The annual design extravaganza Modern Atlanta (MA) returns this week. Since Bernard McCoy and Elayne DeLeo founded MA in 2008, they have focused on the idea that “Design Is Human.” They explore this conceptually loaded phrase through handpicked designer showcases, film screenings, industry leader lectures and panels, and a multicity architecture tour. By focusing their curatorial purview on people and their ideas rather than objects explicitly, MA generally skirts the dangerous waters of over-commercialization in a field prone to novelty worship and planned obsolescence. Each year, the quality of the programs increases, attracting significant local and international talent.
The most identifiable shift for MA this year consists of a completely revamped website, replete with supplemental information to the aforementioned events as well as a blog format for articles. The responsive design by Armchair reiterates the flexible, inclusive programming strategy MA supports with the bold graphics the organization has used throughout the past several years. With conversational essays like “Atlanta is emerging,” ideation interviews such as “Design is invisible,” and company highlighting like “Anders Warming on 100% MINI,” MA augments their visual identity with writing.
However, like many Atlanta institutions, criticality remains a major issue. While indicative of a larger societal misunderstanding, MA occasionally conflates the term “modern” and “contemporary.” To a historian, the name “Modern Atlanta” would most likely indicate representations of Atlanta from the mid-1900s, since modern architecture has historically been classified as between 1914 and 1972. However, practitioners focused on differentiating classicist architecture from anything built today not using that system of vocabulary creates a dichotomy of misinterpretation. Additionally, linguists come to a different conclusion, citing “modern” as meaning “of or relating to the present or recent times as opposed to the remote past.” This term opposes contemporary, which signifies “living or occurring at the same time.” As such, “Contemporary Atlanta” might have been the more accurate title to reflect an organization curating an exposition on the present state of design. However, phonetic symbolism or other pragmatisms likely steered McCoy and DeLeo to the current name. Either way, it seems they now have the capacity to write a much needed “MAnifesto.”
The architecture tour culminates MA Week, historically one of it’s most popular components. MA selects around a dozen houses or recently completed small projects to showcase discreet examples of projects they think explore contemporary design issues. In some sense, MA selects projects that they think approach the gesamtkunstwerk, Wagner’s idea of the total work of art. However, in this case they might be classified under the name gesamtdesignwerk, a work of total design. This year, 12 different firms present 14 recently completed projects.
Ahead of experiencing them in person, they all appear roughly similar: various explorations of wood (real or fake) and cementitious siding and thin-set stone with some notion of extended horizontality or verticality. Little seems to engage contemporary reinterpretations of the vernacular, and contextual red brick is as absent as ever. However, as Gaston Bachelard would remind us, perceptual experiencing is believing.
The main events remaining in this year’s MA Week include:
June 3: CEU @ ADAC
June 4: Kilian Schindler on N by Naber Concept Kitchen @ ADAC
June 4: Young Designer Showcase @ Modani
June 5: International Design Expo and MA Arch Launch @ ADAC
June 6 + 7: Atlanta Architecture Tours @ Various Locations
Here are the projects on the tour this year:
Castro Design Studio: Mason Mill
DNK Development: Kings Court
e3 Design: Rockhaven
Plexus R+D: Little John
Robert M. Cain: Ranch Style Redux
Stanley Beaman Sears: Gaisie
TaC Studios: Kings Mill