The Overline Residences is the first project in Atlanta for Morris Adjmi Architects, a firm with a portfolio that includes a 15-story office tower perched directly over the High Line park in Manhattan in a design that recalls that neighborhood’s industrial past.
With its design for the Overline, the New York-based architecture firm sought to deliver what its client, New City Properties, wanted — a structure that shares visual elements with its neighborhood while standing out for its striking appearance.
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The 18-story Overline opened in June in Atlanta’s booming Old Fourth Ward neighborhood. The apartment building is part of Atlanta developer New City’s broader Fourth Ward project that includes a recently completed office tower next to Overline and a hotel under construction to be managed by Method Co.
The three buildings are located on 11 acres of prime urban Atlanta real estate — along the Beltline, a popular 22-mile bike and walking path, and next to Historic Fourth Ward Park. The bustling retail-office development Ponce City Market is a short walk away via the Beltline.
Jim Irwin, founder and president of New City, said the High Line linear park in New York, built along an abandoned elevated freight railroad line, was constantly in his thoughts during the design phase of the entire Fourth Ward project. Irwin said he wanted to bring the same type of sophisticated architecture, interior design and landscape architecture associated with the High Line to Atlanta.
Allison Schwartz, an architect with Morris Adjmi in New York, and Irwin discussed the Overline project with CoStar News. The excerpt below has been edited for length and clarity.
How did Morris Adjmi get involved in this project?
AS: New City reached out and brought the project to us. They said they were looking to bring some fresh design perspective to Atlanta.
JI: I really felt a lot of conviction that I wanted to build something really unique and special and to project the Fourth Ward as an architectural district. You have this tremendous history of a neighborhood that is worth celebrating.
For generations, Atlanta was great at doing things fast or really aggressive. “We’re going to get the Olympics. We’re going to have the biggest airport.” But as time goes on, we’ve started to realize that we’re now a proper city. We’re maturing. And if you think about great international cities, their infrastructure is built to last 100 years. That’s what I was really hoping and aspiring for.
Many developers resist hiring top architecture firms because of the cost. How does New City have the financial ability to do this?
JI: I have the benefit of working with incredibly amazing partners on the financial side, Lamb Properties. They manage the family office for the Bluhm family of Chicago, and because of that, they never make me feel pressure to try to make things less expensive. They loved the idea of bringing in world-class architects.
What were some of the main challenges for the design of this project?
AS: The site’s location is a benefit being close to the Beltline, but it was also a challenge because of the physical constraints and the site’s irregular shape. An underground water source bifurcates the site and there is a significant grade change. Those constraints helped dictate the direction we took.
What are some of the building’s design themes?
AS: The fabric of the neighborhood is largely low-rise brick buildings. We were considerate of how our building would be perceived in these surroundings. We didn’t want to overwhelm the [Historic Fourth Ward Park]. We decided on a stair-step design with the set-back terraces. The stepping had two effects: It relieved some of the building’s mass over the park and it also provided a lot of private terraces. Along street level, we designed two- and three-story podiums to meet the scale of the surrounding buildings.
JI: We were trying really hard to not be overbearing with the surroundings and make the building seem smaller than it actually is.
AS: A leading design ethos for us is to design with the neighborhood context in mind. That’s why a lot of clients come to us. They want something that relates to the surroundings, whether new or historic.
We chose brick because of its prevalence in the neighborhood’s buildings and because it has a certain sense of longevity to it and it lends a tactile sense. There was some concern about doing brick on a high-rise and that we wouldn’t be able to find the right subcontractor. In Atlanta, it’s unusual to have a brick high-rise. There was concern that people wouldn’t want to do this and wouldn’t know how to do it. But we did find who we needed.
JI: The public spaces on the terraces were designed by the Brooklyn landscape architects Future Green who did a lot of the High Line design in New York. They approached Overline as like a High Line interpretation of North Georgia horticulture. Every plant is native to North Georgia.
How much did the location next to Historic Fourth Ward Park and the Beltline come into play?
AS: Overline isn’t directly on the Beltline, but there were a lot of conversations about how cyclists come down the grade of the Beltline near where the Overline is located. It’s a 30- or 40-foot drop. There were also discussions about how pedestrians on the Beltline make that transition and how they would first see and approach our building.
Overline is an obtuse L-shape that opens up to a view of the park and downtown Atlanta. I don’t think any side of the building has a bad view.
JI: Since it’s next to the park, it’s a permanently unobstructed view.
We thought a lot about the High Line in New York. I love the High Line and, to me, it shows the power of great architecture. But the High Line is a pretty contained experience. Once you’re on the High Line, you’re on it and there are not a lot of ways to get directly into buildings from it. You have to walk down stairs or take elevators and go out the street and then you can get into buildings. But with the Beltline, it’s all public. It’s integrated. We purposely tried to deconstruct the idea that you are in a public park and then you are going into a private building. This will all be open all the time.
How involved was New City in the design process?
AS: New City held a workshop with all the designers and engineers, encouraging us to think about how the different buildings would interact with each other. It’s not the only time that I have been involved in a workshop like that, but it’s unusual. It was beneficial because it’s a master-planned project and bringing everyone together so each group could highlight their priorities was helpful.
Jim talked about how we were working on a product that’s new to the Atlanta market — a high-rise apartment building with thoughtful interior designs and a pretty significant amenity package.
JI: Every project we do is a collaboration. It’s kind of back and forth. We decided we don’t want to just follow trends but to make trends.
HKS is the architect of record for Overline Residences. Brasfield & Gorrie is the general contractor. Future Green Studio in Brooklyn, New York, is the landscape architect. The Seattle architecture firm Olson Kundig designed the Fourth Ward office tower, and the Berlin architecture firm Barkow Leibinger designed the hotel.