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South of Atlanta, Zac Brown’s nonprofit unveils stunning modern building

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Dining hall at Camp Southern Ground is first piece of cutting-edge campus for challenged kids

A modern building that serves as the dining hall at singer Zac Brown’s nonprofit camp.
The recently finished Peterson Dining Hall was designed by Perkins + Will, local architects also behind the Beltline’s design.
Photography courtesy of ©Tim Hurlsey

Who knew the guy behind “Chicken Fried” was such a proponent of forward-focused architectural design?

Country superstar Zac Brown, a three-time Grammy winner and Georgia native, has a nonprofit passion project in the works called Camp Southern Ground. Sprouting across more than 400 acres in Fayetteville, roughly 12 hour south of downtown Atlanta, the cutting-edge camp will aim to inspire and educate youth, with an emphasis on kids with challenges such autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, learning issues, emotional problems—and those with active military family.

Inspired by Brown’s own experience as a camp counselor, the project hopes to open for campers in summer 2018.

In the meantime, camp leaders are celebrating the completion of the first major building on site—a sophisticated, environmentally friendly “modern work of art” that should serve as the campus’ beating heart.

Designed by Perkins+Will—the Atlanta-based firm behind the Beltline’s design and notable projects such as Drew Charter School—the Peterson Dining Hall is comprised mostly of materials sourced locally and is meant to make a statement.

“[It’s] the heart of camp like the kitchen is the heart of home,” Chris Sciarrone, of Perkins+Will, said in a release. “Zac told us that he wanted an iconic building unlike any other, as the centerpiece of camp — a building that signals to the kids upon arrival that they are in a unique and special place transcending everyday experiences.”

This gathering place is also meant to serve as an educational tool, enlightening kids to the wonders of sustainability. Here’s a description of the building’s functionality:

“... from the geothermal system that will heat and cool the building to the natural zinc building envelope, and the low energy, renewable building materials, this building will save more energy over time. An example of its design innovation is seen in the custom grinder and extractor which converts as much food waste as possible from the kitchen into compost for the [organic onsite] farm, while minimizing what goes to the landfill.”

During summer camping sessions, the dining hall can serve up to 300 campers and 150 counselors, staff, and volunteers. In the off season, the rentable facility is designed to accommodate more than 400 for special events, meetings, and conventions.

Have a look around:

Inside, the ceiling is made from sustainably harvested Mahogany wood donated by Bob Taylor of Taylor Guitars.
The hall’s focal point is a 26-foot-high brick fireplace.