The Atlanta Soccer Village

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Back in the 1990s I stayed employed by moving between Atlanta’s tiny movie industry and a small design practice headed by Laura Heery, daughter of famous Atlanta architect George Heery.  Laura has always been ardent about architecture and urban design, and she was always able to find some truly fun design projects around Atlanta.  I’m always glad that I had the experience to work with her on some of these imaginative projects, even if few of them made it past the concept design stages (that’s the world of architecture).

In then Atlanta had a soccer team called the Atlanta Silverbacks.  I have no idea if they were any good, because I never went to a game. All I know is that we were thrown into an effort to design a soccer stadium that might be part of a larger complex that included youth soccer fields.

The project name we worked under was The Atlanta Soccer Village.

Atlanta Soccer Village Panoramic Watercolour by Drewprops

When I say “we” the actual measured drawing work – the programmatic elements like “how many butts can we fit into seats on one side of the field” – were handled by Atlanta architect Wylie Gaston.

Wylie was a bespectacled, quiet man with prematurely grey/white hair. He was famously intense, in a quiet sort of way. The word ‘quiet’ always popped up in descriptions of Wylie because that’s how he was. There was a legend of Wylie disappearing from his corner bullpen work area despite people lining his path along both routes leading to the exit. Chris Welty explained the mystery away by saying that Wylie “had on his Friday walking shoes” – magical shoes indeed.

So one Friday Laura approached me to explain that the client was going to make a presentation early the next week and that all of the measurements and structure that Wylie had been developing was vital to a real project, but it wasn’t the kind of image that draws investment capital and she was wondering if I could do some elevations for them to include in the presentation.

Elevations are flat, “head on” drawings of a building, for those of you who didn’t go to college to be architects.

I remember not having a clue what this project was about, but as I had learned in the movies: fake it until you make it.

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So I sat down and interpreted Wylie’s scantly detailed plans for the plaza and ticketing area outside the stadium. There really wasn’t much to go on, so I doodled in some additional elements, like a store and a museum.

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I included a giant TV screen beaming the game out to people in the parking lot.

Internal pedestrian bridges to infer layered, internal circulation.

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I was totally making this shit up – imagining what a “soccer village” might look like even though I’d never actually seen the game played.

Generic references to Italian architecture seemed like a good idea, and I included some ivy climbing up the walls as an inside joke to Laura about one of the first projects I had worked on for her: the Commerce District of Roswell.

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Again: I was totally making this shit up.

The round sweep in plan of ticketing windows with heroic torch-like lighting elements that might (or might not) have soccer balls at their tops.  Recumbent metal paneling with bas-relief / super-graphic soccer nets – was it a slight reference to Gehry’s museum in Bilbao?

Possibly.  I really don’t know because I was totally making that shit up!

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A heroic metal soccer ball that would be illuminated at night like a lighthouse? Heck yes! They would just have to build that thing, it was so cool!

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I included squashed versions of St. Mark’s Campanile from Venice to enclose vertical circulation (stairs and elevators).  The version in the plaza was clad in brick, the version in the stands was made of cement with the infill ‘cladding’ made of chain link fence.

Shit? Made up!

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Winglet sun shades over the field must have been a part of Wylie’s emerging schematic design, but the way I drew them? Well…. if you’re a structural engineer please be kind in your criticism because if you only started reading recently: I was totally making this shit up.

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Denouement

On Monday morning when Laura walked in and saw my finished illustration her eyes kind of bugged out.

Atlanta Soccer Village Panoramic Watercolour by Drewprops

She said something along the lines of “this is the work of an architect” – which was really very flattering because I had been spending my time doing props on movies for all those years since graduating from Georgia Tech’s College of Architecture and I had never produced anything like this for her before.

She clearly had not been anticipating this drawing.

The design is frankly a bit of a mish-mash, and was quite likely beyond the budgetary means of that client.  But I will always be proud of this design.  There are much better delineators out there than me, and far more accomplished designers and painters, but they weren’t there that weekend – I was! :)

 

Epilogue

As you must already know, the Atlanta Soccer Village never came to life, and I thought that must certainly be the last hurrah for soccer in the south, forever.

But a few years ago my friend Alfeo (aka ‘Burrito’) told me that he had become an early member of a fan group for a new “Major League” soccer franchise that Falcons owner Arthur Blank was starting.

I assumed that Blank had lost a bet and quietly dismissed the likelihood that the team would last very long in Atlanta, a city famous for its lack of spirit when it comes to sports.

Last night Atlanta United sewed up their place in the final championship match-up for the league – and it’s only the team’s 2nd year in existence! On any given game day dozens of my friends are at the game. The logo for the team shows up everywhere you look around Atlanta.

Something has definitely changed in this city.

Maybe it’s finally worthy of a soccer village.

 

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