by Chris Mutter, ASLA
As a designer, one of the main things you hope for are opportunities where your experience, creative ideas, and outside-the-box thinking lend themselves to creating human experiences that make people stop and wonder. Upon initial brainstorming sessions with Assembly Atlanta developers, I knew this project would present that opportunity.
The prime goal of Assembly Atlanta is to bring a mixed-use mega-entertainment hub, unlike any other, to the metro-Atlanta area. And that is EXACTLY what is happening. In September of 2023, the team of Gray Television, The Gipson Company, Smith Dalia Architects, Kimley-Horn, and landscape architecture and planning firm HGOR will be delivering such a destination.
Designing landscapes suited for filming and producing major motion pictures and TV was previously associated with Hollywood, California. Eventually, it made its way to the quaint coastal region of the Carolinas because of scenic versatility and the need for lower production costs. Creating a Tinsletown-like hub in land-locked Atlanta was previously not a priority, even though filmmakers have utilized the state’s geography for years. Picturesque landscapes in Georgia, adorned with oak trees, bright city lights, small-town charm, and mountainous terrain, have been backdrops for films like The Hunger Games, Driving Miss Daisy, The Blind Side, and Smokey and the Bandit. Subsequently, the Georgia film industry has grown substantially over the past decade to position the state as the worldwide leader in film production.
The remarkable opportunity in Doraville, just outside Atlanta, is where Assembly Atlanta is already taking shape. Selected as the master planner and landscape architect for creating the vision of the Atlanta movie mecca, HGOR is designing an all-new type of landscape and paving the way in an entirely new sector—cutting-edge film and TV studio environments.
From day one, the client understood and was on board with creating innovative ways to solve stormwater management. When discussing stormwater amenity feature ponds, the conversation always centered around pushing the limit on delivering a value-based investment that would offer an authentic experience and identity of place while providing the stormwater detention function needed, but in an unrecognizable way. The design strategy was identified on that first day and has never once been compromised or questioned.
One of my most memorable conversations, thus far, throughout the project planning, is regarding the need for an iconic element representing the property’s image. Most movie studios operate as their own city with their own water supply and power generators, and many have a water tower which when branded becomes their unique icon. So, we wondered, “What type of icon would accurately reflect what we’re creating at The Assembly?” That’s precisely when the Assembly Tower was realized as our icon. Immediately our team threw out ideas of placing a video-based vertical object on the site that would display relevant content of exciting things happening at Assembly Studios and could be seen from miles away. The content would be a beacon drawing visitors to the destination—like a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow! Pin-cushioned at the corner of the four-acre park and event venue, we imagine the 144-foot tall Iconic Tower as a literal backdrop for live events that thousands of people will enjoy in the site’s public park area.
Another feature of the development we are excited about is expanding the area’s pedestrian trail system. This addition will connect to the existing and planned City of Doraville and City of Chamblee pedestrian and recreational trails. Providing a critical connection point for this portion of northeast Atlanta that will run through and along Assembly Atlanta and provide another arterial network connection to metro Atlanta’s greater-trail systems will offer a valued amenity and recreation for communities throughout Atlanta.
Our attention to detail has been and will remain a critical attribute of the team’s driving force, and delivering authenticity has been at the forefront of design conversations from the start. For instance, the project includes a wooden covered bridge. In developing the design concept for the bridge, Gray Television’s challenge to the team was to conceive a unique, one-of-a-kind bridge reflecting a turn-of-the-century covered bridge found in the south that is 100% original. As designers, these opportunities enable you to create genuinely engaging experiences for others to enjoy.
In beginning any project, as landscape architects, we constantly focus on the human experience and the walkability of the public streets and spaces we’re creating. For each of the building types and uses we are considering in The Assembly’s phase one and beyond, our responsibility is first to consider how to fully immerse the venue’s guests safely and considerately in the story we are trying to create. That story is the character, environment, and human experience that will be The Assembly.
Chris Mutter, ASLA, is a principal at HGOR. Chris’ portfolio of work includes notable corporate-focused developments, programming, and design for HGOR’s high-profile urban mixed-use projects. Serving as Design Team Leader and Principal in Charge for diverse corporate, commercial and institutional building typologies, Chris’ approach inspires and integrates unique ideas and innovative concepts of team members from all disciplines. Chris’ current project is the state-of-the-art mixed-use studio environment, Assembly Atlanta, which recently made headlines during Atlanta’s WGCL CBS46 week-long broadcast on-site in Doraville. This project will employ over 4,000 people when fully operational and serve as Atlanta’s largest purpose-built film and television studio.