Atlanta’s best architecture: Ponce City Market

Atlanta’s best architecture: Ponce City Market


Douglas Sams


Atlanta is a unique place, rich with creativity, says architect Bruce McEvoy.

It struggles to balance its remarkable growth while valuing its history. A developer who had relocated to the Atlanta market once told McEvoy merely the announcement of a deal in Atlanta sometimes held more substance than the deal itself.

“I immediately knew what he was talking about in regards to substantial, strategic and interdependent projects that are woven into the fabric of older cities and thought of how spectacle still plays such an important role in our ‘hub’ city,” McEvoy writes in the latest installment of Atlanta Business Chronicle’s look at the city’s best architecture.

The paper is working on the project with American Institute of Architects- Atlanta.

Today, Ponce City Market, the redevelopment of the former Sears, Roebuck and Company building in the Old Fourth Ward, “seems to be the center of our spectacle, while negotiating history and sharing an authenticity that is resonating with culture,” says McEvoy, a member of Perkins+Will’s Design Leadership Forum.

“Ponce City Market has an unusually-deep history for Atlanta. The building was designed originally for Sears Roebuck and Company in 1925 by Nimmons, Carr and Wright Architects. The original showroom and warehouse was built on the grounds of the Ponce Springs Amusement Park, which was across the street from the Atlanta Crackers baseball field. In a way, this place has always been a hub of commerce, and spectacle, just like Atlanta. The Sears building operated until the late 1980s when the city of Atlanta occupied it as City Hall East. It remained in that use for twenty years. I toured the building when the city was thinking about selling the property in 2007 and was amazed at the cavernous storage and potential of the completely underutilized 2 million square feet.”

In 2010, Jamestown acquired Ponce City Market. That began a new chapter for the site with the help of Surber, Barber, Choate & Hertlein Architects and later, Perkins Eastman. Today, the project is open and will continue to be delivered over the next few years with the help of several talented architecture firms including S9 Architecture, Gensler, Stevens & Wilkinson, ASD and many more to come.

“Ponce City Market’s design is considerate as a sustainable development, its relationship to the existing urban fabric and creative intervention on the existing conditions,” McEvoy says.

“As an adaptive reuse project, there is already an embodied savings of over 100,000 tons of CO2, before making sensible decisions about energy in the project going forward. This is the equivalent to the carbon sequestered by over 3000 acres of forest.

“The project is also considerate at the neighborhood scale with its links to the local infrastructure investments of the Historic Fourth Ward Park and the Atlanta Beltline. Utilizing the old infrastructure and tracks, which actually come into the project, all of the new spaces, which include housing, retail, restaurants, learning spaces and offices, will be directly linked to the Beltline.

“Crossing North Avenue will put you into the new and exciting Historic Fourth Ward Park. The development of Ponce City Market celebrates Atlanta’s local flavors, increases activity and exercise, reduces the need for automobiles and revitalizes a formerly forlorn blight.”

And yet, the project is still unfinished.

“Ponce City Market acknowledges the passage of time as a rare reminder of Atlanta’s history and we are soon going to watch it turn 100 years old. That is unique for a young city like Atlanta, where we are obsessed with the entrepreneurial spirit of tomorrow, often to the detriment of our history. To see this project thrive again with a new purpose is what every architect wants for old buildings,” McEvoy says.

“The design of the interior of the project is handled with a sensitivity that celebrates this history and showcases layers of time-worn materials. These historic features, authentic in their patina, engage all the senses in a rich environment that invites the visitor into the story. You cannot add this wonderful authenticity to a project and it cannot be bought. It is earned over time. As an architect you are lucky to be able to acknowledge and preserve it, while respectfully layering new life into it.”

Ponce City Market might provide a lesson for future Atlanta development, McEvoy says.

“Older properties in Atlanta hold value as adaptive reuse projects in the city right now, which might be looking for attention and new purpose rather than demolition and disposal. There are also some aspects of this development’s timeline that represent an organic delivery over time. Currently, Ponce City Market is focused on artisanal food, fashion and technology but I think it is just getting started and will probably grow to be much more.”

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