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Tours Highlight ATL's Historic & Cutting-Edge Architecture

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Dining in style at Polaris downtown. Photos: Curbed

If you've noticed an increase in black-clad Goths around town, don't be alarmed — it's not a Johnny Cash look-alike contest. Rather, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) National Convention kicked off yesterday at the Georgia World Congress Center, marking a highly touted return to Atlanta after 40 years elsewhere. With more than 20,000 attendees expected to participate between now and Saturday, architects from around the world have come to Atlanta to paint the town. And if we know architects, they'll be using their favorite color: black. So what went down Wednesday?

The AIA Convention is the land of early risers. We made it to the GWCC by 7:45 a.m. to find it abuzz with activity as hundreds of architects received their conference credentials and lined up to board buses for the dozens of tours scheduled for the morning. The expo hall and keynote speakers don't crank up until today, so yesterday was more focused on a bit of fun.

We started our morning with a tour of the Fox Theatre. Among the 20-or-so participants, there was an architect from Australia, one from Sri Lanka and a journalist from Japan. (Good exposure, y'all). Along the ride, visitors questioned the costs of the new Falcons stadium and its necessity, given the relative newness of the Georgia Dome. "Thus is progress in Atlanta," they were told. The tour of the theater took everyone behind the scenes of one of Atlanta's greatest treasure. Stories were told of how the freight elevator doubles as a changing room for actors because the backstage area is very small, and the chairs in the women's restroom in the mezzanine are exact replicas of ones discovered in King Tut's tomb. How's that for trivia?

We spent our afternoon touring the newly opened Porsche Headquarters building near the airport. The tour was led by the project lead from architecture firm HOK as well as a few Porsche employees. Participants marveled at the $100 million complex and the cars zipping around the test-track on its first day open to the public. Being aesthetes, their lust for the cars was palpable.

[Photos of Porsche: Curbed Atlanta.]

The evening was spent schmoozing with architects over cocktails and canapés at Polaris. Special guests along for the rotating ride were representatives from John Portman and Associates — the firm that designed the building originally — and the Johnson Studio — the firm that recently overhauled the restaurant atop the Hyatt Regency. Among amusing anecdotes for the evening, it was told that the restaurant was not originally planned to top the hotel. Rather, after John Portman's six-year-old daughter visited the job site and insisted that the glass elevators had to go somewhere besides just the hotel rooms, the restaurant was born. Oh, kids.

One day down and the conference is already in full-swing. What will day two bring? No doubt a talk by Bill Clinton and a visit to the expo floor is in store.