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Rearview Mirror: The Kendada Corner

In which we go on a field trip to Tech’s newest addition.

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Kendada Building, interior, Georgia Institute of Technology, October 31st, 2019
Jake Grant

I’m sitting here in Howey Lecture Hall L2 at 11:15 AM on a Friday. It’s almost time for Systems Lab lecture. The outside hallway is...different. There’s construction notices on the walls. I’ll admit that this place wasn’t all that nice last semester, frozen in time as it’s been for decades, but it wasn’t really that bad, either. Really, it reminds me of how I felt about the Instructional Center circa fall 2017. Not that great. But it worked.

Before We Start:

I keep saying we’ll get to certain thing in a certain number of weeks, but things keep coming up and, well, the schedule gets moved around. For you guys’ sake, here’s the four week plan, barring any particularly fortuitous newsworthy events, like last week. Or this week.

Upcoming Schedule:

11/7 - Kendada Building and Revolution by Evolution
11/14 - The 1956 Sugar Bowl, Revisited
11/21 - January, 1964: Leaving the Southeastern Conference
11/28 - Hate Week and the Historical Significance of “The Drought”

In the course of human events, it sometimes becomes necessary to rebuild, replace, or wreck. Sure, the Colosseum at the heart of the Roman Forum still stands, but whether its the tragic, blazing fires of the Notre Dame causing years of restoration work and countless dollars to maintain a treasure, or something like the old Georgia Dome just being, well, old and redundant and no longer useful. It is in this lens, that of probably-necessary reconstruction, that it is important to view the erasing of one of my favorite random Tech quirks due to a recent renovation of the Howey Lecture Halls.

Sure, I could sit here and mourn the loss of the random writing on the walls of the building. It made me oddly proud the first time I noticed my hometown up there, especially as a freshman still struggling to fit into a new state, city, timezone, and, most importantly, group of people. Back then, Howey was just a place that didn’t mean particularly much of anything, good or bad. It was a big, windowless red brick building on a campus I was growing familiar to, sure, but one that remained the only island of “something” in a whole, vast sea of empty mystery.

It’s different today. Physically and spiritually. Howey is not a particularly nice place aesthetically or relatively. Sure, its renovation is only halfway done - this is obvious when inside - and it’ll certainly be better once it wraps up at the end of spring semester, but there’s no particular reason to be wistful about a place where, back to back semesters a history columnist who will not be named here got 51%s on the third Physics 2211 and 2212 tests. It’s just a place on campus, and in Atlanta, surrounded by many which time and experience forces one to love.

The renovation phenomenon seems to have picked up in the last few years, to be quite honest. First it was Boggs and Crosland Tower. Then it was the Instructional Center. Now, it’s Howey. As Tech’s postwar building stock comes of age, it only makes sense that it’s high time to renovate. Sure, other buildings from around that time, specifically the beautiful work done to the civil engineering department’s Jesse Mason Building, have seen work done, but the former four share one thing: an extreme bend towards brutalism. Brutalism, in its purest form, is a distinct strand of modernism in architecture. Defined by strongly geometric forms and exposed concrete or brick, all three buildings are essentially cubic red brick boxes with clearly defined interior functionality. This interpretation of architecture dominated Tech’s growth into Edwin Harrison’s tenure.

Not so, circa the second decade of this millennium. Best exemplified by perhaps the most famous building on campus of the last 50 years, the G. Wayne Clough Undergraduate Learning Commons, postmodernism has not just sprung into vogue, but appears firmly planted as the dominant trend for the foreseeable future. Is this a problem? No, of course not. Done right, like in the case of the CULC, the strong geometry of a building like Boggs is combined with simple flourishes and detail in the spirit of the Lyman Hall Building and the great campus unifier, its vernacular red brick. Buildings like West Village Dining Commons suffer due to a lack of visual unity with the rest of campus, most glaringly via the exchange of natural steel and iron for painted white accents and the egregious replacement of red brick with yellow. However, the postmodern style is just as distinctly “technological,” and therefore befitting an era at Tech as an architectural laboratory, as the sky-scraping seventh story of the tower atop the Administration Building in 1888, when it was the tallest building in the city of Atlanta. Where the issue comes in is the forced merger of these two distinctly different styles. It is here that we return to Boggs, Crosland, the Instructional Center, and Howey.

Not everything that has changed in these four buildings in the last three or so years is negative, it is important to say. Top to bottom, the renovation of Crosland Tower from a brutalist brick hunk to the airy space it is today is undoubtedly a massive success. Tech took an outdated, underused space and turned it into a much more versatile, welcoming, and useful facility. But where they falter is in a space like the Instructional Center. Well-intentioned no doubt, things like the bathrooms are much nicer than they used to be. But the former classrooms layouts, whiteboard space, and arrangements were better suited than the current ones. Under no circumstances should it be considered good design to place a giant concrete column in the middle of the lecturer’s space and obscuring a swath of the whiteboard from half the class. This is the key problem that occurs when you change functionality or usage of a space by forcing one style or form onto another. Really, it doesn’t quite work. Put simply, the building wasn’t designed to be that way.

