The Coca-Cola Company Central Reception Building
The Coca-Cola Company’s Central Reception Building (CRB) provides a welcoming experience for guests and serves as a hub for employees upon entrance to the massive headquarters, transformed over the last eight years. The space connects visitors and employees alike to the Coca-Cola brand. It simultaneously speaks to the company’s storied past and bright future. Engaging new amenities including the full-service Plum Street restaurant and Woodruff Exhibit make for a truly memorable visit, while flexible conference and coworking spaces infuse the workday with purpose and human connection. A visitor’s first taste of the Coca-Cola campus, the CRB tells an unforgettable story.
Design ChallengeProject Description: Although it’s the final phase to be completed in the massive headquarters transformation, the Coca-Cola Central Reception Building (CRB) is a visitor’s first taste. This relatively small three story building has a big purpose. It is the architectural face of the company, and a physical embodiment of their identity as it relates to both historic legacy and a vision for the future.
A light-filled rotunda welcomes visitors to the Coca-Cola campus, where the first floor provides a connection to the brand and a sense of arrival that infuses guests with a desire to immerse themselves in the company’s culture. Program elements include a check-in portal and guest lounge.
The second floor celebrates the foundation upon which the company's continued innovations grow. Featuring the office of Robert Woodruff, former Chairman and CEO, and an homage to his legacy during his tenure with Coca-Cola from 1923 to 1985. A meticulous relocation of Woodruff’s original office is a must-see, replete with memorabilia and a digitally-guided tour detailing the iconic philanthropist’s life and impact. Prior to the renovation, the office was located on a remote floor in another building and closed except for special-access tours.
Down the hall is the campus’s own full-service restaurant, Plum Street, open to all Coca-Cola employees and their guests. Serving three meals per day, the restaurant carries a warm and classic vibe, and is named after the company’s original headquarters building on Plum Street. Both an everyday destination for employees and for leadership to host customers and teams, the restaurant’s design serves many needs at once. With custom leather menus, a full bar serving creative “Coke-tails,” and visually intriguing bird-themed wall coverings — reimagined from Robert Woodruff’s annual Christmas cards drawn by artist Athos Menaboni — the space transports users to another place and time. Having served nearly three thousand guests since opening in January, Plum Street is already a hit.
The third floor, with its nimble multifunction event space, connects people and embraces an understanding that teamwork is at the core of The Coca-Cola’s Company’s success. Inspired by the company’s original boardroom, a flexible conference room, dubbed 1919 after the year Coca-Cola became a publicly traded company, features portraits of current and former board members as well as a variety of digital learning opportunities which tell the story of their impact.
A distinctive aspect of this project is the high quantity of officially archived items it contains. The design team followed the Smithsonian Institution’s guidelines for museum design, including UV-protection, LED lighting, and temperature and humidity controls. Additionally, the design accommodates the need for various items to rotate in and out of the space for archival preservation. The team worked closely with the company’s archivist, conducting several tours in the project’s early stages to get this particularly challenging detail right.
This is a project charged with accomplishing a staggering array of goals with a limited amount of square footage; as such, it speaks to architecture’s power to both tell a story about the past and inspire for the future.
One primary design challenge this project addresses is how The Coca-Cola Company’s status, brand, and identity is evolving over time. Opened in 1986 as a postmodern tour de force, the structure conveyed the sentiment that Coca-Cola had arrived. It was a celebration of who they were and how far they had come, which was right for the moment. If the first design was geared toward showing the world that The Coca-Cola Company at 100 years old had arrived, the second design was more focused on ensuring that the thousands of guests who visit annually feel like they’ve arrived. Today, the story of its leaders, associates, guests and partners is told through the design of the space. It tells the story of the company’s profound impact on American and global culture, all with a look to the future of the beverage industry and how they seek to make it better.
The power of architecture to provide a platform for a meaningful statement comes to the fore in the rotunda. The design of this clean, white, and spacious area establishes a museum-like ambiance, which sets the stage for two installations. One, an original 1949 yellow delivery truck at the rotunda’s center, activates this space which users did not previously have reason to explore. The truck is a further homage to Woodruff, who previously owned White Motor Company. The trucks are a staple of Americana and a storied past, but this one showcases a global array of products, a nod to the brand’s future and its diversity of current offerings.
A second installation is a hanging light sculpture composed of eight intertwined rings, expressing that vision for the future in an abstract way. The rings symbolize the servings of eight ounces needed per day, aligning with Coca-Cola’s move to a total beverage company as they continue to round out their portfolio of products.
The atrium thus taps into a concept which is central to the company. Like Coca-Cola’s iconic bottle, this space functions as a vessel. Most important is what’s inside. Design has always been central to the company, a point of pride highlighted by its universal brand recognition as expressed through the bottle itself. Many people have the memory of reaching into a full cooler and feeling around for a Coca-Cola bottle’s uniquely identifiable shape. In the same way, the CRB’s architecture transfers the experience and leaves a lasting impression.
The renovation dramatically increases the building’s programmatic utilization. Because the prior space was aesthetically outdated and lacked modern technological tools, associates would rarely seek out its meeting rooms. Now, this previously underused building is booming. So far this year, the CRB has checked in more than 6,500 guests, and the 1919 conference room has hosted more than 120 meetings. The current use of the space is far more efficient and purposeful, making every square foot count.
To capture change and continuity at the same time is an immense challenge. The CRB meets this challenge, making a complex statement with deft architectural language.
Physical ContextA major challenge for Coca-Cola’s previous campus was a lack of architectural unity. Since each building served a unique purpose, experiences were siloed and there was little cross pollination between them. A number of big architectural moves change that and connect the CRB with its surrounding physical context. The adjacent USA building’s view used to be of a plain wall broken only by a small ribbon window. Now, it has a captivating view into the CRB atrium, with its constant activity and the iconic yellow truck. This interaction works both ways, of course, and the USA building’s massive flip disk art installation depicting the Coca-Cola logo is now visible from the CRB.
Covered outdoor dining on level two and a covered patio on level three, which did not previously exist on the campus, offer literal connections to the surrounding natural environment and overlook the campus’s renovated outdoor greenspace, affectionately known as The Backyard, and the rest of downtown Atlanta. Another amenity, the multi-purpose room, is designed with flexibility to support customer and team collaboration and has direct access to an outdoor terrace, strengthening this connection for both Coca-Cola employees and clients.
The project’s sustainability initiatives also speak to a sense of harmony between the natural and built environment, and the decision to move to a paperless badging process is a big one. A warm wooden portal welcomes guests where they can check in using a tablet with a guest ambassador’s assistance, setting a tone of hospitality while saving countless reams of paper. The use of LED lighting throughout the space and double-pane glass further The Company’s commitment to sustainable practices.
It is significant to note that the project emphasizes natural materials and analogue design elements. The team explored the option of digital display walls and other forms of technological immersion, but ultimately landed on a more timeless and intimate approach to storytelling. Crucial to the renovation strategy was the preservation of some existing surfaces. Stone wall panels on the rotunda’s first level and wood floors live on from the previous space, an intentional gesture to how the company seeks to remember the past and where they have been.
The reimagined porte-cochère, now bright and transparent, offers a visual welcome which sets the tone for a pleasant security process that has been rethought through multiple welcoming touchpoints. The 8-ring light sculpture is prominently displayed in the large picture window that helps Coca-Cola’s Central Reception Building to meaningfully connect to North Avenue, Georgia Tech, Midtown, and Atlanta’s urban fabric.
Architecture and design does not operate in a vacuum, and this project emphasizes the importance of context.