City homes with private gardens and gas lamps. Paved streets lined with bespoke shops. Stylish curved awnings and roof lines. An old fountain topped with a Roman goddess.
Though this is what you might find in any neighborhood in Paris, these are actually some of the design elements that compose Corso Atlanta, a senior living community from Galerie Living in the city’s Buckhead neighborhood.
Paris — and more specifically, its 19th century citywide renovation — are where project designers and Galerie CEO Tim Gary found inspiration for the project. And that shines through in the full design, according to Galerie Living Director of Design Steve Markey.
“There is a point in time for me, especially on projects like this, where the building just starts to sing … I saw that happen with this one,” he told Senior Housing News.
Today, the project is popular enough that Galerie “can’t move people in fast enough,” Markey said.
The community’s Parisian design, coupled with the atmosphere it conjures for residents, helped it snag the top spot in the Best Independent Living category in the most recent Senior Housing News Architecture and Design Awards.
Planning for Corso Atlanta gained momentum in 2017. Early on, Gary had a clear vision of developing a luxurious, Paris-inspired community.
“That’s kind of the magic of Tim Gary,” Markey said. “In his travels … he will find things that he wants to add into a project that he thinks speak well.”
That vision was a guiding light for the design team — and also one of their biggest challenges. Unlike a senior living community, Paris was built over a period of hundreds of years. Over time, that process of building and rebuilding created little nooks, unique alleyways and other features that give the city its charm.
So, the project designers took inspiration from one of the city’s more recent transformations, which occurred as part of the so-called renovation of Paris at the hand of urban planner Georges-Eugène Haussmann.
“We went to Paris and … took a lot of inspiration images,” Markey said. “I went through thousands of pictures and then basically sorted through those.”
With hours of research behind them, the project team eventually landed on a design featuring all the trappings of a Parisian arrondissement, including a grand porte cochere with curved mansard roof lines and streets lined with storefronts, balconies and ironwork. Gas lanterns help complete the Parisian look.
In some cases, Galerie’s designers were able to import materials from Paris, such as large carriage doors that are 150 years old.
But in general, finding the right materials was tricky, and the designers were challenged with finding alternatives to certain materials used in the city’s construction long ago. The project planners sourced certain materials from places like Greece, and the iron work came from a local ironworker who hails from Italy.
“[The challenge was] finding alternatives that were believable, right down to finding window patterns that would emulate French casement windows without actually being operable,” Markey said.
At the center of the community’s courtyards is an antique fountain imported from Europe and depicting Aurora, the Roman “goddess of dawn.”
The designers didn’t just stick to traditional French design. They also incorporated features like flat metal awnings to add a touch of modern flair.
The project planners adopted an open-plan design with interior views of courtyards and other flourishes that would help keep the design’s continuity inside the community. They wanted to come up with something that would allow for people to linger in spaces and relax, much as they might do at a French cafe.
“As you go through the community, there are lots of cozy gathering spots where you can sit along the way and have your coffee or have a glass of wine at night — it’s all about the experience,” said Stephanie Hagans, Galerie’s director of interior design.
Another project partner was THW Design, which contributed to both the community’s architecture and its interior design.
In the end, the master plan spanned 335,318 square feet and included 20 city homes, 80 apartments for independent living, 77 for assisted living and 26 for memory care.
Construction kicked off in 2019, not long before the Covid-19 pandemic began. The project’s planners tapped Reeves & Young to work on the community as a builder.
The project site itself posed some challenges to construction. For example, the site had previously held a small hospital, the foundation of which was still rooted in the ground. Another challenge was the community’s concrete frame, which was tricky to align with its outer “skin,” Markey said.
Yet another challenge was the fact that the community sat against a noisy and unsightly interstate. The solution was easy enough, and the designers chose to build a wall spanning multiple stories to keep speeding cars out of sight and mind. But the wall’s location and height made it a difficult project for the contractors.
To solve that, Markey said the team brought in what he believes to have been one of the largest cranes in the entire U.S. Southeast.
One aspect of the project that was not a challenge was Covid-19. Because the project related to senior living, it was not affected by certain Covid safety restrictions and could move forward while some other projects did not.
Construction wrapped up in 2021. In the end, the process ran long by a matter of months, but not prohibitively so.
“A lot of [construction] happened right at the beginning of Covid, and the supply chain wasn’t depleted at that time,” Hagans said. “So, the timing wasn’t as bad as it could have been.”
Today, Corso Atlanta stands as a testament to the project team’s vision and execution. The community is populated by a thriving ecosystem of shops and eateries — including Flowers of Giverny, a flower shop that CEO Gary in December described as the best in Atlanta.
Inside the community, residents regularly visit spaces including a wine bar with green plant artwork modeled after the Seine River in Paris, a lobby lounge full of books, a French bistro and market and a creperie. To fill open storefronts with quality vendors, Galerie partnered with local businesses.
Materials helping to add character to the design include floors made with hardwood, “whimsical” custom iron lighting and calming artwork throughout.
SHN Architecture and Design Awards judges praised the project for its design, with one praising the community’s “breathtaking” interior design and “intoxicating” finishes, accessories, accent lighting and wayfinding cues.
Another wrote that the project was an “exquisite design that carries the French theme to every detail, indoors and out.”
The community has two more construction phases ahead of it that will add 300 units total, Markey said. And like Paris, he and Hagans believe Corso Atlanta will continue to age gracefully for years to come.
“All these spaces that we find really special sometimes aren’t necessarily planned from the very beginning — they evolve,” Markey said.