Box 18, Folder 24, Document 1

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Reprinted from Atlanta Magazine, March, 1967


ATLANTA @ VOLUME 6, NUMBER 11



ANATOMY OF A SUPERSCHOOL

The master plan for the stunning, split-level Georgia State College of the

future is still largely on the drawing board, but need, logic, and vision are

solidly in its corner, and the first steps have already been taken.

By Bruce GALPHIN

Aw ATLANTA ALDERMAN looked with a mixture of admiration
and doubt at the plans for the Georgia State College of the
future, sprawling over ten blocks in the heart of the city, hand-
some buildings connected by tree-lined pedestrian plazas
straddling the busy streets below. “Mr. Steiner,” he asked, “do
you believe all this will ever be?”

His skepticism was appropriate. A few years ago the school’s
home was a converted six-story garage, and before that it
had occupied at least eight other sites in Atlanta under eight
different names. But to Andrew Steiner, the Robert & Company
architect who has spent two years developing the handsome
and ambitious plan, the answer about its fulfillment is an em-
phatic “yes.”

In fact, to a degree few Atlantans realize, the transforma-
tion is well under way. Georgia State already occupies four
buildings; another is nearing completion; three more already
have been funded and let to design contract. The Board of
Regents has endorsed the entire master plan, and the city has
approved the first two pedestrian bridges across Decatur
Street that tangibly mark it as a split-level campus.

The multi-level, or “platform city,” feature of State’s master
plan is of great significance functionally, aesthetically, and
symbolically.

Functionally, its the device that makes the whole scheme
work; how to transform a few city blocks criss-crossed by
heavily travelled streets into a campus for 25,000 students hy
1975. By confining through traffic, deliveries, service, utilities,
and parking to lower levels, the plan will permit a vehicle-free
upper level connecting forty-four acres of campus.

The aesthetics of the future campus depends heavily on the
platform concept. Principally, rising above city traffic will
create a feeling of unity. This will be emphasized by land-
seaping, notably a tree-lined promenade above Decatur Street
from the expressway to Courtland. But the platform, com-
bined with landscaping and judicious placement of the build-
ings, will also allow dividing the campus into more intimate
areas: smaller plazas, places for sitting to read on a warm day
or informal gatherings, sites to display sculpture and other
works of art.

As a symbol, a platform campus is peculiarly appropriate
io Atlanta, for downtown Atlanta itself is largely split-level.
Many neweomers (and quite a few older hands) don’t real-

ize how much of what appears to be “street level” in the cen-
tral city is really viaduct level. Few have explored the dusty
old Atlanta beneath today’s busy streets, though recently there
have been suggestions of making it a tourist attraction. Even
before the turn of the century, Atlantans had been forced to
grapple with the fact of the city’s sharp gradients and had
come to a solution similar to the one now proposed for
Georgia State. There are two main distinctions: Old Atlanta
sealed off its earlier level from the light, whereas the Geor-
gia State platform will be pierced to provide light and beau-
ty of sight below; and even more important, older Atlanta
made the mistake of letting cars come upstairs.

Though in a sense Atlanta already is one, the platform
city is a hot item of innovation among civic designers around
the country. If implemented on schedule, the Georgia State
complex would be a trail-blazer. It’s doubtful whether the
example could be widely imitated on such a scale. For a flat
city, the cost could be staggering. But Atlanta’s topography
is especially suitable. In the six or so blocks from Five Points
eastward to the expressway, the altitude drops more than fifty
feet. The original garage building of Georgia State sits on
ground at least thirty feet higher than the lower end of the
proposed campus.

Thus an artificially raised main campus level would be con-
sistent with what Atlanta already has done to conquer its roll-
ing terrain. It also would complement the recently announced
commercial platform city planned to span the railroad com-
plex north and east of the State Capitol.

