Next week the City of Atlanta will host the grand opening of a new art gallery in the heart of downtown. The transformation of the lobby of the former Atlanta Journal-Constitution building, spearheaded by the Atlanta Office of Cultural Affairs, has been more than two years in the making.
Following the AJC’s donation of the building at 72 Marietta Street in late 2010, the city hosted a “Re-design” competition. From the entrants, local firm Stanley Beaman & Sears (SBS) was selected to complete the design.
The renovated space, called Gallery 72, marks the second SBS designed art facility to open this year in Atlanta. The Zuckerman Museum of Art at Kennesaw State University opened in March.
Set in a very different environment from the Zuckerman, Gallery 72 is a manifestation of the city’s effort to increase pedestrian traffic downtown. The gallery will feature rotating exhibits and is intended to draw foot traffic from the street to enliven what was drab lobby space. The first exhibition, Foreword, features six artists with local ties, highlighting Atlanta’s growing prominence in the art world.
The building was originally designed by the now defunct firm of Jova/Daniels/Busby and was completed in 1972. Since 2010, only two city offices have occupied the underutilized eight-story building. Lacking a definitive purpose, the city created the gallery spaces to be a catalyst for a renaissance of the once prominent Atlanta thoroughfare.
In a further effort to revitalize the area near Five Points, Mayor Kasim Reed announced in March that the city would relocate 750 employees to the building and rebrand it Two City Plaza. Reed sees the building as a component of “a vibrant center of commerce.”
The renewal includes two galleries — a total of 3,400 square feet — flanking the rejuvenated lobby space. At the corner of the building, addressing the street, the south gallery will house exhibits that aren’t light sensitive and which can be seen by visitors as well as passers-by. The inviting all-white gallery is filled with natural light.
The north gallery is tucked into the building, providing a controlled environment for sensitive works. The space is painted black, making it conducive for displays of digital artwork. Given the color and limited natural lighting, the gallery feels more intimate than the south gallery space.
The two spaces serve as foils, providing space for a wide variety of art and, without permanent partitions, able to accommodate changing exhibits.
While the two gallery spaces will feature rotating exhibitions, the major design intervention by SBS goes beyond the interior to the outside of the quasi-brutalist building.
SBS formed a six-story tall marquee from narrow white aluminum panels, visible from blocks away. The panels, forming extruded ribbons, emerge from behind the reception desk, wrap up the wall and twist across the ceiling before pushing through the entry wall and shooting skyward.
The ribbons then align to form the marquee on the outside concrete wall, which has been painted a bright yellow-green, evocative of the pollen that coats the city every spring. The serpentine ribbons snake up the façade, masking the intensity of the bright yellow-green wall. The twisting form alludes to the conveyors used in the production of newspapers, a subtle homage to the former home of the AJC.
The team at SBS developed the sinuous lines to also reference the nearby rail junction located in the Gulch, evoking the history of the city.
The ribbons are a fantastic sculptural element, and their transition from wall treatment to ceiling fixture to exterior signage is exciting and activates both the exterior and interior of the building. The architects have succeeded in their effort to create a space that will draw people from the street into the building.
Gallery 72 opens on May 8. With the upcoming infusion of more workers into the building, the transformation of the Marietta Street corridor — once envisioned as a hub for high-tech companies — may begin to take hold.
For more information regarding the opening of the galleries at 72 Marietta Street, consult the website Atlanta Office of Cultural Affairs.