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The Next Chapter

An Atlanta firm renews the southern Classical tradition.
By Will Holloway

In New Classicism: The Rebirth of Traditional Architecture, author and Georgia Tech architecture professor Elizabeth M. Dowling, in discussing the recent renaissance of Classical architecture, writes that, "…in 1989, the systematic teaching of classical design was reintroduced in the architecture program at the University of Notre Dame under the leadership of its new director, Thomas Gordon Smith." Even before the publication of New Classicism, Dowling was espousing the virtues of Notre Dame's program. In the mid-1990s, a recent Georgia Tech graduate with an interest in Classical design was looking to pursue a professional degree and came to Dowling for a recommendation. She advised that student, Charles Heydt, to attend an upcoming lecture Smith was giving at Atlanta's Carlos Museum. Heydt, who at the time was working in the Atlanta office of Classicist Norman Askins, met Smith and would go on to Notre Dame. He received his master's degree in 1998 and returned to his native Atlanta the same year to join a former colleague from Askins' office, Yong Pak, at Yong Pak & Associates. The firm was renamed Pak Heydt & Associates when Heydt became a partner in 2003.

Such is the process by which the principles of Classical architecture are carried on today. The re-establishment of Classical education, and thus the formal instruction of a generation of New Classicists, has led to firms like Pak Heydt, which perpetuates the Classical tradition throughout the Southeast. In doing so, Pak Heydt is following in the footsteps of Atlanta firms of the early-20th century such as Hentz, Reid and Adler and architects like Philip Shutze and James Means.

Classical Training
At Georgia Tech, Heydt says that Dowling was one of a few professors who talked about traditional and Classical architecture. "Most of the professors wanted you to pursue Modernism or Deconstructivism," he says, "so the key was to figure out which Bernard Tschumi rip-off would get you an A." Early on, Heydt was drawn to the work of Mario Botta and Carlo Scarpa, especially the level of detail in Scarpa's work. Following a summer internship in 1989 at Askins' office – where he would work fulltime from 1991 to 1996 – Heydt gravitated toward traditional and Classical design. At Notre Dame, he was influenced by the faculty of Classicists, notably Smith and Duncan Stroik, as well as by spending a summer in Italy through the school's Rome Studies Program. "Notre Dame was an encouraging and refreshing academic experience," he says. "You didn't have to start every jury answering questions like, 'Why in the world would you replace a perfectly good piloti with a Doric column – with that dead language?' Instead, you're discussing the spacing of alternating arcuated and trabeated systems and how to craft an ornament – the specifics of it were very exciting to me."

Born in Seoul, South Korea, Pak moved to Nova Scotia at a young age and to Miami at age 10, where he was exposed to the Mediterranean Revival architecture of Coral Gables. He attended the University of Florida, earning a Bachelor of Design in Architecture in 1986. "It was a Modernist school, but we had an Italian professor named Francesco Cappellari who set up the Vicenza Institute of Architecture program," says Pak. "I spent six months there – we studied Palladio and Scarpa, and that really opened my eyes to what Classical architecture did in a broader social sense. Part of my fascination was how the Classical vocabulary has been passed on through the centuries – it was about learning the historical background and the Classical vocabulary. We had a couple of projects that were in the context of Vicenza; you were encouraged to do either Modern or Classical interpretations of adaptive infill. So when I got back to Florida for my last year, I tried to incorporate some of that and I had a couple of professors who weren't too offended."

After graduation, Pak joined Askins' office. "There were only three people in his office, so I really got immersed in Classical architecture right off the bat," he says. "One of the big things for me is that I was in contact with clients early on, did job-site visits and learned the practicality of putting buildings together. I think when you're starting off there are very few chances where you get that much responsibility, especially in larger firms, where you usually get pigeonholed." Pak spent 10 years at Askins' office, the last six as the firm's vice president. He established Yong Pak & Associates in 1997. "I saw a big trend in our clients – with the change in the estate law – where our older clients were transferring wealth to their kids," he says. "Also, the internet boom was kicking in – I thought it was a good time to start on my own."

When Heydt was working in Askins' office for the summer after his first year at Notre Dame, Askins and Pak were competing for a commission in Atlanta. Pak ended up with the job; when Heydt started with Yong Pak & Associates a year later, the firm was in the midst of building that project – a 6,000-sq.ft. High Georgian home in the heart of the Atlanta community of Buckhead.

