Atlanta Architecture

Although Atlanta is a relatively young city, founded in 1836, it has nevertheless grown in such size and economic strength to allow it join the ranks of the most important cities in the U.S., and even the world. Atlanta was founded as a modest transfer point of the Western and Atlantic Railroad along its trade route connecting with the Midwest. The new city lacked any type of geographical advantage, such as mines or a sea port, thus destining it to be always owned by entrepreneurs and businesses and to never be the equal of Savannah or Charleston in terms of “southern charm”. Although it has grown tremendously in size, wealth and prestige, the city has never lost its original purpose, today being one of the busiest cities in the world due to the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport and the hundreds of businesses that call Atlanta their home. From humble beginnings to a breathtaking skyline, Atlanta’s creation and growth as a working city founded on movement and change has affected every aspect of its character and development, which can be easily appreciated in its architecture.

At the time of its creation in 1836, Atlanta was a simple train stop on the Western and Atlantic Railroad line. For the approximately 25 years before the Civil War began, Atlanta grew in size, due to the railroad, but did not especially stand out for development or architecture. Whatever history it held, however, was soon to be lost as General Sherman burned Atlanta in 1864, saving only some churches and hospitals. The nearest example of surviving antebellum architecture can be found in Roswell, now the 6th largest city in Georgia, just north of downtown. Roswell was founded in 1839 and prospered due to its cotton mills. When Sherman began his infamous “March to the Sea”, he burned the cotton mills, but spared the homes, of which the majority were built in the Greek Revival style. After the civil war reconstruction was slow. Atlanta became the capital of the state in 1868, and saw the rebuilding of railroad depots and two or three story buildings, mostly in the simple and functional Italianate style. Not until later in the century, however, did change begin to take place. Henry Grady, the editor of the Georgia Constitution, began to promote Atlanta as a city of the “New South,” one built on a modern economy and not on agriculture. His efforts soon resulted in a steady influx of investors and businessmen to the area.

By the turn of the century, Atlanta could see a bright future ahead. In 1892, the city saw its first skyscraper, the Equitable Building, built by Joel Hurt. It also saw the development of Inman Park, Atlanta’s first planned residential suburb. Although the suburb was designed by Joseph Johnson, it was highly influenced by Frederick Law Olmstead, the creator of New York’s Central Park and considered to be the father of American landscape architecture. In fact, Olmstead became very influential in the early development of Atlanta, designing the Druid Hills suburb and lending ideas to the Ansley Park plan. In addition, many of the parks that are still frequented today, such as Piedmont and Chastain Parks, were established during this epoch. By 1903, Atlanta was already the headquarters for many national and regional companies and it was clear that the city was growing and changing. However, it is also easily seen that the architecture of the time, and indeed the entire city, was being moved by commerce. The only wishes of the early leaders of Atlanta were of rapid growth and established architectural styles.

The fortune of the country after World War I and in the 1920’s is easily seen in the further development of Atlanta. Skyscrapers were now a common sight in the skyline of Atlanta, as the city followed the Chicago style of architecture. The skyscrapers attracted business, which in turn led to the need of stores and hotels in greater abundance. During the building boom of this time, most of the progress is in the City Beautiful Beaux Arts Tradition, including many boulevards, walkways and parks, all in order to enjoy the city more.

With the great depression, building slowed and styles shifted. Commercial buildings in the downtown were constructed in the Art Deco style, albeit of conservative design. The residential areas, still contained in almost the same suburbs of always, were constructed in revival styles, including Gothic, Classical, Colonial, Victorian and post Victorian.

The last half of the 20th Century saw another growth period for the City of Atlanta. In 1949, Mayor William B. Hartsfield introduced his “Plan of Improvement”, which led to the addition of 100,000 people and 81 square miles on January 1, 1952. Over the next decades, Atlanta would see the population increase dramatically as well as the expansion and creation of the Interstate System and highways that connected downtown to the ever widening Perimeter. Although only 3 major structures were built in the Five Points district between 1930 and 1962, the later year saw the beginning of the boom that started moving “downtown” northward and southward along Peachtree Street. The Downtown West became an important convention center, still highly used today, with the construction of the “mega-structure” centers built in the 1960s. North along Peachtree Street, known as “Upper Midtown” continued to develop profusely until the 1980s, being known for its remarkable quality of architecture and mix of family houses, apartments, cultural institutions and corporation buildings. Some of the structures found along Peachtree Street are the One Atlantic Center building, the Atlanta Ballet and The High Museum of Art. Although it is still a very popular location in Atlanta, its independent building style, each structure being focused around a square or piazza, makes it feel isolating, even in the heart of the city.

The 1970s until recent years have been a time of extreme growth and decline. The “Save the Fox” campaign in the mid-1970s brought to the public’s attention just how desperate the plight of historical buildings in downtown Atlanta were. Although many structures had already been demolished, efforts were made to save some of the city’s past. Inman Park was especially focused on, receiving a much needed revitalization with the creation of the Spring Festival and being added to the National Register of Historic Places.The greatest growth to be seen nowadays, even with downtown Atlanta sparkling with structures from famous architects from all over the world, is in the north. The 1980s saw an incredibly rapid growth and the direction is still flourishing. With examples like Cumberland Mall, which contains more offices that downtown, and Perimeter Mall, the downtown skyline may feel a little threatened. Along the north side of the Perimeter, connected by GA-400 to downtown, a newly constructed highway to easily connect the two business zones, self-contained business facilities are gracefully arched overlooking the city. The architecture of these buildings is luxurious, sleek and highly polished with highly manicured, man made landscapes. It is easy to see the reflected qualities of a business along the structures that hold them.

From a humble beginning to being the fastest growing metropolitan area in the United States, Atlanta’s history is clearly reflected in the architecture of the city. It is never more true than it is today, however, that the city’s heart beat is the economy. From a train stop town to a night sky that is never dark, Atlanta is an inspiration.


A National Registry of Historic Places Travel Itinerary, Atlanta, Georgia.


Atlanta Architecture Info. http://www.atlantaarchitecture .info/.

History of Atlanta:

Gournay, Isabelle. AIA Guide to the Architecture of Atlanta. Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press, 1993.