Shocking as it may be, it’s been two and 1/2 years since the idea of building a park atop Ga. Highway 400 in the heart of Buckhead was revealed.
Since then, studies happened, plans developed, and the seemingly Olympian task has been deemed fully feasible.
New momentum came this summer when extensive Park Over GA400 renderings and fresh timelines were released. Given those developments, it seemed wise to check in on the process with landscape architect Thomas Woltz, owner and principal of Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects.
Woltz’s firm has teamed with Rogers Partners Architects in a 50/50 design collaboration for the project. He brings more than 20 years of experience in landscape architecture (and architecture architecture).
Here’s what Woltz has to say about one of Atlanta’s most ambitious civic projects in recent memory:
CURBED ATLANTA: What precedents and inspirations are your team drawing from for the project?
THOMAS WOLTZ: Our team began by looking at the early history of infrastructure in Atlanta as formal inspiration for this park, itself an innovative take on doubling up infrastructure.
Atlanta’s first city plan was generated at the intersection of rail lines, and those flowing curves can be found in the design of the park spaces. There are early photos of downtown Atlanta where you see double levels of roads and parking. This helped us communicate that infrastructural innovation is in Atlanta’s DNA.
For the ecological narratives of the park, we looked carefully at Piedmont Georgia geology, its water systems, and native plants for design inspiration. Our process of looking carefully at both the cultural history of a site and the ecological history of a region for design inspiration means the resulting design belongs inextricably to that place.
CA: Having visited Atlanta to work on this project, what are your impressions of the city, and what aspects have you drawn inspiration from?
TW: I have been coming to Atlanta regularly for the past 25 years and have seen it flourish in that time. It’s [a] vibrant and diverse city that seems fearless in its ability to invent and explore. I’ve been inspired watching the Beltline evolve, and by the work of organizations like Park Pride.
CA: How would you describe the area this park is slated to serve?
TW: The center of Buckhead has developed over the years without significant park spaces. Parks are critical to the well-being of citizens. With many adjacent neighborhoods and high-rise residential and office tenants surrounding the park, there are thousands of people who could use the nine acres of gardens and plazas at the heart of their neighborhood—where you currently find only a sunken freeway.
CA: And how will the park impact the area in the long run?
TW: Proximity to park space has proven to be beneficial not only to real estate values, but to the health and well-being of the citizens who use them. Currently the Ga. Highway 400, sunken below the level of the streets, acts as a barrier in the center of the district. By bridging over that high speed flow of cars, you will reconnect streets, pathways, and bikeways to create a green heart for the neighborhood.
We also envision an immersive experience of landscape types that will connect people inside the city with the ecology of the region. For example, we propose a series of lushly planted perennial and shrub gardens close to Peachtree Road, while further north there will be groves and allées of trees for dining and gathering in shade. At the northern end, a large sloping gathering space for people engages a cycling and pedestrian bridge over Lenox.
CA: While a full cap was initially proposed, you have taken a more limited approach now. What was the catalyst for that, and how will that impact the experience of visitors and those who drive beneath it?
TW: As we conceptualized the park in collaboration with Rogers Partners Architects, we considered the experience of the driver on the highway and the person on the MARTA platform below, as well as the experience of the park user above.
We wanted to maintain air circulation and natural light on the highway, and imagine the underside of the structure shaped as a work of art. This strategy was also affirmed by the fact that if the highway were entirely enclosed—in effect creating a tunnel—then there would be many expensive and required systems, including fire suppression, ventilation, egress, and artificial lighting.
CA: Is there a realistic timeline for the design process to be completed? And when might construction start? And end?
TW: The current timeline is engineering, design, and environmental work done by 2018, a process of "ground-making" completed by 2020, with a ribbon-cutting and grand opening in 2022 or 2023.
This, of course, is subject to change as the next stages unfold.
CA: Ultimately, what does this project have the potential to do for the surrounding neighborhoods?
TW: I think this park could become a bridge between not only the local neighborhoods, but also to distant ones thanks to its connections to MARTA and PATH400, which intersect at the heart of the park.
This creates a park that serves not only the adjacent residents and office workers, but all of Atlanta.
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