January 1, 2006
Back to Brutal
In renovating their condo two Atlanta architects honored the building’s Modern heritage.
Probably no Atlanta address has attracted as many design professionals as Modernist Henri Jova’s Colony Square—or consequently, has seen as many condo renovations. But the most radical redo was architect Mark Cottle’s transformation last winter of the unit he occupies with partner Sabir Khan.
The couple—respectively assistant professor and associate dean at Georgia Tech’s College of Architecture—had been living in an industrial loft space and sought similar expansiveness. Although their new apartment had a mostly glass facade with panoramic views, Cottle had to counter what he calls a “cubicles-and-corridors plan” that he saw as derivative of a suburban ranch house. “We also wanted to reinvestigate the building’s architectural heritage—and add to the mix the stamp of this particular moment,” he says.
Designed by now retired Jova in the 1970s, Colony Square was unusual at the time for incorporating mixed uses, including a hotel, office and residential buildings, and a shoping mall. The condo tower, in particular, shows a refined geometry and honest use of materials. “There’s a raw pure expression of concrete inside and outside,” landscape architect and resident John Howard says. It’s a feature designers respond to, although some of their nondesigner neighbors once lobbied to have the rough surfaces of the facade painted over. “There is a grid,” Howard says of the exterior, “but there are modules of different room types expressed—a definite rhythm within the grid.” According to Cottle, “It wasn’t flashy like most of Atlanta is.” Beyond aesthetics, designers are attracted by the fact that there are few interior columns.
That suited Cottle’s impulse to demolish partitions and make what he calls a “verandah in the sky.” By creating a “gray zone” comprising a kitchen, baths, an office, a foyer, and storage in the core portion of the apartment, Cottle was able to fuse the unit’s four bays along the exterior wall into one 54-foot sweep divisible with sliding partitions. Between the two is a “membrane” of bookshelves, doorways, and wooden panels pierced by glass that lines up with exterior windows to bring light and views into the windowless service spaces. A shallow vault in each bay hides air-conditioning ducts, eliminating the boxy ones that ran in front of the windows and sliced through the vista. Cantilevered along that wall is an actual shelf; balustrade and side table, it also functions, Khan explains, to “realign the horizon” and direct the gaze out rather than down to the roof of an adjacent building. Pale blue paint—traditional for porches—on the shelf and sliding panels reinforces the suggestion of a verandah.
Cottle loved the strength of the structure’s concrete pillars. “It just killed me that they had gypsum board all over them” he says. “I wanted to release them.” Stripped bare, though, they were beat-up; those next to the windows required insulating anyway. They are now wrapped in a skin of concrete-gray stucco. Cottle would have left the slab bare, but condo rules mandate cork insulation, so he covered that with a concrete floor. He notes, “The aesthetic we like is monolithic, but the truth of construction in America is that everything has to be sheathed. At least our finish layer tries to be transparent to the reality of what is behind it.”