Atlanta’s Consular Corps got a preview tour March 20 of the $355 million Coda building, the mother-of-all mixed-used developments in Midtown’s Technology Square.
The diplomats visited while the finishing touches were being made on the 645,000 square feet of office space and the 22,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space to be housed by the Georgia Institute of Technology.
By the time that it is officially opened in May, this “smart building” complex is to have an especially high IQ due to the 93,000-square-foot allocation of space for a data center and the commitment to creating an innovation ecosystem that will bring together the educational resources of Georgia Tech with employees of both start-up and Fortune 500 companies.
Three years in the making, the complex, which covers two acres between Spring and West Peachtree streets, sits on top of an underground parking garage. With Portman Holdings as the developer and John Portman & Associates, the architect, the complex envisions encouraging pedestrian activity in keeping with its goals of interactive, cooperative learning and sharing ideas.
Heralded as a game changing structure for Atlanta, it embodies lessons from around the world that the Portman companies have learned as they became global players. In densely populated cities in China, where the Portmans have been active, parking has to go underground, a lesson applied to the Tech Square project.
The Portmans’ China connection dates back to the traveling around Asia that Jack Portman, the current chairman and CEO of John Portman & Associates, did during the 1970s. His father, John C. Portman Jr., the Georgia Tech grad, transformed Atlanta in the 1970s with the Peachtree Center complex that still serves as downtown’s business and tourism anchor. Mr Portman, who died in 2017, popularized buildings with multi-storied indoor atria, which the Coda building is adopting both indoors for relaxed creative conversations as well as outdoors for a pedestrian friendly space.
There also is to be attention to the materials used in its construction. For instance, floor-to-glass windows, located in the building’s “collaborative core,” will increase energy efficiency by 25 to 30 percent.
The 1979 historic nine-day visit to the United States of Deng Xiaoping, China’s paramount leader who never held an official office as head of state but led the country through its far-reaching market reforms, was the catalyst for the Portmans’ first Chinese development. The Chinese leader met with then-President Jimmy Carter in Washington and visited Atlanta, Houston and Seattle.
The story goes that when Deng Xiaoping first saw the Hyatt Regency Hotel on Peachtree Street, he pointed at it and said, “I want one of those.” Global Atlanta couldn’t verify that these were the exact words, but David Cutting, the honorary consul of Barbados, who was a member of the 20-some Consular Corps group visiting Coda, recalled that while working for Manufacturers Hanover Corp., he was aware that the bank had helped finance the Shanghai Centre, which the Portman companies developed and opened in October 1990.
At the time, it was the tallest building in Shanghai and first serviced apartment complex in its downtown. It also contained the first international supermarket.
“The Shanghai Centre has aged gracefully because it was designed in a timeless manner, focusing on the functional aspect of how people live, what people enjoy in terms of material texture, and most important, how people relate to space,” Jack Portman is quoted to have said in an interview prior to a celebration of the centre’s 20th anniversary in October 2010.
The Coda typifies the attention to space and materials to which Jack Portman alluded in his Shanghai interview. Basically an L-shape with signature atria providing spaces for the sorts of personal interactions that Georgia Tech wants to promote. Conversations among students and companies are to be encouraged through the “collaboration spaces,” the outdoor piazza’s eateries and even on the Ls’ rooftops where there are to be miniature soccer fields.
According to published reports, already 70 percent of the building has been pre-leased with signed tenants including electronics manufacturer Keysights Technologies and German elevator manufacturer Thyssenkrupp.
Joining together the collaboration spaces is a spiral staircase that winds its way upward and is reportedly the longest continuous vertical structure of this sort in the world. It may be taken as a symbol of the university’s ambitions to continue its upward climb as a leading global institution.
Chaouki Abdallah, Georgia Tech’s executive vice president for research, who oversees the university’s $824 million research programs, made the case for Georgia Tech’s global ascendancy on behalf of the university at the monthly Atlanta Consular Corps luncheon held preceding the tour at the Georgia Tech Hotel and Conference Center, not far from the Coda building.
With 10 percent of its undergraduate students (1,519) attending the university from abroad, and 40 percent (6,770) of its graduate students from overseas and 865 visiting scholars, Georgia Tech wouldn’t have to travel outside of Atlanta to consider itself a global institution.
But it has, as Dr. Abdallah described in his overview of Georgia Tech’s international presences in the Lorraine region of France (Georgia Tech Lorraine), Costa Rica, Panama and Singapore. Additionally, he spoke optimistically about its initiative with Tianjin University in Shenzhen, China, which is being paid for by the Shenzhen government.
As a global competitor, nevertheless, he acknowledged that the competition can be rough even with its industrial engineering major being ranked No. 1 in the world. To remain cutting-edge, the university, he said, has made strides to promote entrepreneurship and the commercialization of its research findings.
He cited its Create X initiative to instill entrepreneurial confidence in students and encourage them to launch start-ups. He also pointed to the VentureLab part of Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute, which since 2001 has collaborated with students and raised $1.5 billion in investments and the Technology Innovation: Generating Economic Results (TI:Ger) which focuses on commercializing new technologies.
There are breathtaking views of Technology Square from Coda’s rooftops including on one side the Mercedez-Benz stadium on the other, the new NCR Corp. headquarters. But these are soon to be joined by another 20-story building for the health care company Anthem and the possibility of even another Portman Holding project on West Peachtree.
As in a musical composition where a coda can signify the recapitulation of a theme, Portmans’ Coda is to orchestrate innovation and may be the first of several reprises.