Atlanta History Center International Design Competition, 2nd place
Stanley Beaman & Sears Architecture, 2011
Wings of Change: Re-shaping the Past, Present, and Future

The story of the phoenix is a well-worn metaphor for the history of Atlanta. Reborn from its own ashes, the mythological bird symbolizes reinvention, difficulties and breakthroughs, a resurgent spirit and a shining unwritten future full of hope. Likewise, the newly designed Atlanta History Center must be re-conceived to capture and reflect the uplifting energy coursing through the city. The diversity and spirit of Atlanta can no longer be reflected by a series of linear, static, black box galleries and dusty displays. In short, the time for the Atlanta History Center is not the past – the time is right now.

A newly defined architecture for the Atlanta History Center is shaped by the embedded cultural and physical forces that flow through its walls and the surrounding site. The formal gesture emerges from the landscape, flies through the center of the building boldly redefining the interior spaces, and bursts forth into the community with a grand, uplifting sweep of its wings. At once sheltering, inviting and dynamic, the new museum is created by flexible, adaptable, interactive, immersive zones.

The story of Atlanta can never be told in a simple chronology – to do so would miss the complex tapestry woven from history, culture, social movements, sweat equity and shifting ideals. History is as much about the present and future as it is the past.

It is true that our city has been shaped by war and racial struggles, but it has also been shaped by families and community, by music and entrepreneurship, by respect for the stories of the past and a commitment to the unwritten narratives of future generations. All of these stories overlap and combine to create a living theatre developed over time that gives form to the city even as our lives enter the document. Our stories are only the beginning. The challenge facing the Atlanta History Center is to serve and preserve the past, present, and future every single day.

Knowledge Hub: At the heart of the space lies the Knowledge Hub, an interactive and immersive display engine that incorporates an unprecedented ability to access historic documents with the touch of a finger. Chart a new course through history, uncover unexpected connections between artifacts, and leave your own imprint in the living archive. The Knowledge Hub simultaneously orients the visitor and unveils the vast array of museum offerings currently hidden away within its mysterious archives.

Discovery Portals: Gone are the days of rigid rows of desks in a linoleum-tiled classroom. New interactive learning cores provide direct visual access to the spotlighted collection and a fully immersive educational experience that expands upon exhibit themes and engages a range of multi-generational audiences in active learning, discovery and research.

Hall of Enlightenment: The dynamic, wing-like ceiling boldly redefines possibilities for flexible museum space and provides a clear spatial hierarchy between the new atrium and the garden overlook/ballroom pre-function space. Cross section panels allow displays to emerge and vanish into the spaces between the ribs while concealing necessary building systems such as ductwork, lighting and sprinkler piping hung from a unistrut framing system above. Much more than an exhibition system, the new structure symbolizes history as a cross-sectional analysis of place, population, culture, and time.

Rather than acting as a repository for things that have already happened, the newly designed museum is the flexible stage for the great things happening right now as well as those yet to occur. As we progress along the newly articulated museum axis, a bold architectural form takes shape: one that engages the casual spectator and turns them into an active participant in creating the city’s ongoing story. This is a living, breathing, moving space of discovery. The swooping axis reorients visitors, scholars, students and families to the wonders contained within its walls as well as the possibilities of what lies beyond.

With thousands upon thousands of deep and rich narratives to shelter under the wings of one roof, the architecture of a reinvented and re-imagined Atlanta History Center must capture this uplifting sense of progress and possibility in order to reflect the genuine nature of the place and the people. No longer content to play it safe, the building boldly reaches up and out to the world and invites us all to make history.

(credit: all images provided courtesy of Stanley Beaman & Sears)

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