Photo Credit: John Becker, Atlanta BeltLine Partnership

Angier Springs Monumental Work

Project Description

Located along the Atlanta BeltLine’s Eastside Trail, this permanent public landmark creates a new kind of urban room for the city, offering a place of repose for those traveling the largest urban redevelopment project in the United States today. Akin to a budding forest, the open field of slender pillars explores the light demarcation of public space without explicit boundaries. The seven-hundred square foot urban intervention is comprised of sixty-nine pre-oxidized steel columns, positioned in an equilateral grid pattern, which rise twenty-four feet above the trail. A solid granite base galvanizes the field, sourced from a nearby quarry, forming hexagonal collars at the base of each pillar. This hypostyle room produces a medley of effects, offering visitors numerous encounters that change with the sun, the wind and the collection of participants that move throughout the space. The changing densities of the landmark shift with these factors to embolden public engagement, creating immersive and interactive zones to be discovered anew as the space constantly reinvents itself within an ever-changing context. Best categorized as a small-scale work in the area of creative place making, this project aims to maximize its twenty-five thousand dollar budget by enhancing urban life through the prioritization of equity, access and nature.

Each pillar is comprised of a six by three inch pre-oxidized tubular steel section, anchored to a reinforced mat slab, enabling quick erection and only minor impact on the BeltLine’s functionality. The pre-oxidation process results in distinctive patterns on the surface of each tube section whose finish constantly evolves with continued weathering over time. Central to the field of pillars is a clearing anchored by a fieldstone boulder, repurposed from the site and used by those seeking retreat inside the landmark. Savannah Gray granite pavers, cut in eighteen inch equilateral sections, are set within a bed of pervious stone pea gravel and framed by metal edging along the perimeter. Precast concrete tiles cover the subterranean drainage system that collects and stores storm water under the structure before being released slowly back in the ecosystem. Material knowledge was acquired through a series of mock ups that tested the steel pre-oxidation process and the composition of the granite base material. This kind of trial and error experimentation was used to refine the proprietary method applied in the steel yard to achieve the unique pillar finish and to cultivate the specification of the paver system that sought to highlight the inherent qualities of granite.

Design Challenge

As the winning concept in an open competition, the permanent landmark was required to be monumental in scale and visible from at least one-hundred yards away. Additionally, the budget for the project was set at twenty-five thousand dollars, which made the provision to serve as an urban beacon along the BeltLine increasingly challenging. The implementation of three principal design strategies provide an economy of means at the desired urban scale; identify the structure as an interactive space in lieu of an intractable object, expand the field of influence to galvanize existing conditions already present at the site, and give active agency to both community and climate in defining the character of structure. Interactive Placemaking: Variability is the design’s preeminent planning principle, offering the community a neutral framework that does not dictate what happens through an intractable single use element but anticipates significant change as people and climate comingle within the multi-use structure. This system is neither definite nor everything goes, site forces are what enrich the space as it registers the nuances of public life in Atlanta. Using thin vertical pillars not only help reduce the cost of the system but they also enable the community to collectively immerse themselves in patterns of light and shadow while the pillars dance and sway with even the gentlest of breezes. Area of Influence: Intertwining environment and structure, the physical limits and the extent of influence provided by the work are difficult to define. The structure strengthens the aggregation of activities that characterize the site and propagates its impact to contribute to the given urban situation. Proliferating the pillars across the entire extent of the given site area also provides ample space for the community to inhabit while maximizing the required visibility of the structure from great distances. With no walls and a field of pillars, this large outdoor room expands and contracts its influence in accordance with factors dictated by both community and climate. Community and Climate: In addition to serving as a beacon, the spacing and orientation of the pillars creates a dynamic visual effect for those on the trail as they move toward and away from the piece. Simultaneously open and closed, the landmark playfully reveals and conceals inhabitant activities when used as a meeting point between those who frequent the BeltLine. Furthermore, the space allows sunlight, rain, and air to enter at variable rates to define the evolving character of the space with the passing of time and season. Using wide rectangular pillars along an equilateral grid aids this goal by being permeable enough for wind, sun and view to penetrate in the east-west direction but solid enough to buffer unwanted sun and wind in the north-south direction.

Physical Context

The work creates a wide range of spatial zones differentiated by subtle shifts in access to light, heat and air. These zones partner with shifts in the site’s microclimate as the landmark steps up or down the extensive environment to intensively form a range of spatial pockets. With the use of solar ray tracing and computational fluid dynamics simulation programs, the composition of the structural field is refined to modulate Atlanta’s temperate climate. The size, spacing and orientation of the pillars provides cool pockets in the summer with ample shading and intensified breezes from the west. On the other hand, warm pockets are created during the winter months as these areas collect solar heat from the south while buffering cool air from the north. The range of atmospheric qualities provides a diverse spatial gradient in anticipation of inspired interventions offered by those on the Eastside Trail. Instead of creating a design object that occupies space, the structure articulates space, sculpting a series of spatial zones that inhabitants can tailor their activities to depending upon the current weather conditions and desired use. The work as an inhabitable field also provides a rare moment for those walking or biking the path to get off and pause. In this sense, the ability to stop and collect is of equal importance with such a strong urban promenade as it provides an intensification of activity and the transition between the trail and surrounding neighborhoods. Dwelling within this outdoor space encompasses numerous phenomena that underpin the richness of urban life. These moments include the choreographed sway of the pillars with light to moderate winds; the doubling of the structure as aviary with the large population of birds that perch atop the pillars; and the children who love to play any number of games inside the space including tag or hide and seek. These varied experiences, elicited by the structure, can best be encapsulated by the following visitor who identified themselves as, ‘A - Pedestrian’, conveyed in a private message, “I was strolling along the beltline, absolutely mired in misery; my company was a real drag. I rounded the bend and spied your sculpture - it brightened my day! I spent several minutes ignoring my companion while wandering through those beautiful trees. Placid, yet urban, with a spot for quiet contemplation. My God, my man - it was the bee's knees!”