A Farewell to Georgia’s old State Archives Building
By Charles Lawrence, Docomomo US/Georgia
In March, we lost the old Georgia State Archives building; designed by A. Thomas Bradbury in 1964. Atlanta, a city whose last major expansion coincided with rise of Modernism, is lucky to have had a handful of great Modernist architects living and practicing within the city. Bradbury was certainly one of them.
Born in 1902, Bradbury graduated from the Southeast’s top architecture school, the Georgia Institute of Technology, or “Tech” to locals. While Georgia Tech can be said to have spawned the “Atlanta School” of architectural design, Bradbury tended towards New-Formalism (and, interestingly, may be responsible for why most outside of Atlanta aren’t familiar with the Atlanta School).
Bradbury’s work embraces symmetry and proportion. His use of marble for his cluster of state buildings downtown is a modern interpretation of the White City of the Chicago World’s Fair. He also emphatically embraced romanticism; building a Gone With the Wind-style mansion for the Georgia Governor and a Moorish temple for the Shriners. The Old Archives Building was certainly his most iconic.
Image Left: Ben W. Fortson Records and Archives Building. Image Right credit: Atlanta Journal Consitution
The Archives was sited on a piece of land at the intersection of our busiest interstates, which are predictably right in the center of Atlanta. A small rise makes the site visible from every direction and from quite some distance. Bradbury, rather than concealing the function of the building, put the archival block up on a pedestal for all to see. The two story base with wrap-around columned portico and formal entrance at the piano nobile, gave the building its southern charm; a welcoming entry and a shaded porch. The slabs of honed white Georgia marble wrapping a windowless towering block, placed the building thoroughly within the Modern period.
However, nearly 20 years ago and only 34 years from when it was completed, the Archives was vacated for a new facility in the exurbs. The ‘old’ building had not been maintained and was beginning to exhibit problems typical for its age. Also, it was running out of room for physical archives, while simultaneously not being equipped to handle digital information storage. Instead of rehabilitating the building, the state decided to abandon it. Despite its vacancy, the building has proudly occupied its site for 20 years, a glistening white “ice cube” that has captured our imaginations in several big movies. One of the last films shot there, Ant Man, predicted the fate of the Archives when they (spoiler alert) digitally exploded it in a final climactic scene.
In reality, the archives was imploded early on a Sunday morning in front of a crowd of mourners.