The Steiner plan explains how the new pedestrian plaza
could be woven into the fabric of the surrounding city with-
out any rough seams or sharp edges. The reason that so few
Atlantans realize how much of their downtown is artificially
raised is that there are comparatively few visible seams. They
can be seen from Central Avenue or Courtland Street, for
these streets cross the railroad gulch. And an even more dra-
matic view of how Atlanta raised itself up off its tracks can
be seen from the Techwood and Hunter Street viaducts, which
span the vast rail yards that probably will be platformed
over in future development of the city.

_ But for the most part, since buildings have been constructed
right up against the downtown viaducts with few openings to
the old city below, the viaducting is not so obvious. Under
the Steiner plan, one would not lose all sense of the natural
cround level at Georgia State. The present streets would con-
tinue to provide vehicular access to the campus, and the
spans above would be pierced to admit light and views of
the campus. To avoid abrupt drops around the periphery of
the campus, Mr. Steiner proposes gradual dropping of the pe-
destrian level and extensive use of landscaping. Further, he
suggests that the future campus’ high-rise buildings — except
for the administrative center which is the focal point of the
entire plan — be placed on the outer edges, thus blending
in with the city’s other tall structures, private and public.

High-rise buildings are not ideal for heavily used classes.
Either an unreasonable amount of space must be devoted to
elevators, or there is an intolerable delay for students rush-
ing to class. Since the entire 1975 campus is designed so that
there will be no more than a ten-minute walk from any one
class to any other, the question of building heights raises a
problem. For accommodating as many as 32,000 people (in-
cluding faculty and staff) on a campus of less than fifty acres
necessarily means vertical expansion. Mr. Steiner solves
the problem by keeping heavily used classroom buildings rela-
tively low; the taller structures would be used for such activi-
ties as administration, research, and housing.

Georgia State President Noah Langdale, Jr., with customary
enthusiasm and verbal color declares that “the platform com-
plex resembles the raised plazas of the classic city of Venice.”
There is indeed, in addition to the modern elements, a flavor
of old European capitals when monarchs had the power and
the money to raze the old and ugly and build whole new cities
in a centuries-long rivalry to create the jewel of the continent.
The platformed Georgia State would have a unity and a sweep
that evokes — well, maybe Venice or maybe Mr. Steiner’s
native Vienna.

The platform would begin to the west of Courtland; drop
slightly below Courtland, which itself is a viaduct; rise back
up; and then begin an uninterrupted sweep almost all the
way to the expressway. This would be the main axis of the
new campus. The minor axis, crossing at the administration
building, would be a smaller spine extending northeastward
along Piedmont to a point beyond the rear of the old Mu-
nicipal Auditorium. Decatur, Piedmont, and Butler all would
be bridged.

Because the natural ground level drops rapidly toward
the east, there would be room for as many as four layers of
parking below the plaza, an important consideration, since
estimates for the 1975 demand run from about 4,400 to
8.750 spaces, depending on the availability of rapid transit
and other public transportation.

Ow theoanchattered platform above, according to the Steiner
Pie; “tendseaped plazas are one of the most important unify-
ing elements of the campus and should be designed to create
a rich and varied environment, including intimate seating and
reading areas. Other important parts of the landscape treat-
ment are such elements as street furniture and the many
small details which can make life on the campus pleasant
and exciting. By street furniture we mean all the objects that
furnish our sidewalks, such as lighting standards, signs, bas-
kets, benches, flower boxes and containers, vending machines,
kiosks, and shelters from wind and rain. In some of the open
spaces, book stalls, flower stalls, and even outdoor cafes and
small structures for sale of soft drinks and sandwiches could
be an important part of the overall design.” Hurt Park, the
only major greenery that relieves the starkness of the pres-
ent complex, would be drawn even more intimately to the
future campus when the block of Gilmer Street between the
park and the college is closed.

; In its expansion, Georgia State is performing the not-at-all-
incidental job of urban renewal. Most of the existing campus
Space was acquired with federal urban renewal assistance, and
college officials hope to obtain even more of the future re-

The 1975 campus 1s designed
so that no classes are more than a

ten-minute walk apart.

