill development.  It is arguably better than its sister development, famed Easton Town Center near Columbus, Ohio. Easton is a bit too much "lifestyle center," not quite a "real" place, despite delightful architecture.  Atlantic Station is better because of the complete integration of residential units above the retail and offices.  And, better because it is integrated into a real city grid, built on a brownfield.  Access to the MARTA subway system and the inclusion of mainstream grocer Publix makes this the real deal. 

Another notable feature is the delightful "Park District," which adds a certain freshness to the "condos-on-the-park" idea implemented elsewhere in New Urban developments.  The area features modern--yes, MODERN--condo units fronting what is possibly the most beautiful detention pond I've ever seen. Odd, but somehow appropriate, IKEA terminates the vista.  This area is truly a great success in place-making.

Where Atlantic Station falls short is its disjointed, mis-scaled, misaligned, and sometimes oversimplified architecture. While there are several outstanding buildings, I lost count of missed opportunities for "terminated vistas," a hallmark of good urban design. 


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Where's Dillards? (A missed opportunity for a terminated vista)

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World's least impressive Banana Republic (another missed opportunity)
Dillards department store, for example, holds a terrific location at the end of the street, yet its facade is shifted severely off-center, leaving a fabulous framed view of a couple insignificant windows in an otherwise unarticulated wall.  Elsewhere, a prominent view from major Atlanta streets features a thoroughly dismal cinema building, fronted by an underscaled retail building of incongruous style.  Other streets offer two-, three-, and four- story buildings framing a view of a one story retail building of no consequence.   

As for retail tenants, it appears to be most of "the usual suspects," with a few new entries from the Raving Brands stable of restaurants.  Furnishings retailer West Elm is another tenant I have not yet seen in similar developments.

Even with missed opportunities and (some) disappointing architecture, this stands to become a highly successful development and outstanding example of real mixed-use, traditional neighborhood design in practice. It will be interesting to visit once all the tenants are open and all the condos are finished.

 

Additional photos are posted in the GOOD EXAMPLES area of this website.

(Editorial note: these are observations from a three-hour site visit.  The author is fully aware of the challenges in bringing a design to fruition, and the compromises that occur along the way.  Comments from others knowledgeable about the project are welcome!)

 

Comment from Jacob Lindsey:

I also had the chance to visit Atlantic Station over the weekend. I don't know what percentage of list members have actually visited or heard of this project, but it is the largest-scale infill project I have ever witnessed. The entire retail component (about 5 acres) sits atop one massive parking structure, which intregrates rather gracefully with the street-level experience. And while you're right that the architecture and urban design are mostly regrettable, the developers deserve credit for including retailers such as Publix and the UPS Store in the project's center.

And this project is proof that NU principles have permeated the cultures of finance and development.

Comment from Caleb Racicot:

I believe the greatest lasting formal attribute of Atlantic Station will not be its buildings, but its urbanism. With time, poorly terminated vistas can be repaired and mediocre architecture replaced. But the project's interconnected streets and public spaces will remain and become only richer as it ages and changes.

More significantly, the project has fundamentally changed mainstream Atlanta's notions of the public realm. For the first time in over 50 years, there is, in fact, a "high street" in the city where people can shop, dine, stroll, or just sit and partake in the urban experience. To this extent, I see AS an almost an "incubator" for the re-awakening urbanism a few blocks away. It is an entry-point for suburbanites enticed by city-living, but too scared to move into an older neighborhood.

Last week, Mayor Franklin said Atlantans need to learn how to walk again. It is my belief that this project will lead the way towards that noble goal.

Comment from Lucy Rowland:

Excellent observations and summation. For those who were not around from start until groundbreaking, Atlantic Station was the first EPA brownfield site approved until new development guidelines for nonindustrial uses. DPZ consulted in the original design, but local firms weren't very happy about that and I believe a lot of the DPZ
work was jettisoned very early.

It's about 145 acres that was badly contaminated, but wonderfully located very near Georgia Tech, across the freeway from Midtown and the wonderful cultural and social climate there (although there was a LOT of unhappiness with the bridge from residents on the east side).  Atlantic Station certainly has been through fits and starts, but the developers never succombed to turning it into a gazillion condos and apartments as another almost-Buckhead address (if you've been through Buckhead at 7 p.m. on a Saturday, you'd wonder what the hype is all about--gridlock and worse).

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Reader Comments (1)


I believe the greatest lasting formal attribute of Atlantic Station will not be its buildings, but its urbanism. With time, poorly terminated vistas can be repaired and mediocre architecture replaced. But the project's interconnected streets and public spaces will remain and become only richer as it ages and changes.

More significantly, the project has fundamentally changed mainstream Atlanta's notions of the public realm. For the first time in over 50 years, there is, in fact, a "high street" in the city where people can shop, dine, stroll, or just sit and partake in the urban experience. To this extent, I see AS an almost an "incubator" for the re-awakening urbanism a few blocks away. It is an entry-point for suburbanites enticed by city-living, but too scared to move into an older neighborhood.

Last week, Mayor Franklin said Atlantans need to learn how to walk again. It is my belief that this project will lead the way towards that noble goal.
November 27, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterCaleb Racicot

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