A rendering of the Oakland Cemetery visitor’s center.

A new visitors center planned outside the main west gate of historic Oakland Cemetery in Grant Park has received flack on social media from those unhappy with the building’s design.

Historic Oakland Foundation said the visitors center, designed by Smith Dalia Architects, will include a museum store, an atrium that will host interpretive exhibits, flexible multipurpose classroom and event space, rentable meeting space, and offices for the organization.

But it’s the exterior of the 10,000 square foot visitors center – clad in red brick as homage to the cemetery’s walls and walkways – that has drawn criticism since renderings of the austere structure were released to the media.

Commenters on Facebook and Instagram called the visitors center “boring” and “uninspired,” urging Historic Oakland to go back to the drawing board.

“I love that people are passionate about this,” Historic Oakland Foundation Executive Director Richard Harker said. “What doesn’t show up in the renderings are additional design elements and materials that will bring the facade to life.”

Harker said also not shown in the rendering is the lush landscaping that will mimic the cemetery’s Victorian garden design.

“There will be the same trees and perennials used around the visitors center that are on the grounds and there will be gathering spots,” Harker said. “We are still in the design process, but I think the next set of renderings coming this spring will bring more clarity.”

Harker said the minimalist exterior was designed to not detract from Oakland Cemetery itself, while the interior is meant to be “nimble” by providing space for year-round programming including civic forums, K-12 programming, and adult education programs.  

Some trees will have to be removed to make way for the building and parking, but Harker said more trees will be planted to replace those cut down to create a leafy canopy like inside the cemetery. 

The historic Bell Tower, which previously served as a visitors center, gift shop, and office space, will become a flexible event, exhibit, classroom, and meeting space. The circa-1899 Bell Tower is currently undergoing at $12 million rehabilitation.

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.