Alexander Memorial Coliseum

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Alexander Memorial Coliseum

Built in 1956, the Alexander Memorial Coliseum is an indoor basketball arena that houses the home court for the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. Also known as “The Thrillerdome”, the building was constructed in memory of Tech’s late football coach, William Anderson Alexander. Containing over nine thousand seats, the Coliseum has hosted the Atlanta Hawks of the NBA from 1968 to 1972 and from 1997 to 1999, as well as serving as the boxing venue for the 1996 Olympic Games[1]. Apart from basketball, the Coliseum is occasionally used by Tech’s women’s volleyball team. The Alexander Memorial Coliseum is located at UNIQ665617609c927ee6-geo-00000003-QINU.


Contents

The Dream

Coach Alex’s dream to create the Coliseum was born from the experiences he had during The First World War. The war convinced him of the importance physical training had in living a good life. It wasn’t until after World War II that Coach Alex came together with architect R. L. Aeck and prepared the sketches for the Coliseum. The main goal for the Coliseum was for it to be a building that could be used for both intercollegiate and intramural sports. However, realizing that this alone would not be sufficient justification for creating the Coliseum, Coach Alex also wanted his dream building to be able to serve as a major auditorium and convention center for Atlanta, the state, and the region. He went as far as imagining “pageants, auto- and ice-shows, operas, [and] even the circus being accommodated into the building” [2]. However, the cost of construction approximated $2.5 million. Just before Coach Alex’s death in April, 1950, the Georgia Tech Athletic Board decided that such an investment into the Coliseum was not possible. After Coach Alex’s death, the Athletic Board began to receive many letters and contributions towards a suitable memorial for the late sports director. It was only after Coach Alex died that the Athletic Board decided to build the Coliseum in his name.

Historical Significance

Association to Significant Person(s) of the Past

According to the National Register Criteria for Evaluation, the Coliseum is historically significant because it is associated with the lives of person(s) significant in our past – football coach William A. Alexander and the architectural firm Richard L. Aeck and Aeck Associates. Coach Alex contributed to Tech’s football team for thirty years, beginning in 1920 until his death in 1950. By many he is called “the heart and soul of athletics at Georgia Tech”[3].The Coliseum is the manifestation of Coach Alex’s love of sports, loyalty to the athletic department, and the admiration others showed to him. This is proven by the amount of time, effort, and money dedicated by others towards the construction of the Coliseum. Richard L. Aeck and Aeck Associates, a well-known architectural firm in southeastern America, is also associated with the Coliseum. The building was the epitome of the Aeck Associates’ widely recognized design ethos.

Integrity

Integrity is defined as how closely something retains the value it had when it was first built. In fact, integrity plays a critical role in determining whether or not a building can be considered historically significant. While it is evaluated rather subjectively, there are several objective requirements that must be met in order for certain levels of integrity to be met.

The Coliseum retains integrity of location, setting, and feeling. This is proven through the development – additional tennis courts, baseball fields, basketball facilities, and more – that has taken place in and around the Coliseum as Tech continues to grow. The real problem with the integrity lies in the aspects of design, materials, and workmanship – the elements that represent the significance of Richard L. Aeck. For example, the 1995 renovation of the Coliseum drastically changed the character and perception of the design ethos that Aeck used, primarily to the exterior of the Coliseum. The key visual aspect that was lost in the reconstruction was the image of the building “with its roof structure touching the ground, seemingly ready to spring off the ground” and the “roof no longer seem[ing] to soar quite like it did when the longitudinal standing seams helped emphasize the curve of the roof” [4]. The interior did not see as much change as the exterior, however. Both the exposed ribs of the interior and the circular layout of the seating reinforce Aeck’s design vocabulary, despite the numerous renovations made to the building’s insides. Aside from the walls of the arena, not much else contributes to the significance and integrity of the Coliseum. An important fact to make note of is the degree of integrity that the annex of the Coliseum has. Over the years, the contents of the annex have seen minimal change, thus preserving the original intent that Aeck wanted the architecture to portray.

