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Project: Millennium Gate, Atlanta, GA

Client: National Monuments Foundation; Rodney Mims Cook, Jr., Atlanta, GA, president

Architect: Robert Adam Architects, Winchester and London, U.K.

Landscape Architect: Tunnell & Tunnell, Atlanta, GA

Interior Designer: Henrietta Spencer-Churchill, London, U.K.

Architect of record: Collins Cooper Carusi, Atlanta, GA

Contractor: Hardin Construction, Atlanta, GA

Sculptor: Alexander Stoddart, Paisley, Scotland

Engineers: Jordan, Jones & Goulding, Atlanta; MACTEC, Alpharetta, GA

Foundry: Morris Singer, Hampshire, U.K.

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Triumphal March

Ground at a downtown Atlanta, GA, brownfield is slated to be broken this summer for the nation’s largest Classical monument since Jefferson’s domed colonnade opened on the Washington Mall in 1943. At the Atlanta ensemble, called the Millennium Gate, two bronze Greek goddesses already rest on pylons. Between them will soon rise a limestone arch and four allegorical bronze figures with iconography summarizing the past 2,000 years of human aspiration and peaceable achievement.

Bringing forth this rare Classical landmark has required years of negotiation and collaboration among architects, engineers, landscape architects, developers, donors, city officials and the Scottish sculptor Alexander Stoddart. Orchestrating the players is Classical designer and philanthropist Rodney Mims Cook, Jr.

As the founder and president of an Atlanta nonprofit called the National Monuments Foundation (NMF), Cook has been shepherding the project for seven years. Originally conceived for a barren traffic island in Washington, DC, the gate’s plan has been gracefully adapted to its Atlanta berth, largely because of Cook’s watchful eye and impassioned commitment. “He has tremendous reserves of compassion and kindness, and he never gets discouraged, he keeps going great guns,” Stoddart says. “Rodney is in fact officially a miracle.”

Cook has deep Atlanta roots. Among his Confederate and Union-sympathizing ancestors are two Atlanta mayors, both design patrons. In the 1850s, Mayor John Mims commissioned Atlanta’s first citywide map, and in the early 1900s, Mayor Livingston Mims funded major park expansions including an Olmsted Brothers’ scheme. Cook’s bloodlines and in-laws also include clients of Atlanta’s renowned Classical architect Philip Trammell Shutze. As a teenager in the 1970s, Cook led preservation picketers who saved the city’s Fox Theatre, a 1920s Moorish fantasy then slated for demolition. Cook was a founding trustee of the Prince of Wales’s Foundation for Architecture, which helped organize a competition for a monument commemorating Atlanta’s hosting of the 1996 Olympics. On an Atlanta traffic circle stands the competition winner: bronze atlases and limestone columns, designed by Russian-born architect Anton Glikin.

Locals determinedly cross busy lanes to reach the sculpture. “People leave bouquets, flags, and candles there whenever there’s a world tragedy to mourn,” Cook says. “The monument speaks to their souls.” Atlanta can use more such meditative gathering places, he adds, partly because so few were built there in the late 19th and early 20th centuries: “Citizens here were still recovering from the Civil War and rebuilding their homes, while the rest of the country was benefiting so greatly from the Beaux-Arts City Beautiful movement.”

Atlanta’s Millennium Gate arose out of a now-stalled endeavor to ennoble Washington, DC’s Commodore Barney Circle, a snarl of traffic islands and highway ramps. In 2000, Cook organized an international monument competition, open to architecture students and recent architecture school graduates and sponsored by the University of Notre Dame. The jurors were Léon Krier, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, Robert A.M. Stern, Carroll William Westfall, and Michael Dennis. Daniel G. Parolek (of Opticos Design, Berkeley, CA) won first place among ten winners. The other nine were Lisa Schmitt Bergman, Marianne Cusato (who recently designed a prototype cottage for Hurricane Katrina recovery zones), Olympics monument designer Anton Glikin, Shelley Hoenle, Luis Pedro Vásquez Lobos, Abdul Muzikir, Silvia Neri, Milan Petkovic and Joseph Matthew Smith. They participated in a charrette (except for Vásquez Lobos, a Guatemalan who was tragically killed in a car accident), and their collaboration led to a four-sided arch that politicians praised, muddled over and then shelved.

Cook promised the city that his group would raise the entire $50-million construction budget, but still couldn’t convince bureaucrats to move forward. He found far more receptive audiences in Atlanta’s private sector, notably Jacoby Development. The company has cleaned up 138 downtown acres, the former home of Atlantic Steel, to make way for $2 billion worth of offices, residences, stores and hotels. A walkway elevated across a 21-lane interstate connects the property, called Atlantic Station, to the rest of the city. A few industrial relics have been preserved onsite, including a sooty smokestack. Cook persuaded Jacoby to reserve an acre for a Classical monument that would set a sophisticated tone for the development, while eye-catchingly terminating an avenue vista and providing an irresistible gathering spot.

