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Your Email: Feature | Posted: Sunday, January 01, 2006

Georgia Tech’s Technology Square


The construction of the first interstate highways more than half a century ago bisected midtown Atlanta, separating the campus of the Georgia Institute of Technology from the neighboring business district. Over time, the "town and gown" separation became more pronounced, especially on the city side, where adjacent land gradually deteriorated into a welter of parking lots, vacant lots, and dilapidating buildings.

It took extraordinary vision on the part of Georgia Tech president Wayne Clough and the Georgia Tech Foundation to find a way to reunify the area through the creation of Technology Square, an eight-acre, mixed-use development that reunites the traditional campus with the midtown business district by extending across the downtown expressway connector.

The impetus was the university's need for a new business school building. But Clough and company thought more broadly, addressing the need for a bridge to the midtown business district in which Tech students and others could access a variety of services on foot and in an environmentally friendly and sustainable fashion.

"Their vision was to leap from the campus and across the superhighway to the business and residential community on the other side," explains Thomas Ventulett, chairman emeritus of Thompson, Ventulett, Stainback & Associates (TVS) and a Georgia Tech alumnus. "They identified three objectives for the project: to portray the university as the premier technological institution of higher learning for the 21st century; to create a technology complex that would allow each student to get a college education and then return for continuing professional education; and to contribute to the revitalization of midtown Atlanta."

It was just the kind of challenge that TVS designers relish, and they got to work on a series of designs that won the nod from Tech. The result is an aesthetically pleasing, highly functional, and sustainable development that offers Tech students as well as midtown residents and business patrons a welcoming and convenient environment for work, study and recreation.

A link to existing architecture

The design team created visual linkage with the existing architecture of the midtown district, especially the handsomely renovated Biltmore Hotel, through the use of similar building materials and design elements. The five buildings in the $122 million complex—the College of Management, the Georgia Tech Hotel and Conference Center, Technology Square Research Building, Global Learning Center, Economic Development Institute, and Advanced Technology Development Center—are constructed of local and recycled materials and are equipped with many energy-efficient features and cutting-edge technologies.

The innovative College of Management building has earned Silver certification as

a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) facility from the U. S. Green Building Council. Sustainable features of the four-story building include low-emitting interior finishes, water-saving plumbing fixtures, motion-sensitive lighting, and an energy-conserving white heat-reflecting roof.

The complex also includes the campus bookstore, Barnes & Noble @ Georgia Tech, and retail and restaurant businesses catering to the campus and business district clientele. Street-level parking accommodates up to 1,500 vehicles.

Technology Square's brightly finished courtyards and extensive use of fenestration suggest openness and create a distinctive sense of time and place. The human-scale perspective connects the buildings and shops visually and functionally. Cantilevered lanterns catch and reflect natural light, projecting to passersby a dynamic and inviting urban streetscape.

Having achieved and exceeded the university's three initial objectives, Technology Square has also served as a catalyst for continuing enhancements. Commercial office space and residential developments have sprung up around the area, and the state Department of Transportation is midway through a significant streetscape enhancement project along the Fifth Street pedestrian bridge that spans the downtown connector.

Lessons of success

The success of Technology Square, however, is due in large part to an unusually high degree of commitment on the part of all the parties involved, including development partner Jones Lang Lasalle. It also had the benefit of being financed primarily through non-public funds, notes TVS principal Helen Hatch, a board member of the Urban Land Institute and longtime leader in Atlanta land-use planning circles.

"Not all mixed-use developments are created equal," she says. "There are pitfalls, especially in the areas of financing and multiple ownership. These issues must be planned carefully and strategically up front for optimal results. It's also important that all stakeholders be capable of taking a long-term view."

Georgia Tech was able to supply the majority of the financing for Technology Square without having to work through the state's Board of Regents funding system, which facilitated construction progress; additional funding came from private investors.

"We were fortunate to have a forward-looking client like Georgia Tech, and one that could underwrite the majority of the construction," says Hatch. "With mixed-use developments, it is also important to take into account the different needs of the various owners. The planning and design of Technology Square works well because we were able to strike a balance between preserving the boundaries of each element while ensuring that there was the right kind of connectivity overall.

"For example, the hotel space is positioned for easy accessibility to the continuing education facility; the boundaries are maintained, but the space is convenient for the people who are using it."

With fuel costs skyrocketing, freeway congestion growing, and in-town property appreciating rapidly, Technology Square stands as a dynamic testimonial to the role of excellent planning and design in recapturing a sense of community harking back to the pre-expressway era but incorporating the latest technologies and amenities.

"Teamwork and commitment to a common vision were the keys to the success of Technology Square," concludes Ventulett. "It functions as a bridge in every sense of the word—uniting research and learning, human-scale architecture, and spaces to sustain virtual as well as physical communities."

TVS is an internationally recognized design firm with offices in Atlanta, Chicago, and Dubai that provides architecture, interior design, and planning services to a diverse clientele. The firm is widely recognized for the excellence of its design, including corporate and commercial office facilities, hospitality, retail and entertainment, education, convention centers, and mixed-use development. In 2002, TVS was honored with the prestigious AIA Architecture Firm Award, which is the highest honor awarded to a firm by the American Institute of Architects. The AIA selects one firm each year to receive this award in recognition of the consistent achievement of design excellence. For more information, visit
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