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How Doraville's GM Site could Become a Walker's Utopia

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In a fascinating article titled "Assembling a City," The Architect's Newspaper picks the brain of the chief designer behind the planned redo of Doraville's General Motors Assembly plant. On the last stop of MARTA's Gold line, Stan Eckstut, a principal at Perkins Eastman, has envisioned a mini city that will be implemented and refined over time, responding to market changes, with a nucleus called "Transit Square" — from which everything in Assembly, as the overall project is called, will be a five-minute walk. Developers hope the site's location next to Doraville's historic downtown, straddling MARTA rail and snuggled up next to Interstate 285 will entice transit-and-walkability-hungry millennials to the fringes of ITP. Eckstut's firm, Perkins Eastman, has designed large-scale mixed-use projects around the world — modern housing in Shanghai, Baltimore's Inner Harbor East and New York's Battery Park City, to name a few — so the pedigree seems encouraging.

The site doesn't come without substantial challenges. As the newspaper notes, a 30-foot-tall freight and transit line will separate the bulk of Assembly from Doraville. Connecting the two was important to developers from the get-go, but all previous plans included huge bridges that arched over the tracks and swallowed valuable space for building. Eckstut is calling for a 60-foot-wide tunnel beneath 13 active tracks. And this tunnel would include an extension of Doraville's Park Avenue — a vital thoroughfare that Eckstut called "the glue that connects the historical town center with the new 165-acre site."

On the parks front, a 1.7-acre Transit Square is meant to serve as the lynchpin for Assembly's larger parks system. (About half of Assembly's land will be reserved for public space; beyond that, the city has approved up to 10 million square feet of development). From the square, everything in Assembly would be an easy walk, according to Eckstut's plans. "I drew a circle with a radius of about 1,200 feet—a five minute walk," he told the newspaper. "When you reach a five-minute walk, the world changes—people don't walk after that." Airspace requirements at nearby DeKalb-Peachtree Airport would cap the tallest buildings around Transit Square at 15 stories.

Assembly's master plan has been completed and approved, and now each of six neighborhoods will go through a more rigorous design phase. The district around Transit Square and the new underpass will go into planning in the next 18 months, Eckstut said.

Before that, the first section of Assembly — the southwest corner of the site called "The Yards," which would be anchored by a movie studio and include a substantial amount of surface parking, per the renderings — is expected to break ground within the next year. Also included in that phase: a loft building with an industrial aesthetic, cottage-like outbuildings and additional offices inside old train cars. Eckstut said he convinced developers to save remnants from the old GM plant to be repurposed as the film studio, so let's tip our hats to that.

· ASSEMBLING A CITY [The Architect's Newspaper]
· Major Film, TV Studio Announced for Doraville's GM Site [Curbed]