Exit 41, 285 South, East Side, Memorial
The Memorial Drive exit on the East Side Loop is home to the most astoundingly horrifying collection of government buildings in the entire city. On every corner there stands an architectural abomination that both highlights and provides justification for the excessively gloomy mood that permeates this section of Memorial Dr. Once a proud thoroughfare, Memorial Drive these days has descended into the sort of chaos and dysfunction that is so commonly on display in Atlanta. This corner is a perfect example of the way that bad architecture integrates with car-centric street design to create a place that is not only hard on the eyes, but also pathologically hostile toward pedestrians. This is a place built for rapidly moving cars. People need not apply.
Rising from the rocky ledge that forms the natural incline of the Memorial Drive exit is the Dekalb County Jail, towering above the highway like an architectural drawing from the earliest days of the Galactic Empire. Granted this building is a jail so it should hardly be expected to look all warm and cuddly, but this place seems to take forbidding to a wholly unnecessary level. For reference, see the below photo of the Gonzalez County Courthouse and Jail. There was a time in this nation’s history when even jails were expected to be grand architectural gestures. The Dekalb County Courthouse is a grand architectural gesture as well, but the gesture seems to be more of the one fingered variety. I imagine this is exactly what the Ministry of Love from 1984 looks like. If you lean in closely you can even hear Winston Smith screaming. “I love you, Big Brother!”
Opposite the Dekalb County Jail is the Robert T. “Bobby” Burgess Building, who, based on the terrifying two-tone Brutalist facade given his namesake building, must have been a sociopathic dictator. That’s the only explanation I can think of for so naming such an awful building. You can’t see it in the picture, but the Bobby B. Building sits alone on an island of cement with no readily apparent avenue for approach. It’s like someone built the building for the sole purpose of taking up space and giving the inmates of the Dekalb County Jail something truly punishing to look at during their stay.
For the record, Bobby Burgess was apparently a Dekalb County Police Chief, which certainly warrants the naming of a building. I just don’t know why it had to be so damn ugly.
Nestled in the monochrome bosom of the Dekalb County Jail is the Dekalb County Juvenile Center, which has the dubious distinction of being both sort of nice looking but all the more horrifying because of it. The fact that the county of Dekalb spent the money for nice architectural details on this building, but set it directly in the shadow of the monstrosity behind it, tells me that the city officials who approved this either don’t understand basic architectural principles, or they have a wicked sick sense of humor. I’m sure the teenagers detained in there feel really uplifted by the mock-classical columns and the wide steps. Or maybe they look beyond the building at the slit-window horror of the Big Boy jail behind it, and see the columns for what they are, fancy dressing on a broken glass conveyor belt of cradle to grave captivity. Slavery is Freedom, my friends. Duh.
And last but not least is the Dekalb County Tax Commissioner Building, named for the supremely unlucky Claudia G. Lawson. Buildings like this make me think the Tea Partiers have a point about the capriciousness of government. I don’t care that I pay taxes to the government, or that those taxes are sometimes spent on things that I will never use, but to think tax money was spent on this overblown mobile home of a public building makes me want to do one of those freaky walks from Monty Python in protest. I don’t know what Ms. Lawson did to deserve this, but I imagine it had to involve puppies and all sorts of horribleness. I don’t have enough space to list the things wrong with this building, but for starters it looks more like it was designed to feed cattle. It sits in a sea of parking that is excessive and precludes that no one can comfortably walk to the building. The sad shrubs out front even look bored. This is lazy utilitarian architecture of the highest order, and for that (and only that) this is an exceedingly special building. I hope it’s preserved for future generations to marvel at the inane brutality of 21st Century American cultural life.
So, what have we learned from today? That Dekalb County needs to fire whatever architectural firm keeps winning their bids.