1. Campus Plazas 2. Administrative Center 3. Communications
Center and Theatre Arts 4. Central Library Complex 5. Sparks
Hall — Classrooms 6. Fine Arts Building — Classrooms 7. Arts
and Sciences — Classrooms 8. School of Business Administration
9. Physical Education Building 10. Science Center — Physical
Sciences 11. Medical and Nursing Center 12. Future Expansion
Area 13. Grady Hospital Expansion 14. Student Activities Com-
plex 15. Special Studies 16. Private Development (possible coop-
erative use) 17. High Rise Student Housing 18. Grady Hospital






The proposed expansion plan will

enable community and college to make

immense reciprocal contributions.



quirements through the same method. The college already has
swept aside some of the city’s worst slums: rows of pawn-
shops, cheap hotels, rundown warehouses — areas which con-
tributed heavily to the city’s crime rate.

But a valid question remains whether this is the wisest use
the city could make of the property. Since their conversion
from slums to office buildings, apartments, and motels,
other urban renewal districts are now adding millions of dol-
lars to Atlanta’s tax base. Why place Georgia State in such a
potentially productive location? Few if any other major urban
colleges occupy so much space so close to the city’s com-
mercial heart. And Georgia State has moved before — fre-
quently. Since it was founded in 1913, it has occupied space
at Georgia Tech, the Walton Building at Walton and Cone,
the Peachtree Arcade, an attic at Auburn and Pryor, 1064
Forsyth Street, scattered offices donated by Atlanta business-
men, 223 Walton Street, 162 Luckie Street, and finally the
garage on Ivy Street which is the taproot of the present cam-
pus. It has been designated the Georgia Tech Evening School
of Commerce, University System of Georgia Evening School,
University Extension Center, University System Center, At-
lanta Extension Center, Georgia Evening College, Atlanta Di-
vision of the University of Georgia, and Georgia State College
of Business Administration.

In 1962, Atlanta city fathers made their basic commitment
to the proposition that Georgia State has found a permanent
home. They designated an area of a little more than
two blocks as the “Georgia State Urban Redevelopment”
area, thus qualifying it for federal assistance. The White House
announced approval five months later, in record time.

There is more than ample justification for the aldermen’s
judgment. After all, expressways also remove huge tracts of
land from the tax digest. (The Memorial Interchange, for ex-
ample, occupies more acreage than the Steiner plan proposes
for the 1975 Georgia State campus.) Yet expressways are
vital; the expenditures of land are made. And it can be con-
vincingly argued that a vital campus in the midst of the city
returns far greater intangible values to Atlanta.

It is more than just a question of meeting the growing de-
mand for higher education in Atlanta. It is more than allow-
ing students to work downtown while also attending college —
an unquestioned asset for the city. It is more than convenience
for the Atlanta businessmen (with a surprising number of ad-
vanced degrees) who teach part-time. Given the near-complete
expressway system and rapid transit within a few years, a
downtown Georgia State is within an hour’s journey of about
half Georgia’s population. It is'immediately adjacent to cen-
ters of government, medicine, commerce, and finance. Com-
munity and college can have immense reciprocal contri-
butions to make.

Mr. Steiner summarizes the potential as “urban extension”
— a highly sophisticated cousin of the agricultural extension

© Platforming is the key to solving space and traffic problems at
the Georgia State of 1975 and later. It’s a solution long used in
Atlanta, which has been rising on viaducts above its railroad
tracks for almost a century. But at State there would be a differ-
ence: The platforms would be for people, and the cars would
stay below, where they would still receive daylight through per-
forations in the cover. The illustration at left (above) shows
how the perforations might look at the pedestrian level. The ren-
dering below it shows how platforming would affect the vista of
a motorist. The overall view (right above) shows such treatment
of Decatur Street. The location’s sharp dropoff from Ivy Street
to the expressway would allow increasing layers of parking and
service access, Shown in the cross sections at right.


cooperation of colleges and agribusiness that has achieved
such dramatic results in the past decades. The urban exten-
sion concept was suggested in the 1962 annual report of
the Ford Foundation. Says the Steiner master plan:

“There are many fragments of theory, observation, empirical
research, and practical tools ef application, scattered through
the related fields and disciplines, which could make major
contributions to such a program.... Human ecology, physical
planning, and urban design are concerned with different as-
pects of the geographic-physical environment and its organiza-
tion into cities and regions. Economics has well developed
macro and micro concepts which are every day proving their
practical value in regulating the American economy and which
are being extended to deal with international problems of fi-
nance and economic development.

