Hometown Hero: Professors shows that architecture is more than buildings
BILL HENDRICK / SPECIAL
Georgia Tech architecture Prof. Laura Hollengreen and two of her grad students, Clara Winston (left) and Ashlynne Bauer check out the landscape of a Civil War fort located in 1864 at the southwestern corner of today s campus.
By Bill Hendrick
For the AJC
The Confederate soldiers who occupied what’s now the hills and valleys of the manicured Georgia Tech campus could never have dreamed that 150 years later their forts, camps and footpaths would be studied by students in one of Laura Hollengreen’s architecture classes.
Her students didn’t know at first that she would have them build a Civil War exhibit called “Surface and Depth” that has filled Tech’s Clough gallery since Aug. 19 and will stay up through Oct. 18.
Made up of photographs, three-dimensional panels and drawings of the campus area after the Rebs had fled, it was meant to showcase the “sensibility of nascent architects in the study of cultural and political landscapes and their skills in creating stimulating, memorable environments,” she said.
In other words — why the Rebs put forts and trenches where they did was related to the same terrain and sight perception features that later influenced the shape and form of today’s campus. Hollengreen is seen as something of a hero for requiring her students to ponder how architecture affected the area in 1864 — as well as its later development. The exhibit is seen daily by hundreds of people.
“Many people think architecture just means buildings,” but “it is in fact human culture materialized and spatialized,” said student Holden Spaht, 31. He said Rebel engineers “relied very heavily on interventions within the medium of the land and earth for the city’s defense … including the clear-cutting of vast pine forests and massive excavations in the dirt.”
Wesley Herr, 22, added that terrain features have always been important.
“For example, the hill that Tech Tower currently resides on used to be the location of a fort…”, on high ground, a position of power, he said. Today it’s an administrative building, where major decisions are made.
“The exhibition shows us that our present has been influenced by our past,” Herr said. “It shows us that the landscape can tell a story that the modern city cannot. The lay of the land, the hills and valleys remain mostly unchanged and the story stays with them.”
Christina Shivers, 28, said architecture and design “create and mold spaces in the society in which we live,” explaining the location of modern features like sidewalks and buildings today just as they did trails and trenches in 1864.
“Hopefully through our exhibition,” said Clara Winston, 25, “we can inform students, faculty and visitors of the history they walk upon every day, and perhaps create a catalyst for furthering knowledge of local history and events.”
She also said it’s no fluke that some of Tech’s most important places like the Student Center are located on high ground also considered significant to Confederates.
Because of her work on the exhibit, Ashlynne Bauer, 25, now looks “at the campus through an entirely different lens.” Topography, she adds, “dictates where we have put our most beloved and long-lasting structures.”
She added, “I definitely will approach design differently in the future… examining the history of a space adds valuable insight on the variables that contributed to its evolution over time.”