Doing good with Atlanta veteran and architect Mark Peterson

The Ormewood Park resident discusses his contribution to help veterans living in Vine City


  • Joeff Davis
  • Mark Peterson, owner of Paraline, at Quest Veterans Village in Vine City

In September, CL ran a feature story about this fall's Do Good Campaign to help Quest Veterans Village in Vine City. Our plan was to raise funds online and rally CL readers and others to help build an outdoor seating area and greenspace for disabled vets living in an apartment building on Rock Street. That complex, one of a handful that make up the Quest community, is located west of the Georgia Dome, in the heart of one of Atlanta's most economically challenged and struggling neighborhoods, yet among its most historic.

We are happy to report we exceeded the goals for the Do Good campaign, raising nearly $2,800 through Indiegogo donations. (Thank you, Loafers!) Those funds were recently matched with a $2,500 gift from the Home Depot Foundation. Trees Atlanta will also be donating trees to the Quest Veterans Village grounds within the next week or two. And a volunteer day is scheduled to take place before the week of Thanksgiving.

What you may not know, however, is the story about one do-gooder we met along the way named Mark Peterson. The Atlanta architect and U.S. Air Force veteran is going above and beyond to benefit the Do Good project by donating his time to help with the landscape design and overall building of the outdoor project.

Peterson, 37, lives in Ormewood Park with his wife, Rachel, a teacher at Paidea, and their two dogs. He owns an architectural company called Paraline which includes a Culture of Giving Program that offers pro bono design services to nonprofits. He works out of the shared workspace NEX in Grant Park.

We met up on Octane Coffee's patio last Friday afternoon for more on his backstory, accompanied by some pretty views of the fall foliage in the neighborhood. The following is part of our conversation:

Q. How did you first hear about the Do Good Campaign?

I got the paper Creative Loafing and my wife said 'You should check out this story, they're trying to help some veterans. You should reach out to them.' So I said OK and read the story and then I emailed Quest and I heard back from them in just a couple days. So I met with Leonard Adams [founder and CEO at Quest Community Development Organization] and the rest of them on Rock Street. He's also an Air Force veteran, so we hit it off. I saw the location for the seating area. It's a sliver of greenspace, 16 feet wide by 60 feet long. It's an odd little site but I think for what we're trying to do, it'll be a nice fit.


  • Joeff Davis
  • Left to right: Quest Community Development Organization President and CEO Leonard Adams, architect Mark Peterson, and Quest case manager Tyrone Pinder talk landscaping at Quest Veterans Village in Vine City.

Q. What are your plans?

We're going to put a new fence in - we've talked about chain-link, I'm a fan of a wood privacy fence. Initially they were going to cut into the ground where it slopes up and just put in a couple picnic tables and concrete slab. Pretty simple, utilitarian. But then I had to mess that all up laughs. And they loved it. I told them we only have $5,000 to work with. It needs to be pretty simple, basically. It needs to be elegant. It needs to give these residents a quality place to gather. So I pitched the idea of taking advantage of the slope, because it actually slopes in two directions. So we're going to use the natural grade and use stone, which is pretty straightforward, and have a skilled mason or landscaper show volunteers how to build into the landscape. ... We won't have to use any concrete. Obviously it's very easy to maintain. It's big enough to allow for a garden. The low stone wall will allow for seating, there's room for a table. It's an oval. So they've got some options there. They mentioned a garden. They could grow tomato plants - it gets good sun - sunflowers, any kind of wild flowers will be nice. Posies would be easy to take care of. Maybe they'll put in some azalea bushes. We'll be working on the actual construction, gathering some skilled folks, including me, to lead a group of volunteers. We're going to work with Trees Atlanta. I think we're getting crepe myrtles. I'd love to get a couple paper birch trees. They're beautiful. We'll take what we get. Any tree is a good tree.

Q. Tell us about your own military service.

I joined the military in 1993. I went right in after high school. I was stationed for the most part in Italy, a place called Aviano. I was a jet engine mechanic. I worked on F-16s. We were there in the heat of the Bosnia campaign. So that was pretty exciting from my standpoint. When I got there we were working 15-hour shifts on combat missions. That kept me busy for a long time. I was part of a deployment unit. We went all over the place: Albania, North Africa, Israel, the Czech Republic. We would go there and we'd either train their troops or engage in operations. That was pretty exciting. You know, as a young guy you just grab your bag and get on a plane.

Q. Did you have any mechanical experience before that?

Yeah, I was always tinkering on cars. I scored very high on their mechanical aptitude test and I always loved airplanes but I never thought I could be a pilot because I came from a pretty modest background, low-income. I just didn't know that was out there. But I loved airplanes.

Q. Did you ever learn to fly then?

No, but I have flown an F-16 (in the back seat). It's pretty nice to be able to do that. I was in the military for six years.

Q. Were you in Italy the whole time?

No. I got stationed at Oklahoma in the beginning. After a year I said, this isn't working out. I applied to go anywhere in the world. I did not care. Just not the U.S. I came from a small town in Alabama. I claim Jackson, Alabama, as my hometown. We moved around a lot when I was a kid but I spent a lot of time in Jackson. We had family there and they lived on a farm. It was a pretty nice place to grow up. Small town USA.

Q. What happened after the Air Force?

I went to Auburn. Initially I was an aerospace engineer because I wanted to design jet engines. Actually, I was working in a weapons lab, or a research lab is a better term. I had some security clearance and I worked on some pretty interesting things. I just had a change of heart. I had sort of seen the effects of war from a certain perspective. I was in the lab one day and we were working on a weapon and I just realized I don't want to be doing this anymore. And I was not going to get to design jet engines; I was probably going to end up somewhere else. So I took an Architecture 101 class. I used to always love to draw and had that creative side. I was pretty good at geometry, things like that. So I took architecture and I just excelled at architecture. About my third year I got introduced to a program called DesignHabitat. I was selected to be a part of that. We not only designed but we built prototype Habitat homes. So we're hands-on with the family,
working closely, and so it became very real - what architecture could do for folks.

So I latched onto that, that idea of giving back. It's always resonated with me. There was some statistic, it used to be that only 2 percent of people would ever work with an architect. Two percent. If you wanted to become extinct, that's my business model, that's what I would do: I would say I want to work with 2 percent of the people. By working with people of all different income levels and all different needs you really open the opportunity to expose people to good design.

And design is not just pretty pictures. It's thoughtful. It looks at things from all different perspectives. As an architect or as someone who is looking three dimensionally, and that's not just at an object, you're really trying to look at things from different perspectives. So we designed some Habitat homes, we won some awards, and made some families very happy. So I did that, got a fellowship through the university. I worked closely with these families - three or families - for a whole year.

I really enjoy that side of architecture. I've worked with very wealthy clients and I've worked with some families that have a tough time making ends meet and I enjoy working with people who are in need more than with people who have plenty. I mean there's different opportunities with each but I always found that when you're working with someone who's not used to working with an architect, it's kind of a new and exciting experience, right? And if you empower them to be creative and engage them in the process you get some pretty cool results.

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Monday September 30, 2013 03:39 pm EDT
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Thursday September 26, 2013 04:00 am EDT
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