Mack Scogin Merrill Elam Architects is one of Atlanta’s preeminent firms. Its principals, Merrill Elam, AIA, and Mack Scogin, AIA, have more than 40 years of experience designing a wide variety of buildings across the United States. If there is one hallmark that unites their work, however, it is a slow, deliberate, and methodical investigation into the context of a building’s site, circumstances, and purpose.
When we talk about place and character, it has something to do with origins. The places you make, then, reflect your formal training and the language of architecture, but they also reflect the places you knew as a child and the experiences you’ve had as a person. Some of us have more fixity of place than others; some grew up moving around a great deal. But character and place play out every day in our studio, where everyone is themselves, genuinely. We enjoy what each person brings to the team. It’s fun and invigorating and adds to the richness of the design process.
We enjoy the challenge of working on new typologies, because it’s a learning experience. The curve is steep and you have to, while you’re learning, figure a way of improving the situation. Of challenging the status quo for constructive reasons, not just for the sake of being different. To question old patterns, that sort of thing. In that sense, we always find the next project the most challenging.
We can’t recall ever having heard anyone use “Atlanta architects” as a way to describe us. Atlanta is a place of energy rather than critical mass. So much of what goes on here is about making. The city is making itself for the first time, unlike other cities where you’re carving out, replacing, and inserting. We’ve also thought that, over time, there might be a school of architectural thought here in Atlanta—like a Bay Area school or a New York school. The good news is that there hasn’t been a school of thought here in the same way as those other places. It’s very open–ended
and free-form in Atlanta—and for us that’s a good thing. Everything is up for investigation.
I [Elam] was just out in Arkansas to see Marlon Blackwell, FAIA, and visit some of his projects—and it struck me that it’s a fabulous thing when an architect can take a welding shop and a few hundred square feet and make a chapel. That’s ethical—to make something in a place and in a way that was otherwise impossible before—where there were so few resources. We’re trained to make space and place and make it better than we found it. —As told to William Richards