Perspectives in Architecture: Transforming communities by respecting history

unspecifiedBy Melody Harclerode

Momentum is building for the transformation of Atlanta’s historic Westside neighborhoods into healthier, safer and better-educated communities.

Partnerships between local organizations and philanthropic groups like the Arthur M. Blank Foundation have resulted in initiatives including job training programs, health programs, and the implementation of STEAM educational programs for English Avenue, Vine City, and Castleberry Hill residents. This transformation extends into physical improvements of neighborhoods through the demolition of blighted buildings that can harbor crime, lower home values, and depress civic spirit.

As civic organizations work together to revitalize these communities, the preservation of historic buildings in the district should also be implemented as part of their revitalization plans. Fountain Hall at Morris Brown College represents one of these numerous landmarks. Founded in 1881, Morris Brown College is recognized as one of the few HBCU’s, or Historically Black Colleges & Universities, founded by African-Americans.

The three-story Fountain Hall, designed by architect Gottfried Leonard Norrman, was completed in 1882 as an administrative building for the college. Norrman served in 1892 as a founder of the Southern Chapter of the American Institute of Architects. He also helped to establish the Atlanta Chapter of this professional organization in 1906. His design talents can also be seen at Ivy Hall, the SCAD building constructed in 1885 as the Edward Peters residence.

In the future, Morris Brown College will start a capital campaign to restore buildings on its campus. The school’s red brick, Queen Anne-style Fountain Hall rises assuredly on one of the highest points in the City of Atlanta. A monumental clock tower with meticulous brick detailing and a grand arched opening adds distinction to this structure.  Since its construction, the exterior and the original floor plan of Fountain Hall has remained essentially unchanged.  Jeffrey L. Robinson AIA, NOMA of J. W. Robinson & Associates, Inc. describes the building as “one of the nation’s oldest remaining structures symbolizing our African-American collegiate heritage.” A full-service assessment will take place on Fountain Hall to assess the architectural and engineering costs for renovating this structure.

Morris Brown College President Stanley J. Pritchett Sr. sees great benefits for Westside organizations in renovating Fountain Hall and other campus buildings. “The design of Fountain Hall not only adds to the beauty of our campus, but immediately evokes a nostalgic reaction when anyone views it.” Considering the historical mission of Morris Brown College “for the moral, spiritual, and intellectual growth of Negro boys and girls,” renovations to Fountain Hall can renew this tradition, reinforce the educational goals of philanthropic groups, and reinvigorate an iconic building and National Historic Landmark in the city.

Melody HarclerodeMelody L. Harclerode, AIA, promotes significant historical, cultural, and natural sites as an organizational leader, architect and writer.

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