exterior courtyard of colony square

After $400 Million Overhaul, Atlanta’s Mixed-use Colony Square Can Finally Breathe

Courtesy of Beyer Blinder Belle and Lord Aeck Sargent, the new Colony Square makes good on the promises of mixed-use development.

Once a stale, uninviting residential, commercial, and office hub snuggled into the heart of Atlanta’s Midtown district, Colony Square is finally pulsating with energy—replete with new construction and tenants and abuzz with long-desired foot traffic— thanks to a $400 million overhaul by developer North American Properties (NAP).

When Beyer Blinder Belle architect Maxwell Pau and his team visited Colony Square five years ago to assess the clay soil they’d be working with during NAP’s proposed reimagining of the complex, “we couldn’t figure out how to get in,” he tells Metropolis.

That struck a chord, Pau says. Built in the early 1970s, Colony Square was the first mixed-use development of its kind in the Southeast. But it had its problems; instead of being inviting, he says, the complex was labyrinthine. In reconceiving the development, Beyer Blinder Belle and collaborator Lord Aeck Sargent envisioned a more open and welcoming future for the dated complex. 

After construction crews hauled away more than a million gallons of concrete from the decades-old Colony Square and poured new concrete around more than 2,550 tons of steel, the revived development came online last summer with 940,000 square feet of new office space—housed in two new structures and two refurbished ones—and some 160,000 square feet of retail, restaurant, and entertainment offerings. 

rendering diagram of the colony square development

All of that is now wrapped around what NAP and its architects call the “living room,” a sprawling open-air plaza that welcomes pedestrians from Midtown’s bustling 14th and Peachtree streets via airy, modernist entryways suspended over fresh wide walkways. 

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The renewed look and feel mark a stark departure from Colony Square’s past, when car-dependent Atlantans might swing through to grab a bite before driving back to work, Pau said. His team, he said, sought to “break down the barriers and create porosity in the site by [inserting] apertures to bring people in.”

“If we could achieve that at the ground floor,” Pau says of the redevelopment’s early days, “then, all of a sudden, this is a completely different project.” Where folks might have once had no idea that they’d just entered an early iteration of the now-ubiquitous live-work-play development model, Colony Square now distinguishes itself from its environs, he says. 

interior passageway
aperture opening the Colony Square interior to the street.

But how did Beyer Blinder Belle and its partners pull this off? “One of the first things we did was extend the retail outwards, toward the street, towards the sidewalk, because all of these buildings were built 30, 40, 50 feet back from the street,” Pau says. They also did away with the tinted windows that once characterized the complex, because they gave it an anonymous, buttoned up feel.

Next up, those apertures and porosity: “In one instance, on Peachtree, we actually took out one bay of an office building on the first few floors and created a physical connection where you can just walk straight through into the heart of the project.

Rather than starting from scratch, though, it was important for the redevelopment team to respect the structure of the aging complex, Pau says. 

“The question was, how do you bring new life to old buildings that are tired and maybe not functioning from an economic point of view, or even from an urbanistic point of view? I think [Colony Square] is a great example of how this can be done.” 

The old Colony Square had “good bones”—a cluster of robust existing buildings with an almost brutal quality to them—that Pau says needed preserving. “One of the things we wanted to do with our new buildings was to play up on that volumetric nature of those buildings … so it feels a little bit different, but it doesn’t feel contrary to what’s around us.” 

“It does take vision; it does take a client, clearly, that has the resources and the guts to actually do it,” he adds. “But I think if you can do it, you can actually create an authentic urban place right out of something that exists.”

mural at colony square
garden linking colony square to the street