Formal Designs
Since 1997, the firm now known as Pak Heydt & Associates has completed some 250 Classically and traditionally styled new construction and renovation projects, mostly in the Atlanta area; the majority have been in the northern community of Buckhead, which Pak says is probably the largest high-end residential district in the country.

"Atlanta is a great place to live, but a terrible place to visit, because it really doesn't have a core," he says. "It's a bunch of small towns that became linked together as the city expanded. It's fragmented because it was a very segregated city to begin with, and it's still self-segregated. It keeps growing in all directions, because there are no natural barriers. Buckhead has been our primary market – there is enough land and houses in that district to keep several firms busy for a long time."

Completed in 2000, the High Georgian home features handmade wood-molded brick in a Flemish-bond pattern, a hand-carved limestone entry, a mahogany-paneled library and a hand-tooled wood staircase. Its materials reflect a central tenet of Pak Heydt's design philosophy: the importance of time-tested materials. "When you build Classical architecture, the quality of the materials is crucial," says Pak. "We try to give clients advice on material selection from a long-term standpoint. A lot of new homes have to be restored five or six years after they are built – they just don't hold up – but there are historical homes that have been around for 300 to 400 years without a whole lot of maintenance, and I think we can learn from that."

The plan – a garage wing and a master-bedroom wing forming a U-shape – creates a rear courtyard space. "It's more of a European than an American concept because land in America has never been as issue, but we use the courtyard to create more intimate spaces and to put less pressure on the house to have bigger rooms," says Pak. "We've been designing a lot of different versions of the courtyard home, especially for in-town lots, because creating privacy is so important."

While the High Georgian looked more to English precedents, another formal design in Buckhead drew from the American vocabulary, especially the Georgian houses of the Tidewater region of Virginia. Completed in 2005, the 8,000-sq.ft. design satisfied the client's desire for dignified symmetry. Its materials include hand-made brick, Georgia granite, a slate roof and flooring milled from heart-pine barn beams. Like the High Georgian, two wings spread out to form a rear courtyard. The courtyard of a High-style French design on a smaller lot in Buckhead allows the owners to entertain on various scales – 250 guests can flow freely between interior and exterior spaces.

As with all new designs that wed Classical formality with more informal contemporary lifestyles, the challenge of unifying plan and program arises. "I think it's a matter of adapting the plan to give new forms to the Classical vocabulary – to make it relevant in today's society," says Pak. "In the Classical architecture of the 1920s, you lived in the front parlor rooms and you were served. The way we live today, we pass through the front parlor rooms – the formal rooms – and live in the back part of the house."

Heydt notes that the firm attempts to keep plans as efficient as possible. "We do have some clients who are still served, but most of them are not, so the intermediate hall that the servants would travel is unnecessary," he says. "If you put it into a scheme today, it takes the client out of experiencing the rooms that contain their best furnishings, artwork and family photographs. In some cases, we've convinced the client to take out the hall, so they move from the entry and through the living room to get to the library. We're really happy with that because it works very well with the way people live – a lot of people think they have to have a hall in order to be efficient in getting from their garage to their bedroom, but it's not necessarily true."

"Some of our homes don't have living rooms," says Pak. "Knowing the family is going to live in the family room, we take the obligatory living room and create a library so we can use another room type with the interior architecture. And a lot of our projects are renovations of 1920s homes, where the typical addition is the kitchen/breakfast nook/family room with a master-bedroom suite above, which attaches the function of the way people live to an old home. That's one of the great things about Classical architecture – it's very adaptable. It can change with the way people live."

Vernacular Interpretations
In several less formal designs, Pak Heydt has drawn on and reinterpreted the vernacular languages of England and France. A 10,000-sq.ft. design in West Buckhead, completed in 2003, began in schematic design as a wood-frame Tudor but morphed into an Edwardian-inspired masonry manor as the owner's taste became clear. "In a meeting with the owner and the interior decorator, the owner confessed that she really didn't like the combination of timber and brick of the Tudor style," says Heydt. "We started talking about the bold forms of early-Renaissance Italian architecture and also about Edwin Lutyens – so we came up with an Edwardian massing with more Classical detailing in the interior." As a result, the one-room deep design features Lutyens-inspired rusticated limestone entry arches, French limestone flooring and a walnut-paneled library.

