Sunday, March 15, 2009

Location, location, location

If you keep up with Atlanta's print media, you probably saw late last week, either in the AJC or Altanta Business Chronicle, that the board of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra has endorsed a new site for the location of a long-anticipated, state-of-the-art home for the orchestra. ASO President and CEO Allison Vulgamore sent an e-mail to the chorus Thursday night so we would know before it we read it in the papers: part of the latest 25-year master plan for the Woodruff Arts Center proposes a new hall at the northwest corner of Peachtree and 15th streets, contiguous with the current campus and utilizing the existing hall's underground infrasturcture and rehearsal spaces.

Original plans had a dramatic Santiago Calatrava-designed hall tucked away on 14th street, behind what is now the King & Spalding skyscraper at 1180 Peachtree. With a price tag of $300 million, the ASO needed nearly a third of that amount in state and city support to realize the hall, but the money never came in. It was suggested in the media that the symphony seek a less flamboyant design and focus on constructing an acoustically superior hall; instead of shelling out for Calatrava's iconic "postcard for Georgia" design, cut costs with an austere exterior. Others defended the design, saying Atlanta had too long languished in architectural mediocrity. After the state's budget was approved in early 2006 sans funding for the ASO, I remember a long period of silence on the matter. (Although the fundraising campaign in support of Calatrava's signature structure was suspended more than two years ago, part of his design is still employed as part of the ASO's logo and branding. I'm guessing that will change once a new design is in place.)

The announcement that there is, at long last, a plan in place is welcome news indeed. This proposal would entail taking over Callaway Plaza, currently used for drop-offs and valet parking, and necessitate the demolition of parts of the existing Woodruff Arts Center in order to accommodate a 2,000-seat hall on that site. Masterplanning is ongoing and has not been tied to any particular timetable, but the announcement is nevertheless encouraging -- especially since the board had considered no less than nine configurations of facilities based on four different locations for the hall.

Vulgamore will meet with ASO chorus briefly before Monday's rehearsal. If there's any further news that I am at leisure to share after that meeting, you can find it here later this week.

[Calatrava rendering from www.atlantasymphony.org]

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