Remembering Pat Connell: A Force for Historic Preservation and a Master of Hand Drawing

Throughout Atlanta’s history, the city has notoriously struggled to preserve its original architecture, but Arnall T. “Pat” Connell was a successful champion for maintaining the structural history of Atlanta. Connell passed away Thursday, June 13, 2018, leaving behind an important legacy in both the Georgia Tech School of Architecture and the historic preservation of Atlanta’s architecture.

Connell earned his Bachelor of Science in Architecture in 1953 and completed his Master of City Planning in 1955 from Georgia Tech. After earning his degrees, Connell moved to Columbus, Ohio to serve as the principal planner for the Columbus City Planning Commission. At that time, he also worked as an associate professor of urban planning at The Ohio State University from 1957-1963. In the 1960s, Connell taught at Columbia University and the University of Virginia before returning to Tech to teach classes in urban planning and renewal and historic preservation in the School of Architecture.

“When you look through the Georgia Tech archives, you will see Pat Connell‘s name on all the unsung committee reports from the 1970s that were instrumental in establishing the Master of Architecture degree at our school,” said George Johnston, professor in the School of Architecture. “What’s even more impressive is that Pat had an incredibly vibrant second career and maybe even third after he retired from Georgia Tech. What a great example he was.”

Beyond the classroom, Connell put his passion for historic preservation into action. Shortly after returning to Atlanta, Connell served as chairman of the Atlanta Civic Design Commission. As chairman, Connell helped co-found the Atlanta Landmarks, a group of progressive politicians, civic leaders, and celebrities who joined forces to lead the “Save the Fox” campaign to prevent the demolition of Atlanta’s Fox Theatre.

Of Connell’s influence in saving the Fox Theater, Lane Duncan, senior lecturer in the School of Architecture said, “Pat Connell’s efforts in forming the Atlanta Landmarks in the early seventies not only ‘Saved the Fox’ but became a rallying cry for generations of historic preservation initiatives in the state of Georgia.

Connell was also instrumental in the preservation of the Pasaquan site in Buena Vista, Georgia and Atlanta’s Castleberry Hill preservation and the Sweet Auburn neighborhood revitalization.

Alongside his late wife, Martha, the Connells had an impressive collection of contemporary crafts and fine arts objects. Together, they co-founded the Great American Gallery, Atlanta’s unique contribution to contemporary crafts and fine arts objects. Many of the works that they curated now reside in leading museums and private collections around the U.S.

In 2016, Connell made a generous contribution to Georgia Tech to create the Connell Workshop. This course, taught in the spring semesters by Duncan, explores a wide range of issues in hand drawing, including tone, line, contour, gesture, composition, iterative geometry, and the humanistic forces that shape them. These drawing and critical thinking investigations are divided into two general categories—perception, the way we see the world, and conception, the way we attempt to order the world. 

Of the importance of hand drawing, Connell said, “Drawing requires that all the sensory apparatus of the body participate in the process of creating an image of the observed or imagined stimulus. Unlike the camera, which records only a split-second view of the object, the act of drawing is not time-dependent. The act of image-making informs and instructs the brain to keep looking for all the messages being sent. The image-maker always decides when to make changes and when the work is ‘finished.’ The Gestalt is there for the taking by anyone.”

Duncan remembers Connell as, “A true scholar who believed that hand drawing is a vital ‘technology’ to seeing and understanding the world around us and that it is an essential tool for the architect no matter what generation.” He added, “His contributions to drawing and thinking live on in the work of every student that has taken the class.”

As Scott Marble, Chair of the School of Architecture, reflected on Connell's contributions to the School, he said, "At a time when our entire experience in seeing and creating the physical world is mediated through digital technology of one sort or another, Connell’s commitment to the bodily nature of drawing reminds us, both faculty and students, that thinking and discovering through drawing has enduring value in architectural education."

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  • Pat Connell courtesy of Susan Sanders

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