New World of Coca-Cola

A Coke and a Smile

Museum, cultural touchstone, or marketing tool for the world’s No. 1 brand? With the help of iconic graphics, the New World of Coca Cola manages to be all three.

Andy Warhol may have said it best when he described the universal appeal of Coca Cola. “…A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good. Liz Taylor knows it, the President knows it, the bum knows it, and you know it.”

The Coca Cola Company is betting that visitors to the New World of Coca Cola know it, too. The $97 million facility—part museum, part brand experience, and part of an ambitious plan to rejuvenate downtown Atlanta—opened in May 2007. The company relied on a multidisciplinary architectural, design, construction, and engineering team to create a destination that is as iconic as the product it celebrates.

Changing with the times
Much had changed since the original World of Coca Cola opened in 1991 in Atlanta’s Underground, says Haven Riviere, vice president of marketing for Coca Cola. “Our company changed dramatically, and consumers changed dramatically.”

For starters, Coca Cola now has 400 brands worldwide, and while the classic red can is still the world’s favorite, the company wants to expose consumers to its other products as well. In 1991, visitors were willing to walk through the static, timeline-oriented exhibitions at the original museum. But not so today. “Consumers are barraged by so many messages now. They assimilate information quickly, form their opinions, and move on,” says Riviere. To keep them engaged, the new museum had to be fresh, contemporary, interactive, and changeable.

The museum needed to convey a wide range of messages, which Riviere put in three “buckets” to focus the design process: experience (“Coke means fun.”), brand (“red Coke” is the brand supreme, and why people are willing to buy a ticket to the museum), and company. In addition to promoting its products, Coca Cola wanted to tell visitors about its corporate values and the impact it wants to make in the communities where it operates.

The new building is certified LEED Gold by the U.S. Green Building Council, underscoring Coke’s commitment to the environment. And it was created by a team with 35 percent minority and women-owned business involvement. It sits on a 20-acre parcel named Pemberton Place (after Coke’s inventor). Coca Cola donated 11 acres of the site to the Georgia Aquarium, which opened in 2005 across the park. It also donated 2.5 acres for the development of a civil rights museum, yet to open. Five acres are devoted to park space. “Our goal was always to create a catalyst for growth, and the vision grew into a 20-acre destination for Atlanta,” says Riviere.

Graphic architecture
As the master planner for the Pemberton Place site, the Jerde Partnership (Venice, CA) had been working with Coca Cola since 2001, advising it on ways to manifest the Coca Cola brand on the site. As design architect for the New World of Coca Cola, Jerde worked closely with Coke’s global marketing group to ensure the building not only met its brand messaging needs, but the expectations of its target customers.

“Coca Cola went on a six-country tour talking to focus groups and really trying to learn what the consumer would want out of this space,” says Arthur Benedetti, then a Jerde vice president and its principle designer for the project. “The whole time we were designing, we were getting input and feedback from these groups.”

That feedback resulted in an architectural concept that not only honors the company’s past, but its present and future as well. Benedetti, now a partner with 5+Design (Hollywood), called the architectural components Red Coke and Green Coke—red for the classic, traditional side of the brand and green for the modern, forward-thinking side that values corporate transparency, sustainability, and good works.

One-third of the building is predominately red brick, harkening to Coca Cola’s past, its original bottling plants, and the architectural rhythms of the traditional downtown buildings it faces.  

The central third of the building is a glass-encased hub with a 70-ft. ceiling, creating a huge open space for visitors to gather, enjoy special exhibits, or sit and enjoy a Coke while they look out on the park.

The third slice—facing the Georgia Aquarium and the newer side of downtown Atlanta—has a more contemporary feel, including the building’s signature feature: a 27-ft.-tall replica of Coca Cola’s famous contoured bottle encased in a 90-ft. “ice block” tower.

Towering challenges
Jerde called on Selbert Perkins Design Collaborative (Playa del Ray, CA) to develop the tower concept and graphics for the exterior. Design Communications Ltd. (Boston) was chosen as the specialty contractor responsible for bringing the tower concepts to life.

“Our approach is always how can we make the entire building represent the brand,” says Clifford Selbert, principal. “Our feeling was that the icon tower and the building needed to BE the brand.”

Selbert Perkins explored numerous concepts for the tower, but their efforts soon focused on immersing visitors in the icy-cool refreshment that is Coca Cola. The challenges were to make the icon legible and the tower convincing as a block of ice. Selbert Perkins decided visitors should literally walk through the “block of ice” to get to the museum, experiencing its cold, refreshing feel (particularly during hot Atlanta summers).  “We wanted that icon to feel like a block of ice, not like a piece of architecture.”

Working with a $4 million budget for the tower, Design Communications’ job was to transform Selbert Perkins’ conceptual drawings into a structurally sound reality, says Mark Andreasson, president. “We looked at acrylic and glass, and while acrylic could be carved and molded to look like glass, there were fire rating issues and concerns that we couldn’t get it thick enough at the base to be self supporting. Glass was ultimately more cost effective.”

After extensive testing, Design Communications settling on tempered, laminated glass in 6- by 12-ft. panels. To achieve an icy effect, 14 different ceramic frit patterns were applied to the glass via a silkscreen process, with denser patterns toward the bottom of the tower to hide its supporting structure.