For a young family with 18 acres, the firm combined English Tudor traditions with the Cotswold vernacular – emphasized by the yellow tint of home's Texas cream limestone façade. The 18-in.-deep walls are topped with a reclaimed English-tile roof and the Gothic front entry was carved in limestone. While in this case the high-quality material palette is continued in the interior with reclaimed English-oak paneling and an antique French-oak library, Pak stresses the importance of prioritizing. "With people putting so much money into homes," he says, "we try to emphasize getting the structure and bones of the house right first, and then we can concentrate on the interior millwork. It really starts with a great roofs, exterior materials, windows and doors – I think it's that simple. How you detail is another thing."

In 2001, Pak Heydt designed an 8,000-sq.ft. Normandy-inspired manor on a lot adjacent to the Tidewater-inspired Georgian. The shallow, asymmetrical plan, realized in Indiana limestone, is anchored on one end by a tower and on the other by a porte-cochere. Materials include a slate roof, custom mahogany windows and doors throughout and hand-hewn antique beams and reclaimed French-tile floors in the interior. The custom work that goes into such a project exhibits the symbiotic relationship between the traditional trades and Classical architecture. "One of the great things about Classical architecture in the South is that it has really revived the trades – from carpenters to carvers to stair makers to ironmongers," says Pak. "I feel very fortunate that we have these craftspeople; we can draw all day long, but if it's not executed right it doesn't matter. It's really a collaborative effort – we're the eyes, and they become our hands. That's the relationship that architects and tradespeople have had with really good Classical architecture."

Classical Bones
Much of Pak Heydt's work involves the renovation of Atlanta's rich Classical tradition. In Druid Hills, a community a few miles northeast of downtown, a family room, kitchen, master-bedroom suite and a Charleston-style side-porch added 2,000 sq.ft. to an existing 3,000-sq.ft. Georgian. In nearby Ansley Park, one of Atlanta's oldest neighborhoods, the firm remodeled and expanded a 1940s brick bungalow. "In the 1960s, a lot of the old houses in Ansley Park became boarding houses," says Pak. "In this case, the house had been renovated five or six times. The client has a really wonderful photograph collection and wanted transitional Classical architecture with a little bit more of a modern touch. It was a process of converting a very nondescript home so that it had a little bit of character – this would not be unlike a pre-war apartment in New York City that had been stripped down many times, where you would be trying to make it feel contemporary, but with Classical bones."

While the firm's focus is primarily custom residential projects, Heydt notes that it is important to think about architecture in terms of the collective communities and urban spaces being created. "One of the great opportunities for Classical architecture and traditional urbanism," he says, "occurs when individual buildings – playing by the same rules and using similar and complementary materials, are built with a focus on the community. These are the places that people cherish." Such thinking has led to the small but growing non-single-residence component of the firm's work. In Buckhead, a Pak Heydt-designed townhouse development known as Regents Park is currently under construction. The four-story design, with wood-molded brick and cast-stone and wrought-iron details, was inspired by London's Regency architecture. With the density of Atlanta increasing, the townhouse type could very well play a larger role in the city's future. "With Regents Park, we looked to more of a European program, burying the parking underneath so that houses are accessed at street level," says Pak. "This is our attempt to create a different, more pedestrian-friendly housing type versus the high rises that are going up now."

In collaboration with New York, NY-based Cooper, Robertson & Partners, Miami, FL-based PlaceMakers and many of the architects affiliated with the Miami-based New Urban Guild, Pak Heydt is also working on designs for Laurel Island, a New Urbanist development in the coastal region of southeast Georgia. As with all the firm's work, being true to history was paramount in the development of Laurel Island. "The community's design is influenced by regional Low Country architecture, but we are also looking at the cultural history of the place," says Heydt. "The land's colonial history went back and forth – the Spanish and English occupied it at different times and then the English finally held on to it. Drawing from some of that history, we struck on the idea of creating an English fishing village. There are actually two different villages in the scheme – one on the east side that is serene and picturesque with a very limited material palette and a singular vernacular. On the west side, the second village, flanking a canal harbor, will be a little bit more sophisticated and will have a broader range of style and materials."

While still in the land-planning stage and several years from completion, Laurel Island, like the many New Urbanist projects that have sprung up over the last 25 years, illustrates just how applicable Classical design principles are to the creation of communities. In applying those principles – from the vernacular structures of Laurel Island to the Classical residences of Buckhead and the greater Southeast – Pak Heydt represents the next chapter in the rich Classical tradition. The firm may only be 10 years old, but its work is timeless.  

 

 

 
 

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