ArtsATL > Art+Design > Year in Review: Urbanity on rise, literally and figuratively, as design takes to streets

Year in Review: Urbanity on rise, literally and figuratively, as design takes to streets

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The construction crane is once again Atlanta’s official bird. Development, pent-up since 2008, is in full swing. Apartment buildings are going up everywhere you turn, and “urbanity” is in, even in the suburbs, where Avalon, a live-shop-play community, recently opened in Alpharetta. (See Curbed Atlanta‘s top ten developments.)

The city, though, is where it’s at, and not just for millennials. Buckhead Atlanta, the ritzy development on Peachtree Road, might seem the antithesis of Ponce City Market, the hip development underway on Ponce de Leon Avenue, but they share core values. Both are mixed-use. Both weave themselves into the city fabric. (Granted, that’s difficult for a behemoth like the old Sears, but it will have a direct link to the Atlanta BeltLine, it offers a shuttle bus to MARTA, and it preserved a historic building.) Both are neighborhood-centric.

These developments are attractive and efficient. They and their kind will also be absolutely necessary if this construction boom is not accompanied by transit improvements: the traffic will be such that we won’t be able to drive anywhere except in the dead of night.

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The Center for Civil and Human Rights. Taken in its totality — as a work of architecture, exhibit design and substance — the center is the high-water mark of 2014. The Freelon Group created a dramatic marker and envelope for the stories within. The Rockwell Group and George C. Wolfe marshaled space, color, sound, text, lighting, film, video, photography, art, found objects and technology to create an immersive, moving narrative. Praising the civil rights exhibit’s “emotional roller coaster that jolts visitors at every turn,” Interior Design Magazine awarded it Best of the Year in its exhibitions category. Kudos to CEO Doug Shipman for trusting in the power of design.

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Mi Casa, Your Casa. When Renzo Piano designed the High Museum campus in 2002, he envisioned the “piazza” as the hub of the Woodruff Arts Center. But Atlanta isn’t Genoa; it is short on pedestrians. And the plaza is too far from Peachtree Street to lure what few there are. To be a people space it would have to become a destination.

This summer, Mi Casa, Your Casa‘s 40 fire-engine red, open-frame “houses” made it so. Designed by Héctor Esrawe and Ignacio Cadena at the behest of the High’s decorative arts curator Sarah Schleuning and director of education Virginia Shearer, the forms, which echoed Roy Lichtenstein’s shape-shifting House III, made a dramatic statement on the Sifly Piazza.

But it was less an art object than a setting for lots of other things to happen. Its hammocks attracted visitors to hang out. It “housed” children’s activities and festivals. It became a stage for local arts groups. As a stimulus to creativity, a place-maker and people-pleaser, Mi Casa, Your Casa was a great success.

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 100: A Century of Design, at the Museum of Design Atlanta, took viewers into the vaults of the American Institute of Graphic Arts. The exhibition suggested not only the graphic design field’s aesthetic variety but also its impact on us. The exhibit is an example of what can happen when individuals step up: one-man-band Doug Grimmett, president of Primal Screen, who not only came up with the concept and helped select the artifacts but also designed and financed the show.

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