The 27-ft. fiberglass bottle was built in 10 segments and is equipped with a servicing column inside. At xxxx pounds, the bottle needed a robust but unobtrusive support system to hold it up. “Our structural engineers, Novum, came up with a very clever cantilevered system off a two-foot steel column that passes in back of the bottle. The engineering was stupendous,” says Andreasson. A sophisticated show lighting system designed by PRG Lighting (Bergen, NJ) employs a ColorKinetics system that Coca Cola can program to create an unlimited number of lighting shows.

Sign or chandelier?
Coca Cola worked closely with the City of Atlanta to ensure the tower didn’t violate sign ordinances. “In Atlanta, no sign can break the roofline of the building,” says Andreasson. “Coca Cola’s perspective was that this was not a sign, but a part of the building, and we referred to the bottle as a chandelier hanging in a vestibule.”

To keep on the right side of the city’s ordinances, the team had to make sure the chandelier was open to the building—“so the inspector had to see the bottom of the bottle from inside the building,” Andreasson notes. When visitors enter the New World of Coke, they walk through the “block of ice” and can see the bottle floating above them.

Frosty facade
Selbert Perkins also wanted the building’s façade to shimmer like ice, and since Coca Cola discouraged the use of too much red (“they didn’t want to bang people over the head with it”), Selbert Perkins decided on a subtle silvery effect, achieved by pinning stainless steel mesh to the building’s façade. Coca Cola’s Spencerian script wordmark is sandblasted in 60-ft. letters across the mesh, and where the script extends to the glass portions of the façade, the glass was fritted to continue the effect. “It’s basically a very fancy chain link fence,” Selbert explains.

Exhibits: a balancing act
Architectural plans were well underway by the time exhibit designers Jack Rouse Associates (Cincinnati) came on board, but Coca Cola put them on hold until Rouse could provide feedback on how the experience would affect space requirements. Like all other members of the team, the Rouse staff underwent a Coca Cola brand immersion that helped direct their efforts.

“The essence was that here is a company with 400 brands, including the world’s favorite,” says Randy Vuksta, Rouse creative director. “The space needed to explore the history of Coca Cola, expose people to all the brands, and show how the company has made its mark on society and culture.”

With 60,000 sq. ft. of public space, the New World of Coca Cola is triple the size of the old one. Unlike the original museum, which was a linear walk through Coca Cola’s history, the new experience needed to be more free-flowing and customizable, says Vuksta.

So while Coca Cola’s orientation film, “Inside the Happiness Factory,” is the mandatory starting point for the experience, Rouse created a circular layout and exhibits that allow guests to flow freely through the space. The experience is designed to be about 90 minutes long, and “there’s something for everyone,” says Vuksta. Guests can see changing exhibits in the main lobby, works by Andy Warhol and other famous artists in the Pop Culture Gallery, films in one of three theaters, a fully functioning bottle works, or display after display of Coca Cola memorabilia in the Milestones of Refreshment galleries.  

Interactivity is woven into many of the exhibits. Guests can create their own pop art using Coke iconography, attempt to recreate the Coca Cola script using touchscreen displays, or play video games. The ultimate interactive exhibit, and the museum’s capstone experience, is the Taste It! tasting lounge, which features 70 beverages from around the globe, available for sampling at stations arranged by continent.

As important as it was to convey Coca Cola’s brand values in the museum, says Vuksta, it was much more important to make the experience fun. “Coca Cola has invested in the New World of Coca Cola for marketing purposes. But the guest is putting money out for a ticket to have a really good time. The challenge—and what we do best—is to create the interface between those two goals.”

--By Pat Matson Knapp, segdDESIGN No. 20, 2008



Client:  The Coca Cola Company

Location:  Atlanta

Architecture:  The Jerde Partnership (design architect), Rosser International (architect of record)

Environmental Graphic Design:  Selbert Perkins Design Collaborative, Jones Worley Communications

EGD Team:  Clifford Selbert, Robin Perkins (creative directors); Ian Jay (principal/design director); Jamal Kitmitto (senior designer); Yamile Millsap (Jones Worley production coordinator)

Tower Fabrication:  Design Communications Ltd. (specialty contractor, tower); Novum Structures LLC (structural engineering); Production Resources Group LLC (theatrical lighting system); UNI-Sky Corp., TWT (tower and bottle installation); Durofiber (bottle fabrication); Indiana Art Glass (textured glass); Kentfab Inc. (vertical access system)

Signage Fabrication:  Poblocki Sign Company (interior signage), Cambridge Metals (stainless steel mesh) Exhibit Design:  Jack Rouse Associates

Exhibit Design Team:  Jack Rouse, Amy Merrell, Robert Harness, Randy Vuksta, Bjorn Kemper, Scot Ross, Brian Donohue, John Rice, Ron Bunt, David Ferguson, Jeff Kraemer

Exhibit Fabrication:  The Nassal Company, D&P In. (theming and exhibitory); Display Dynamics (inter actives); Gary Lee Super Associates (artifact mounts)

Consultants:  Holder, Manhattan Moody (construction manager); Jones Lang LaSalle (development manager); Roy Ashley Associates (architect of record/landscape); R.L. Brown Associates (architect of record/parking); Griffin & Strong (MWBE selection and compliance), Visual Terrain Lighting (lighting)

Photos:  Jim Roof Creative (exterior an lobby), Matthew Lause (exhibits)

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