National Center for Civil and Human Rights

United States


Phil Freelon, The Freelon Group
Segmento de Mercado
Leisure, Cultural, Sports
Public Buildings
Trespa product
Año de construcción
Tipo de construcción
New Construction


Wall Panels: National Center for Civil and Human Rights



The monumental Center for Civil and Human Rights (CCHR) is enriching the skyline of Downtown Atlanta and it is finally giving the city, birthplace of Martin Luther King Jr., its own civil rights museum. Unlike other institutions in the U.S., the Center tells the story of the American Civil Rights Movement and connects its legacy to today's global human rights. "Atlanta has a large history of these movements. There's a real zeitgeist here around human and civil rights that gave this project momentum to retell the story and discuss its contemporary relevance," explains Doug Shipman, CEO of the CCHR.

The two elaborated curved walls that hold the building sit on Pemberton Place, north of the Centennial Olympic Park and right next to the World of Coca Cola and the Georgiawall Aquarium. Its location, spread over 2.5 acres of land donated by the Coca-Cola Company, gives it that extra force to become one of Atlanta's leading cultural and architectural attractions.

Wall Panels - Doug Shipman - Center for Civil and Human Rights



According to Marc Johnson, Project Architect at HOK, another key development in the design was its move from using ceramic tiles on the exterior to Trespa® Meteon® wall panels. "Materials went from high performance concrete to ceramic tiles and ultimately, we needed a cost-effective, light material that could stand up to the weather and introduce something forward-thinking to the exterior. That's when we arrived at Trespa." The decision of using Trespa® Meteon® wall panels was also influenced by wanting to create an architectural icon, adds Phil Freelon’s designer Kenneth Luker. "We wanted to remain ambitious with the design, regardless of Financial obstacles, and Trespa® Meteon® was just the right product to help us make a bold architectural statement within our budget - it's growing in use in the U.S. and it offered us the opportunity to show something new."


Adding to the complexity of the curving façade, where no wall panels are alike in size, the architects sought to use a range of colours to increase depth and variation to the exterior.

When looking at the wall panels during an on-site mock-up, HOK’s Project Architect Marc Johnson and his team found a unique solution in trying to create a mosaic of tones with fewer colours than initially selected. "We chose the custom-made Roman Bronze and the Amber colour in the Trespa® Meteon® Metallics range. As I looked at them I realised that the wall panels had a certain grain to them. So I flipped one 180 degrees to see what would happen to the colour. Of course it changed due to the directionality of the grain and the way the light hit the panel. This meant that we had just created an opportunity to have four colours from two colours by way of rotation."

This key discovery created the illusion of many tones, akin to skin, and over such a large scale more variations could be seen. “The design took on another level of symbolism at this point, where the colours seemed to reflect human tones, referencing different nationalities," Johnson says. "I ask people how many colours they think are on the walls—they say between eight and twelve!" CCHR’S CEO Doug Shipman adds.

Wall Panels - Marc Johnson - National Center of Civil and Human Rights



Although the walls appear to be curving around the building, there is a faceted geometry in play, where in reality all the wall  panels are straight and leaned up against a concrete structure, emphasizes Project Architect Marc Johnson.

To achieve the effect of two monumental curves, national fabricators and installers Miller-Clapperton Partnership were included as part of the construction team. "The geometry of this building is very challenging because every panel is slanted, between 11 and 13 degrees, there is no level line and then you have a cylindershaped curvature on each side,” says Dwain Barter, project director at Miller-Clapperton Partnership.

Since in the architects’ design no two panels were alike in size, Miller-Clapperton had
to CNC-mill 2286 unique wall panels to place them on the structure. "Working with
Trespa was the right choice and created confidence in what we were about to do.
The wall panels are easy to fabricate and their intrinsic properties make it a robust material," adds Barter. Trespa® Meteon® wall panels were also used inside to reinforce the strength and expression of the gripping walls.


Inside the two curved walls, the main concrete building is organised over three floors that use different entrance levels to create unique experiences for the visitors. The main entrance is at mid-level, where the American Civil Rights Movement story
begins. The interactive exhibit, designed by the Rockwell Group in collaboration with Tony Award-winning playwright and film director George C. Wolfe, leads visitors to experience segregation under the Jim Crow laws as well as the milestones of the movement, including the Greensboro lunch sit-ins, the Freedom Rides and the March on Washington. 

The low level leads to the 'Voice to the Voiceless' exhibition that holds personal papers and items of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Walking up to the top level, the civil rights movement is connected to the global human rights story. Here visitors can identify with human rights struggles from HIV/AIDS issues to LGBT and women rights. They are also met by real-size photographs of human rights activists like Nobel Peace Prize Nelson Mandela, first lady Eleanor Roosevelt and Mahatma Gandhi, as well as a line-up of “super villains” such as Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin and former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.



For the architects it was also important to include a sloping green roof that integrated the design into the surrounding park-like setting and linked to the idea of creating a public space. “Th e green roof helps the cooling of the building, along with the exterior fenestration, reducing the amount of energy needed to heat and cool the space," says Marc Johnson, Project Architect at HOK. The building was designed to meet LEED Silver but might meet Gold level because of its green roof, the capture and reuse of water, the robust and indigenous landscaping and high-performance building envelope.



The iconic façade has literally become the icon for the CCHR logo. "We're branding this great legacy that is so connected to the city - the civil and human rights story. We've taken one of the curved walls to make the logo because it is a strong reminder of what people see. the building is a key part of the 'brand' - if it was a square box, we'd be saying something different," says CEO Doug Shipman. It was important to the Center and the design team to create an image for the visitor that remained beyond their stay. "If someone says draw me three pictures of Atlanta, I hope the Center becomes one of the pictures they draw, showing that people really identify with it," he says. The Center, which opened its doors on June 23th and is expected to attract 400,000 visitors a year, is designed to integrate two expansions in the future, according to the design teams and Shipman. The new wings are planned to be added to the curved walls, "half the height on each wall to the sides, with the same curvature and materiality," Shipman says. One of them will be used for travelling exhibitions, and the second will host an auditorium. Overall, the CCHR was created to transcend the role of traditional memorial and connect the Civil Rights Movement legacy and connect it to the future, inspiring visitors to make the difference when they leave. As Martin Luther King Jr. wrote on his book Strength to love: “We are not makers of history. We are made by history.”


Source: Think Trespa #03


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