What is Atlanta’s most recognizable building?

Recently, a debate sprang up on Reddit that posed the question: what is Atlanta’s most recognizable building?

The user who asked the question didn’t want skyscrapers factored into the discussion, but I’ll ask the same question and allow our city’s tall buildings to be a part of the debate. I’ve chosen nine buildings that I believe to be the most recognizable in our city, and I invite you to weigh in and let me know which ones I missed.

1. The Westin


Westin Atlanta


Standing 723 feet tall, the Westin Peachtree Plaza Hotel is the most unique skyscraper in the city. That makes it recognizable to everyone who passes through the city, and it’s a reason why you’ll never see a silhouette of Atlanta without the Westin.

(Photos: Wacky foods unveiled for Turner Field’s final season)

This structure, among many others downtown, took a direct hit from an EF2 tornado on March 14, 2008. Many of the hotel’s windows were blown out, and for several months after the twister, the building looked as it does in the image above.

The Westin is the second-tallest hotel-only skyscraper in the Western Hemisphere.

2. Fox Theatre

The Fox Theatre
flickr/Wally Gobetz

The 87-year-old theater on Peachtree Street was built near the site of a Confederate fort, but that’s just where the history begins with this place. It has always portrayed luxury – a venue where the city’s residents can go to see artists perform at the highest level.

There’s no doubt the inside of the theater is also recognizable, but the marquee that lights up Peachtree Street on the outside of the building is a landmark for thousands who drive and walk past it every day.

3. Tech Tower

Tech Tower

Located on the Georgia Institute of Technology campus, Tech Tower was built in 1888 as the second building constructed at GT. It’s a four-story building, but the tower rises up another three floors. A wooden ladder is the only way to climb each of the tower’s three levels.

Students have climbed that ladder to the top floor of the tower to steal a “T” off the sign, a Georgia Tech pranksters’ tradition that has frustrated the administration more and more as the years went on. In 2014, President Bud Peterson begged the students to stop climbing the tower to steal the “T.”

4. Philips Arena

Philips Arena
Wikimedia Commons

It’s one of those things you don’t always see at first glance, but when you do, you’ll be amazed at the imagination of the designers – the beams in front of the arena spell out “Atlanta.” The home of the Atlanta Hawks is likely to undergo a facelift in the coming years, but I wouldn’t expect those beams to vanish.

Opened in 1999, Philips Arena replaced the Omni and is one of the premier concert venues in the city, in addition to the basketball games it hosts. But there’s something about those oh-so-Atlanta beams out front that are just spectacular.

5. High Museum of Art

High Museum of Art

Looking like something so white and clean that it belongs on South Beach, the High Museum of Atlanta was founded in 1905, but the current building opened in 1983. Three buildings were added in 2002 as the museum continued to grow.

Today, there are more than 14,000 permanent works of art at the High, and new featured collections are constantly being brought in. This museum, like the Fox Theatre a few miles to the south, sits right up against Peachtree Street.

6. Polaris Hyatt Regency

Polaris Hyatt Regency

High atop the Hyatt Regency in Downtown Atlanta, it may look like a UFO, but it’s a rotating restaurant that offers dazzling views of the city. Over the years, the Polaris restaurant remained an iconic structure of the city, even as taller buildings rose up around it.

Polaris opened in 1967 and certainly resembles the space-age architecture of its day. It closed in 2004, but after a round of renovations, Polaris reopened in 2014. The restaurant rises 340 feet above Peachtree Street, more than half the height of Seattle’s Space Needle.

7. Flatiron Building

Flatiron Building Atlanta

Opened five years before New York City’s Flatiron Building, this remains Atlanta’s oldest skyscraper that’s still standing. The structure was completed in 1897 and stands 11 stories tall.

The Flatiron Building received $12 million in renovations last year to bring it up to speed, according to AJC.com. Some floors of the building are rented out as office space, much like Buckhead’s Atlanta Tech Village.

8. The Varsity

The Varsity

The sign is visible from the Downtown Connector, and if you put your car window down, the smells probably are as well. Opened in 1928, the Varsity has served presidents, world leaders and probably your family members when you bring them into town for a tourist experience.

The Varsity remains the world’s largest drive-in, but you can also dine in the massive seating area inside. I joke about the tourist-trap nature of this place, but it’s really hard to go here and not feel closer to the city and its people.

9. CNN Center

CNN Center
Wikimedia Commons

The CNN Center will turn 40 years old this year, and remains under the ownership of CNN and Turner Broadcasting System. The red letters are visible for blocks, reminding visitors to the Luckie-Marietta and Centennial Park districts that this is the city where Ted Turner’s global news empire was born.

Here’s an interesting nugget: did you know the massive building was once home to an indoor amusement park? It’s true – The World of Sid and Marty Krofft became the world’s first amusement park that was entirely indoors when it opened in 1976. It was only open for six months before it closed for good; the Krofft brothers blamed the unsafe nature of 1970s Downtown Atlanta at the time, while customers preferred Six Flags. Here’s what the park looked like during its short life (there was also a skating rink on the main floor of the CNN Center):

The World of Sid and Marty Krofft
Image via EntertainmentDesigner.com

Main image: Flickr/James Good

Back to home page