Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Fair-Weather Buildings

I went to bed last night thinking today would be dismal. A cold front was approaching Atlanta, and rain was forecast to start just after midnight and continue into the afternoon. I imagined a heavy, dark sky and a dispiriting slog through puddles to get to the train.

What I failed to take into account is that it isn't winter any more. I stepped outside this morning into a light rain shower. Birds were singing, and the sky was just that kind of gray that makes colors more vivid.

That was in my own neighborhood in Decatur, though. As I rode the train, it occurred to me that Midtown Atlanta would not fare quite so well.

The problem is one I noticed long ago, as a graduate student at Stony Brook: some buildings are clearly designed to look their best only in bright sunlight.

One building in particular on the Stony Brook campus - the Earth and Space Sciences building - was a clean, spare, modernist structure that almost glowed in the sunlight. Let a little rain fall, however, and it seemed to develop a terrible, seeping ailment, breaking out in dark streaks and blotches.

It was almost repulsive.

Much the same seems to apply to a number of buildings in Midtown Atlanta. Here are a few I passed on the walk from the train to my office this morning.

The main AT&T building is a striking example, displaying its running sores to all the world:

I like the building well enough in sunlight: the concrete fairly gleams. Today, though, it looks depressing and almost makes me itch in sympathy.

Just across the street, at a secondary AT&T building, it looks as though something has gone terribly wrong with the windows:


The Georgia Tech Hotel also looks as if there were a problem with the windows:

Parking decks, which tend toward brutalism in any case, fare especially badly, since they seldom have much appeal even in sunlight. It's telling, though, that they are the structures that remind me the most vividly of Stony Brook. Here's one in Midtown:

And here is one on the Georgia Tech campus:

On the other hand, older buildings with more traditional facades hold up well in the rain. Here, for example, is the Biltmore Hotel in Midtown:

Advantage: brick and stone.

Just so you know I'm not just being atavistic here, I would note that glass and steel can look fine in the rain, too.