Atlanta Rights Center interior detailed in 3-D models

Atlantans were granted a peek at designs for the planned $100 million National Center for Civil and Human Rights Tuesday, when CEO Doug Shipman unveiled 3-D models of the museum’s interior at a downtown press conference.

The carefully-constructed and detailed models, some of them 10 feet long, offered interior views of each of the museum’s three floors, each reproduced in miniature. They demonstrated how the sinuous, lens-shaped structure is intended to serve three distinct missions:

  • To showcase the Morehouse College collection of Martin Luther King Jr.’s papers.
  • To tell the story of the civil rights movement, with an emphasis on Atlanta’s unique role in that story.
  • To serve as a center for the discussion of contemporary civil and human rights, with attention to connections between the international issues of today and the American story that came before.

Galleries will include eye-catching exhibits, such as a burned out Freedom Rider bus, inside of which visitors can see short films of incidents from the firebombing 1960s, and a segregated lunch counter, where patrons can don headphones to experience the sort of verbal assault that demonstrators endured.

The center is intended to open in the spring of 2014. The new design is less than half the size of the rectilinear plan approved by the city four years ago, due to the sluggish economy and fund-raising challenges. Designed by the Freelon Group with architects HOK, the new design will be enlarged later with wings providing space for temporary exhibitions and an auditorium, said Shipman.

The museum’s approach to funding has also evolved, Shipman said. The center would depend more on its own income, rather than on donors, for operating costs.

The models were on display on the fourth floor of the downtown W Hotel, in an empty gallery with views over Centennial Olympic Park. The views also took in the lot being prepared for the new center, in the desirable Pemberton Place neighborhood, adjacent to the Georgia Aquarium and the World of Coca-Cola.

The King collection comprises 50,000 items, including hand-written speeches, sermons, lettters, books and even childhood report cards. Shipman said the center intends to rotate 30 to 50 items from the collection through the exhibition space in a constantly-changing display, concentrating on fewer items, rather than filling the space.

David Mandel, director of exhibits and design, said the King gallery will be contemplative, rather than active. “We consider this sacred space,” he said.

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