Park Review: Centennial Olympic Park Atlanta, Georgia

By on January 17, 2011.

Established for the Summer Olympics in 1996, Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta, Georgia continues to be a center piece for downtown Atlanta. My first visit to this park came in the Summer of 2009, a time where the heat index ran to about 100 degrees and Centennial Park was a haven for those trying to get away from the dreadful city heat (and summer pollution). It was evident then that this park had served its purpose to host thousands of visitors during the Olympics but that it had also become a prime example of why cities require open spaces and one of the most popular locations for Atlanta’s downtown residents.

I wouldn’t be surprised if cities such as St.Louis (currently en route to redesigning the areas around the Archway) used Atlanta as an example of how to redevelop downtowns by letting development follow open space. Before the creation of Centennial Park, the area was run-down and under utilized. Through the vision of the Olympic games CEO and the state of Georgia, 21-acres of “eye sore” development was converted in to what is now Centennial Park. In my eyes, I consider this to be the “Central Park” of Atlanta (informally as there is already a central park within the city). Naturally, the park was beautiful and caused developers to fight for the surrounding areas. Development following open space had a domino effect for the adjacent context as the Georgia Aquarium (with an ASLA award winning plaza) and Coca-Cola factory were constructed to the north and the CNN center, Phillips Arena, and a wealth of higher-end residences, and offices to the South and Southeast.

Downtown Atlanta 1993

Atlanta 1999: Pre-Aquarium/Coca-Cola Factory


Atlanta 2010

The design of the park follows a simple pallet, focusing on functionalism in an Eckbo compartmentalization type of way. Every area has a certain dedication to the Olympics and a certain use. The centralized “Great Lawn” is a vast turf area that makes for a scenic picnic on a beautiful day and leaves enough room for some active play. Though the most simple element , I believe it is the best asset of the park as the long open space reflects the vertical surroundings and alleviates the transition of scale. Divided by brick paver pathways, each paver is engraved with a message or a name from whom ever purchased it. This type of widely used program helps with costs while creating a connection between the site and its users.

The southern section of the park focuses on more organized functions. Consisting of an outdoor amphitheatre, jet fountains, and a small restaurant with outdoor seating allowing for a variety of functions and events. This area hosts many concerts and public meetings, while playing a nightly interactive fountain concerto for times without an event. I was lucky enough to stumble upon this during my last visit to the park. As I arrived on a Thursday night, couples young and old, families, some homeless, and many others gathered around the fountain and the restaurant and watched the playful fountain. Many of the people I saw there looked like locals who seemed to enjoy showing up for the nightly event. Small details such as these are the reasons why I am proud to be a designer

Finally, the eastern section is slightly buffered from the rest of the park and a complete dedication to the 1996 Olympics. Consisting of 5 different “quilt” areas, each with a certain attribute of the olympics, sculptures and figurative works depict the spirit of the Olympics. This is all unified by a water feature that runs through all five sections and varies in intensity of water movement. I find the idea to be decent in concept but the translation of water as the catalyst for the quilt idea did not follow through well. The water features consist of faux stone rapids with a combination of hard line concrete movements. This is still an enjoyable area, especially at night, but the faux-stone almost evokes the feeling of a mini-golf establishment and hinders the overall ability of the water feature to maintain the same “spirit” as the rest of the art around it. Maybe it was the only material available at the time?

However, this is only a small feature and the overall success of the park as an iconic feature within urbanity is not hindered. 15 years after its establishment, Centennial Olympic Park is a key element within the urban mold and well worth the visit at all times of the year and day. As I type this article it is probably covered in snow and I would love to see images of the Great Lawn in a blanket of white. Anyone have photos of this?

Marco Ancheita recently received a bachelor’s degree in Landscape Architecture from the University of Florida and is a contributing writer to Landscape Invocation. He is currently a Master’s student of Architecture at the Georgia Institute of Technology. His interests and goals lie in the realm of Urban Design;he is firm believer that successful urban design requires a true multidisciplinary approach and, even more, a multidisciplinary education.


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