Georgia BOR Building Categories

The method used by the Georgia Board of Regents (BOR) for historical evaluation takes significance and integrity a bit further, requiring that specific characteristics of the building be present in order to merit qualification for historical significance. Architectural integrity and associative values were two critical characteristics needed for eligibility. The Coliseum played a pivotal part in deciding the surrounding architecture of Tech. Physical aspects of the arena and annex were taken into consideration. While the annex was a quite simple example of modern structural design, the arena boasted outstanding architectural and engineering design. Originally, the Coliseum was built with characteristics of the International Style. Remains of this construction style can be found in the building’s “smooth, planar walls, ribbons of windows, and a lack of architectural ornament”. The Coliseum attempts to achieve visual harmony, not by using the feature of axial symmetry seen in some of Tech’s earlier buildings, but instead by balancing the interior design with hollow spaces (created by pillars and a variety of other structures). Based on emerging architectural styles, various renovations were made in 1938 to the Coliseum.

The Georgia BOR divides historical buildings into three categories: Category 1, Category 2, and Category 3. Category 1 is for historical buildings that possess importance to the interpretation of the history of the institution. Category 2 is for buildings that can contribute to the interpretation but are not necessarily needed to define the interpretation. Category 3 describes the buildings that have Limited Potential for Preservation; these buildings have been altered to the point where they no longer significantly contribute to the history of the institution. The Georgia BOR states that the Coliseum contributes to the interpretation of the history of Tech sports through the life of Coach Alex. However, the BOR argues it is not essential. Furthermore, it is stated that, more than anything, Coach Alex’s influence was an idea that was best represented by not only the Coliseum, but also the entire sports facilities on the Tech campus. This fact, combined with Tech’s acknowledgment of the building’s visual significance to the campus, seems to place the Coliseum in Category 2. However, due to the vast amount of renovation that occurred in the arena, Category 3 was a better fit.

Changes over Time

Few significant changes were made before the 1980s. In 1981, minor repairs were done to the building. Two years later, construction was done on the tin roof so it could better adapt to changes in the temperature. The first significant change took place from 1986 to 1987. During this time, an extra 2,150 seats, placed around the rim of the arena, were added to the Coliseum. Also, a fifteen-feet-wide corridor was added to the building. Seven hundred seats were again added to the building in 1989.

The most significant change took place in 1995-96. This change was called the “re-creation” [5] because of the drastic changes that were made to the Coliseum. The renovation, completed in time for the 1996 Olympics, included:

  • lowering the court by four feet
  • installing an elevator
  • improving handicap accessibility
  • installing air-conditioning
  • fixing the scoreboards, sound system, and lighting
  • adding 12 luxury suites
  • demolishing old structures and replacing them with newer facilities

Richard Leon Aeck

Richard L. Aeck began his career as a student of Georgia Tech in 1931. He graduated in 1936 with a B.S. in Architecture. After leaving to work abroad in Colombia, Aeck returned in 1938 to work for himself as Richard L. Aeck, Architect. He designed and renovated homes for four years until, in 1942, he left again to work in South America. Returning to Atlanta in 1943, Aeck later joined and established the firm Bush-Brown & Gailey, Architects, P.M. Heffernan, R. L. Aeck, Associate Architects. However, in 1946, Aeck separated and established the architectural firm Aeck Associates, Architects. Under this company he worked with Georgia Tech to recreate the Coliseum.

References

  1. Georgia Tech Official Athletic Site, http://ramblinwreck.cstv.com/genrel/032102aaa.html
  2. Historic Structure Report - Alexander Memorial Coliseum Arena/Annex, p. 24, http://history.library.gatech.edu/archive/files/2010064_rpt_ca9ffdf0b4.pdf
  3. Historic Structure Report - Alexander Memorial Coliseum Arena/Annex, p. 98, http://history.library.gatech.edu/archive/files/2010064_rpt_ca9ffdf0b4.pdf
  4. Historic Structure Report - Alexander Memorial Coliseum Arena/Annex, p. 98, http://history.library.gatech.edu/archive/files/2010064_rpt_ca9ffdf0b4.pdf
  5. Historic Structure Report - Alexander Memorial Coliseum Arena/Annex, p. 30, http://history.library.gatech.edu/archive/files/2010064_rpt_ca9ffdf0b4.pdf

Anuraag Das

Section J1

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