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Joe Amisano

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ATLANTA: Joe Amisano, admired architect


His design for the 1968 Woodruff Arts Center almost drove architect Joe Amisano out of the profession. He hated the columns he was forced to add to his modern cube design.

Minions of Robert Woodruff mistakenly thought the philanthropist wanted columns on the art center's Memorial Arts Building and sent Mr. Amisano back to the drawing board. For years, Mr. Amisano avoided the arts center and even thought of leaving his profession because of it, he said in a 2003 Atlanta Journal-Constitution article.

He was glad to see the columns toppled in a 2004 remake of the arts center. "They are doing away with what I never did like," he said.

As much as he despised the columns, Mr. Amisano enjoyed telling the story, said his daughter, Tina Amisano of Atlanta.

Mr. Amisano's award-winning modernism designs have influenced architecture in Atlanta since the 1950s: the original open-air Lenox Square mall; Peachtree Center's MARTA station that blends natural and man-made elements; Fernbank Science Center; University of Georgia and Spelman College buildings; the three-story Atlanta University Center Woodruff Library, which is compatible with its residential neighbors; and his favorite, John Knox Presbyterian Church.

"He had a nice cleanness to things," said retired architect Joe Smith of Atlanta. "It is classic in some sense in the arrangement of things but not in form."

The memorial service for Joseph Amisano, 91, of Atlanta will be 2:30 p.m. Saturday at the Woodruff Arts Center's Rich Theatre. He died April 12 at Fountainview Center. The body was donated to Emory University School of Medicine. Tom M. Wages, Lawrenceville Chapel, is in charge of arrangements.

Mr. Amisano was recruited from New York, where he had a solid reputation, to Atlanta in 1954 by Henry Toombs and created Toombs, Amisano and Wells, said his son, Paul Amisano of Lawrenceville. Here, he thought, he could have a greater influence on the development of a city than he could in built-up New York. He wanted urban neighborhoods to redevelop and create a richer community.

"He didn't like urban sprawl," his son said. "He wanted people back in the city."

That's why revitalizing the Reynoldstown neighborhood held a special attraction for Mr. Amisano.

"None of his work was ever the same; that's what's so diverse about him," his son said. "He was always evolving, always changing."

Mr. Amisano became overly creative when his son and a friend wanted to build a tree house. "He took so much time designing it, and it was too complicated for us. So we built our own. What was interesting about it, Mom made us build it out in the woods right outside their bedroom window so he had to look at it all the time."

The architect's 1972 white stucco Buckhead home --- his interpretation of a Sicilian villa --- is jammed with his books, his daughter said. If he wasn't reading, he was sketching designs or writing. Entertaining was a great joy for this man who took everything to another level.

"He believed in the more the merrier," his daughter said. "If two people were coming to dinner, why not 12?"

His Halloween parties are legendary. Mr. Smith said Mr. Amisano was great fun, and he enjoyed their conversations, but he never attended the Halloween party. "I probably was not weird enough," he said.

"He made our life an adventure," his son said.

Other survivors include two sisters, Gladys Accornero of Miami and Gloria Amisano of Mahwah, N.J.; a brother, Carlo Amisano of St. Petersburg, Fla.; and three grandchildren.

© 2008 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Apr. 21, 2008
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