“Political science, through techniques of interpersonal and
group dynamics, is aiding the constructive understanding and
control of the forces of social change. To all of these, the cul-
tural interpretations of the creative arts and the mass media
of communications are making a vast contribution. The value
of mathematics, science, philosophic logic, and the computer
are too well recognized to bear elaboration, but their critical
and generalizing functions must be built into any total con-
ceptual frame.”

Thus Georgia State, which already has established excellent
and reciprocal relationships with Atlanta’s business com-
munity, in the future can be expected to expand its role to
include the interests and needs of the entire community, view-
ing them with the integrated eye of all the academic disci-
plines rather than the narrower vistas of the mathematician,
sociologist, artist, etc., working alone.

What would be the dollar cost of the ambitious Steiner
plan? Obviously, it won’t come at bargain basement rates.
But considering the location of the complex and its scope, the
estimate is relatively modést: about $96 million for land and
buildings not already funded. And of course this does not
mean a cash outlay of that much by the Board of Regents

® The view from Edgewood Avenue, below, indicates how exist-
ing facilities might be utilized and how the platforming could be
tapered off and landscaped to avoid any sharp edges. Hurt Park,
at present the only greenery around Georgia State, would remain
an important focal point. Sparks Hall, right center, would tie in
with future classroom buildings, and the old Municipal Audi-
torium, left center, also is included in the master plan.





immediately or even over the next eight years. Some or all of
the buildings could be constructed under bond issues, and
many phases of the expansion would qualify for various fed-
eral assistance grants.

Some eyebrows were raised when Mr. Steiner included the
present Atlanta Police Department headquarters in the overall
campus. The plan also includes Georgia State’s ownership of
the old Municipal Auditorium. With the cooperation of the
city government, these should prove no major barricades to
the plan. A new auditorium and convention complex is be-
ing completed now on Piedmont between [Torrest and Pine.
When the second phase — extension of the convention facili-
ties across Pine — is accomplished a few years hence, the
city’s need for the old auditorium will be at an end. Imple-
mentation of the Steiner plan would indeed require building
of new police headquarters elsewhere, but the present building
itself would not be razed. With some interior remodeling, it
would become an integral part of the new campus, sur-
rounded at its second-floor level by the platform which would
be part of the principal pedestrian plaza of the future campus.

An expenditure that might cause greater controversy is the
setting aside of 1 per cent of the’ total building budget for art.
The idea is well established in Europe. In Zurich, the art
allocation is 10 per cent. But in the United States, few gov-
ernment units have adopted the scheme for public build-
ings. Private developers have been bolder than the government
in this respect.

The Steiner plan is insistent on the point. And it’s not talk-
ing merely about paintings hung on interior walls. The unique
plaza campus, the report asserts, offers unusual opportunity
to create beauty, contribute to the status of art in the
university system, and provide an outstanding example for
civic design. The master plan urges immediate development
for a “systematic, comprehensive, and ambitious” plan for art
development and for appointment of an artists’ committee
with full power to pass on acquisitions and acceptance of
donations.

Experience shows that it’s a long trip from the drawing
boards of ambitious master plans to realization. But the
Steiner plan has overwhelming logic as well as beauty on its
side. It accommodates the projected student load. It makes
brilliant use of Atlanta’s topography and the man-made de-
lineations of rails and street patterns. Above all, it helps es-
tablish a clear definition of Georgia State’s role in the future
of Atlanta and the state. w






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