The parkland, along a 150-ft.-wide thoroughfare, cost Jacoby some $1.25 million to give away. The NMF is raising its own $18 million to build the Gate. (On the foundation board serve such luminaries as Colin Amery, Richard H. Driehaus, Susan Eisenhower, Anne Randolph Hearst, Priscilla Roosevelt, Thomas Gordon Smith, and Tom Wolfe.) Cook brought in Hugh Petter, a director at Robert Adam Architects, to adapt the Barney Circle design into a 70-ft.-tall arch flanked by 24-ft.-tall pylons. Petter was one of three scholars at the Prince of Wales’s Institute who’d helped Cook organize the Olympics-monument competition, along with Dr. Richard John and Victor Deupi (now the Arthur Ross Director of Education at the Institute of Classical Architecture & Classical America).

The arch’s many precedents, Petter explains, include London’s Wellington, New York’s Washington, Paris’s Carrousel near the Louvre, Munich’s Siegestor and Rome’s Titus. Petter, along with local architect Sandy Cooper of Collins Cooper Carusi, chose Indiana limestone for the cladding. “At Bybee Stone,” Cooper recalls, “we looked at buff and variegated samples, and the variegated stood out because of the striations and the sense of depth.” The pylons and arch will have concrete substructures, yet not look veneered. “We’ll use huge blocks,” Petter says, “so it will appear massive, enduring and timeless.”

Stoddart’s sculptures will mark the past two millennia of time’s passage. On the pylons already stand figures of the Greek goddesses of Peace, Eirene (pronounced eye-REEN-ee), and Justice, Dike (DEE-kay). Each weighs 1.5 tons and was cast in 360 moulds. Eirene sits behind Ploutos, the god of wealth and bountiful harvests, and at Dike’s feet stands Harpocrates, the shushing god of restraint of judgment. Dike wears an Egyptian headdress and holds a sistrum, a sacred rattle used by priestesses devoted to Isis, the first goddess said to represent justice.

The Morris Singer foundry in Hampshire, England, shipped the eight-ft.-tall ladies to Savannah last fall. From there, Melanie Faser, the project coordinator for the NMF, arranged for a Percheron-drawn caisson to carry them to Atlanta. Brass bands and bagpipers led the way. Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue (a Republican) and Congressmen Jim Marshall (a Democrat) and Jack Kingston (a Republican) were among the notables driving the caisson.

Stoddart is now sketching the first of four female figures for the arch base. Each will represent 500 years: the Hellenistic period, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and modern times. They will stand 14½ ft. tall, just shy of the roof beam in Stoddart’s studio in Paisley, Scotland. The Hellenistic woman will carry a broken column, “signifying the moment when Classical culture came to a rich and virtuosic maturity,” the sculptor explains. Around her will also be arrayed a model of Alexandria’s Pharos (referring to the empire’s extensive trade, and serving as a sign of hope) and two scrolls symbolizing the era’s destroyed libraries and lost knowledge. Stoddart has not yet finalized the other three designs, but he expects to evoke everything from the first charitable hospitals and first declarations of universal enfranchisement to the ambitions of space exploration.

The backdrop of Atlanta high rises somehow suits Stoddart’s bronzes. “We found the statues’ scale is even more impressive than we expected,” Petter says. “They really hold their own in the context. And the arch will be as tall as the smokestack.” Stoddart adds that Eirene and Dike “look glorious in that Atlanta sun, especially in the morning. Sculpture wants a strong, high-up, raking light.”

A park will be planted at the ladies’ feet, designed by landscape architect Spencer Tunnell, of the Atlanta firm Tunnell & Tunnell. An elliptical lawn will be framed by what Tunnell calls “a pierced retaining wall with pilasters and blind arches forming an architectural container, and completely festooned in climbing roses. We’re also planting crabapple and cherry trees, to create the same lushness and abundance you see in gardens in Rome, which has a similar climate to Atlanta’s.” The groves will eventually serve as waiting areas for visitors entering the arch.

Galleries inside will cover Atlanta history, and conference rooms and the roof terrace will be rentable for events. Cook has commissioned a series of period rooms as well, either copied from landmarks or fashioned from architectural salvage. Gate-goers will be able to stroll through a forest of Corinthian columns that held up an 1810s stairwell in Savannah, a 1920s Italian Baroque living room designed by Shutze for the family of Mrs. James D. Robinson, Jr. (Cook’s grandmother-in-law), and a 1930s paneled office used by Atlantic Steel industrialist Thomas K. Glenn.

The arch is scheduled to open in the fall of 2007 with the names of all contributors etched into its flanks, including the Barney Circle competition finalists. Cook is already planning his next Atlanta project. He won’t reveal the site, just the program: “a monumental column on the scale of Nelson’s or Trajan’s, to commemorate Georgia’s founder, James Oglethorpe.” Cook is also researching potential parade routes for Stoddart’s arch figures, which will arrive annually over the next few years. Eirene and Dike, Cook says, “look absolutely majestic, even better than we’d imagined. They’re exactly what’s been sorely needed in Atlanta, and they look perfectly appropriate. Even in this Modernist-inclined city, people are telling us they’re thrilled to have something this magnificent built, finally.” – Eve M. Kahn

 

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