Destroying the beautiful and creating the banal in Atlanta

I’m always looking at old images of downtown Atlanta found on the GSU’s Digital Collections and also on the NYPL Digital Collections site. Looking at these photos, illustrations and maps can help visualize a timeline of the city’s changing built environment, culture and politics.

Something I keep wondering while browsing through this history:

What state of mind was the city in, collectively, that made it seem OK to tear down beautiful old buildings? These buildings focused on the street and pedestrians, and we’ve replaced many of them with parking facilities and with structures that are bland in design and that seem apathetic to pedestrian experiences.

How does a city rationalize destroying the beautiful and creating the banal?

A perfect example can be seen in the images posted here. The one at the top of this page is of the old City Hall building on Marietta Street (originally a post office/customs house) which had the kind of attractive details that make a building welcoming to walk past.

What lies in that parcel now is 55 Marietta — a data center filled with IT equipment that towers over the street with walls that are blank on all sides but for a couple of retail spaces on the Marietta side. (The owners of the data center also own the old Forsyth-Walton building next door and recently tried to demolish it to build a support structure for powering and cooling the IT equipment; that plan has thankfully been changed.)

55

Certainly Atlanta isn’t the only city to experience this kind of replacement of ornate old structures with ‘blah’ newer ones. I wonder what could be turned up with a cultural analysis of the root of this type of destruction/construction. How does a city feel about itself when it destroys history and beauty? Can that cultural behavior be changed on a large scale?

Read more about the need to bridge Atlanta’s past and future through preservation here.