I had a whole long tangent where I related this to the Geoff-ification of the Georgia Tech athletic programs, too, but for the sake of time and words, it really comes down to this: what is Georgia Tech? Is it a collection of niches and intricacies, built together over more than a century of organic composition? I’d say yes. Forcing double-sized classrooms into formerly single-single spaces is a similar kind of odd to jamming Money Down into the former home of F Tuning on third down at football games. Georgia Tech shouldn’t ever get to the point that we’re trying to turn every space into the current happening trend. That’s why, even though I might personally disagree with navy football uniforms at home, let alone for homecoming, I think the throwbacks they gave to the spirit groups made for a counterbalance. That’s what Tech should strive for, a balance between the old and new. To be honest, a good place to start is Tech Tower, or the aforementioned renovations to Crosland. Keep the old, but improve it. Smart evolution won’t equal an overwhelming revolution. This, at long last, brings us to the Kendada Building.

Kendada Building: atrium, October 31st, 2019
Jake Grant

At the corner of Ferst and State, there used to be a decently large surface parking lot. As a theme, Tech has been turning surface parking into useable common space for years now, be it in the form of dining, West Village, visitors space, the Campus Center, or parkland, in the Eco Commons. The Kendada Building is instructional space, sure, but it also interestingly folds into the latter. For those that are not familiar, campus’ newest building is the most environmentally friendly building in the Southeast, purported to be better for the environment to exist than to not exist. This is an exceedingly rare feat. Thanks to a generous partnership with the Kendada Fund, Tech got to put a lot of new technology on display in this construction project. Sure, it’s incredible that such noble goals were accomplished in constructing the building, but at this history column-turned-architectural review, we’re more concerned about the aesthetic, the building’s place in the campus context, and what it means for Tech in the big picture. In general, I say the reaction to all three of those should be mostly positive, in some form or another.

Kendada Building: Lecture Hall, main floor, October 31st, 2019.
Jake Grant

A typical trip into the building begins at the main doors on the south side of the building, along Ferst Drive. The user first enters onto a landing in a brightly lit room, with circulation coming mostly via fans and not just a lot of exposed wood and structural support, but of HVAC, plumbing, and electrical, as well. A broad staircase leads the main flow past the landing with offices and a makers’ space, down first into a large open study lounge area, and towards its biggest room, the lecture hall. The large room is opened into via a garage door and comfortably seats a large class size with adequate boards and other more advanced technology. The secondary flow leads users up the staircase to the second floor, where classrooms, lab space, and the rooftop deck are located. Really, that’s most of the building, right there. There’s some solar panels, various sitting spaces, and the bathrooms, but, ultimately, part of the allure of the building is in its simplicity.

Kendada Building: north facing (Eco Commons side) exterior perspective , October 31st, 2019.
Jake Grant

Aesthetically, on the outside, I was initially disappointed. The standard Tech concrete sidewalks outlined in red brick give way to interesting non-standard pavers, and the building is donned not by stainless or wrought steel features, but by white painted supports, black brick, and wood accents. However, since white paint increases solar reflection, and therefore decreases heating costs, and the others make sense from a renewable standpoint, I’ll not beat that dead horse for Kendada’s sake. Inside, though, is where the aesthetic truly shines. You cannot mistake being anywhere else than the Georgia Institute of Technology inside Kendada. There’s the industrial feel of the dark features, the strong geometry that ties brutalism and postmodernism together, and the cutting-edge feel that things like the light fixtures and visual contrast between wood, drywall, and the railings and supports give exudes a Tech atmosphere. But, an unfamiliar and new, almost exciting, feeling. That’s what perked my attention.

Kendada Building: second floor atrium, October 31st, 2019
Jake Grant

Kendada is different because of where it fits into the campus consciousness. It’s CULC-like, but it’s not the CULC. Just as Krone Engineered Biosystems feels like a half step beyond that early 2010s The Internship Google vibes, the Kendada Building feels like another one beyond that. In terms of fitting the campus, well, it feels like it belongs. It’s different, but not in a bad way. Whereas, say, West Village with its yellow brick and already-cracking concrete floors feels a little rushed and out of place, its easy to see just how much thought went into this newest building. Kendada takes its place in the grand scheme of Tech things not just as a nice piece of history, but one that could very well be looked at like the CULC, Brittain Dining Hall, Architecture West, or Tech Tower. All of these buildings are seminal for their own reasons. Kendada is different because, even though it feels new and strange, it also feels right.

There are three great ages of Tech architecture. Tech Tower represents the Revivalist Age. Howey represents the Functionalist Age. The CULC represents the Post-Modern Age. I would argue Kendada hasn’t really left that post-modernist box yet. But, suppose Tech isn’t transitioning structurally as an Institute - as it was from Brittain to Harrison - but it has changed drastically in outside acclaim, prestige, and in student body composition via the shifts in admissions. The philosophical approach to architecture is changing, as well. The aesthetic isn’t nearly as defined as, say, the Landscape Master Plan. But, for the most part, that’s okay. The one important thing that can’t be taken for granted is this, though: change all you want, but don’t lose the sense of “here.”

A special thanks to Dress Her in White and Gold, Engineering the New South, and the Georgia Tech Archives for the background information and images used in writing this column.

There’s an interesting implication of these latest few columns - we’ve transcended the past into living memory. However, I can’t do what I do without the insights I have from readers like you. If there’s things I wouldn’t know just from reading about them, or important things you think I miss, please let me know. And, as always, thank you for reading the latest edition of From the Rumble Seat’s Rearview Mirror.