Emory Convocation Hall

With its history dating back to 1916, Emory’s Old Theology Building has been transformed into a modern and functional multi-use space for the Board of Trustees and the President of the University. Much of the historically significant design elements in what is now Convocation Hall were uncovered in the renovation, including the revival of the: original Chapel & reading room, original interior marble walls & floors, existing wood floors, wainscot & trim, and large architectural steel windows. What could not be restored was replaced with historically appropriate details that were complemented with modern updates to create a resilient, beautiful building.

Design Challenge

One of the building’s main purpose was to host some of Emory’s most prestigious and critical events. The vision was to restore and celebrate its historical significance while integrating technologically advanced and fully functional operations for modern business. With so many historic details to preserve, a challenge arose of how to seamlessly fuse technology and IT accessibility within the building’s notable character. Each decision made was with both the design team and client at the table, amongst other important consultants such as AV/IT and historic preservation. Alterations were determined based on how well it supported the original architecture, with many different solutions presented to ensure that the most appropriate and feasible path was taken. In both the Chapel and Reading Room, large presentation screens where necessary, but integration with the original architecture was challenging. In the Reading Room, two new marble panels were fabricated and seamlessly included in the interior. In the Chapel, a retractable screen was hidden in the wooden trusses to be unobtrusive to the historic detailing. The reading room was also in need of multiple AV/IT installations, so a fabricated marble panel was installed to house the needed technology. As one enters the building and steps into the lobby space, visitors are met with screen panels that resemble the size and shape of the surrounding Georgia marble panels, where people can learn about University events, as well as learn about the building's and campus’s history.

Physical Context

Designed by Henry Hornbostel in 1916, what was once named the Old Theology Building one of the first two buildings constructed on Emory’s campus. It serves as the cornerstone of the Emory Historic District and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, recognized for its soaring arched entryway and locally-sourced Georgia Marble. Now named Convocation Hall, the design adopted physical cues from the original 1916 structure, most notably the large, arched windows and entryway as well as the recognizable grey and pink marble from Tate, Georgia. Much of the 1970’s renovation concealed unique architectural features such as fireplaces, and appealing views to both the outside Quad and other interior spaces were cut off by drywall and steel mezzanines. The design team removed the obstructions and enabled visibility throughout the interior, while repairing the damaged marble and also salvaging and restoring the original wooden floors, with features flowing well into the already established architectural language of the Quad, as well as the campus. The Chancellor’s office integrated a newly revealed fireplace, complemented with large wooden arches, marble inserts and wood paneling. The design also introduces multiple window openings to create various niches while still evoking a sense of openness and fluidity. The upstairs classrooms were repurposed into administrative spaces, respecting the arched windows and encouraging campus views with maximized daylight. The renovation and restoration of Convocation Hall accomplishes for a second time the original glory beauty of what Hornbostel intended – a building that respects the past while delivering modern capabilities for the future.