In the South we take our college football seriously. This past Saturday morning, thousands of fans filled Marietta Street and Centennial Olympic Park awaiting the grand opening of the College Football Hall of Fame.
Designed by tvsdesign, which also designed the nearby Georgia Aquarium and many of the buildings south of Marietta Street, this shrine to the greatest players and moments in college football history is the latest addition to the rapidly expanding cultural precinct centered on Centennial Olympic Park. From a planning perspective, the burgeoning district is a boon to the city. With more centralized attractions, and with the streetcar someday soon connecting the area to the Auburn Avenue corridor, visitors and locals will have better access to these cultural amenities.
The towering brown, abstracted football (clad in Trespa panels like nearby Center for Civil and Human Rights) that protrudes from the hall’s façade leaves no doubt about the building’s identity. Rising three stories above the entrance on Marietta Street, it is, however, an ungainly shape, inexplicably sliced in the middle by a large picture window with an unnecessarily large silver frame.
The rest of the Marietta Street frontage is a three-story building with a façade of frosted glass featuring an applique of a vertically displayed football field. Hashes, numbers and silhouetted football players appear haphazardly on the windows, with many of the ticks (yard markers) spaced irregularly or askew. Adapting the football field so that the window mullions would serve as yard lines might have better united the building with the collaged images.
The architecture is generally lackluster, but the experience is actually quite good. Gallagher & Associates, in collaboration with tvsdesign, created an environment that immerses the visitor in college football, even fostering game-day excitement. And it can be personalized: RFID chips imbedded in each ticket allow visitors to customize displays to feature their favorite teams.
Passing beneath the football, the visitor enters a tunnel, wrapped in video boards, simulating the sensation of running down a stadium entry tunnel onto a field. The low tunnel leads to a light-filled three-story atrium. The back wall is covered in an impressive display of football helmets from every school that fields an NCAA football team. A mural by Steve Penley of important places and moments in college football hangs over the check-in kiosks. The scale and featured installations make this the most impressive space in the building.
The Hall of Fame is enshrined on the third floor, in the top of the “football.” The space is appropriately restrained, using dark colors and deep wood panels to make the space feel intimate. The inductees are listed, by year, around the room, with plenty of space for future growth. The large picture window overlooking Marietta Street[C1] floods [MK2] the room with light and offers a view of the skyline. The eastern orientation of the building results in direct solar exposure in the morning hours, necessitating shades to be drawn. Perhaps louvers on the exterior of the building would help mitigate the sunlight — and clarify the expression of the football shape from the street.
The second floor galleries are straightforward spaces. The material palette of concrete, exposed metal and brick is suggestive of college stadia without mimicking any one in particular. Within the galleries are multi-media and interactive exhibits that explore the history of college football and associated traditions (marching band, rivalries, tailgating, etc.) as well as some of the most famous places and moments in the game.
From the galleries, visitors view a 45-yard–long synthetic-turf football field. A top-lit, cathedral-like space, the “Skill Zone” provides shared light to the gallery spaces through floor-to-ceiling windows.
At field level, visitors can kick field goals and toss a ball around under a roof made of a translucent fabric similar to the Georgia Dome. The field, which doubles as an event space, is accessed from the atrium, and is unfortunately more impressive when viewed from the galleries above than at field level, where it feels a bit like walking into a large high school gymnasium. [Full disclosure, I spent five seasons on the field of the Superdome with the Tulane University Marching Band, so I went in with highly elevated expectations.] However, given the spatial constraints of the site, the space is well executed, and concession carts ringing the field contribute to a game-day feeling.
Visitors exit the complex through a gift shop, seemingly the only way to exit any attraction anymore, which fronts Marietta Street. The shop is accessible to those passing by, and a full-service Chick-fil-a between the shop and the adjacent parking garage adds urban amenity to the street. The façade of the parking deck, perforated corrugated metal panels, is pleasing, and the entire complex is a welcome replacement to the surface lot that formerly occupied the site.
For those who love the game, the National College Football Hall of Fame is definitely worth a visit. From the moment you walk (or run) down the tunnel into the building, you are transported to game-day at your favorite school. For those in it for the architecture, it might be best to sit this one out.