Atlanta’s Buckhead district, one of the city’s thriving centers for development, is a mix of high-end retail, offices and hotels, as well as a strong nightlife component. While the Buckhead skyline has filled rapidly over the last decade with high-rise projects of all types, the new branch office for international brokerage firm Charles Schwab is notable for both its unassuming size and its distinctive architectural style.
Completed in December 2008, this two-story, 10,000-square-foot aluminum-clad building presents a stark contrast to the gray concrete and glass towers that dominate the surrounding area. Commanding a prominent corner site along Peachtree Road, the new building provides Charles Schwab with a unique home in the Buckhead financial district.
Real estate developers Pope & Land Enterprises, Inc. viewed the site of the new building as the last piece of the puzzle in a "city center" development for Buckhead, having developed a high-rise hotel and parking deck on the adjacent property 15 years earlier. While the opportunity presented by an undeveloped site in the midst of this highly desirable neighborhood was clear, the size of the property presented a challenge. For commercial development the site was described as a "postage stamp," with a total area of roughly 18,000 square feet (0.4 acres). After considering development as a restaurant or retail telecommunications store, Pope & Land eventually settled on financial services as an appropriate program for the site.
Looking for an architect capable of designing for the project’s size while also providing a cutting-edge look that would stand out among all the new construction projects in the Buckhead district, Pope & Land selected Wakefield Beasley & Associates (WBA). Having worked with Pope & Land on previous projects in more suburban areas of metropolitan Atlanta, including a commercial bank with a similarly restricted site, WBA’s team was excited for the opportunity presented by this project’s more urban location and its set of challenges. Their prior working relationship had also proven to Pope & Land that WBA was able to provide exciting design solutions that could be implemented at a reasonable cost.
3314 Peachtree is within two feet of the pedestrian sidewalk so WBA used a small module to allow easy handling of material on the tight site.
To create a signature building appropriate to the locale, a goal of the design was providing a strong identity to whatever tenant would eventually occupy the property. Compared to a typical project, the design approach was much more protracted, with more time taken to develop preliminary and schematic designs along with conceptual cost estimates for each proposed scheme. Almost three years were spent in various stages of planning and design, and the project had actually been submitted for preliminary permitting before a long-term lease agreement was settled with Charles Schwab as the ideal tenant.
Maximizing Urban Opportunity
The compact, urban site presented a number of special challenges that had to be addressed during design and construction. Located just 10 feet from the busiest street in the city of Atlanta, the construction work required extensive coordination of utility connections. In accordance with a prior agreement with the adjacent Grand Hyatt Atlanta hotel, it was necessary to maintain a lane for valet and hotel traffic that effectively created a constant flow of cars near the center of the construction site. While this could only be closed down for short periods, fortunately the Grand Hyatt was described by Pope & Land Sales and Development Manager Frank Kelly as "very accommodating and responsive to work with."
Because of the site’s proximity to two MARTA (Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority) subway stations, it falls within an Overlay District with special zoning regulations such as strict requirements governing pedestrian access to the building. To conform to these restrictions, the primary parking lot was located to the rear of the site, with direct entrances to the main sales lobby from both the parking area and the sidewalk along Peachtree Street.
A Fusion of Size and Shape
Pedestrian access is provided from the Peachtree Road sidewalk, as well as the parking area behind the building.
The basic building layout uses simple geometric volumes, overlapped and rotated to create two parallelograms rotated against each other. The pivot point creates an atrium lobby within the building served by a central core for circulation and services. The building is served by one open and one enclosed stair, with required fire separation provided through a drop-down partition that compartmentalizes the second floor in the event of an emergency. The rotation of the overlapping geometries creates a pair of exterior balconies on the upper floor at the north and south faces of the building, shielded by aluminum sunshades to create a semi-private outdoor space.
To visually highlight the small, iconic building, the architects opted for a monochromatic color scheme for the building’s exterior. White was chosen to stand out against the predominantly gray buildings surrounding the site. The steel structural frame of the building is clad with ALPOLIC® self-ventilated aluminum panels manufactured by Mitsubishi. This innovative exterior wall system equalizes wind pressure and temperature as air circulates behind the panels, and serves as a rain screen backed by a VaproShield® moisture barrier. The metal panel and curtain wall systems were intentionally designed using 30-inch or 60-inch modules to allow ease of handling, since there was minimal roof for storage or staging of materials on the restricted site.
To accommodate Charles Schwab’s request for translucent windows during daylight hours and after dark, the curtain wall system uses a high transparency glass with a low-emissivity coating for improved energy efficiency. At the roof level, a louvered screen wall shields mechanical equipment from view while also serving to enhance the building’s apparent height. The white exterior wall panels and light colored gravel over the roof membrane, along with shading provided by sunscreens and roof screens, help reduce solar heat gain and maintain energy efficiency.
At the ground level, the curtain wall of the building is curved to invite pedestrian traffic into the site from the busy Peachtree Street sidewalk. The corner of the site at the adjacent intersection features a "mini-park" – a type of public space that is otherwise nonexistent in the Buckhead area.
Measuring Results Beyond the Bottom Line
Completed in December 2008, the total construction cost of the new building was approximately $3 million. While this means the cost per square foot for the new facility approaches $300, this is partly accounted for by the small scale of the project. In fact, given the value of property in the Buckhead district, the land cost for this development outweighs its construction costs. In the end, the project’s success can be measured by the end user’s satisfaction with the finished product. Charles Schwab is extremely proud of their new home in Buckhead, and they report receiving frequent compliments on its design. The combination of a development vision and architectural design that match perfectly with the tenant’s needs has resulted in a first-rate solution for all parties.
Note: Interior design done in collaboration with FRCH Worldwide Design.