Academic Commentary

Progress in preservation
Downtown library merits renovation


For the Journal-Constitution
Published on: 07/18/08

None of the rhetoric about building a new “signature” library in downtown Atlanta makes a specific case for constructing a new building.

Two separate issues exist, but blur in conversation. The first addresses the library’s purpose: what will be its use and evolution? Second to that, but equally important, stands the architectural significance of the existing structure.

Our existing world-class signature library building was designed by the architect considered by many to be the “father of modernism,” Marcel Breuer, named by Time Magazine as one of the 20th century’s “Form Givers” and described by the American Institute of Architects as a “monumental figure among modern architects” when he was awarded its Gold Medal.

As the first living architect given a retrospective by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the designer of the very significant Whitney Museum in New York (with a similar cantilevered form), Breuer, at his death in 1981, left the Atlanta Fulton Public Library as his last public work in a body of nearly 200 buildings. His Grosse Pointe, Mich., Central Library has undergone the same scrutiny as ours, is listed by the World Monuments Fund as endangered, and is now a beneficiary of its own Marcel Breuer Library Preservation Fund.

Lessons of waste confront us daily in the news —- from energy to water to capital. Consequences confront us. We must grow wiser and thriftier than to simply abandon and rebuild. Read more here

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Architect Marcel Breuer and the Atlanta Public Library

by Isabelle Hyman

Author of : Marcel Breuer, Architect. The Career and the Buildings.

New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc. 2001

December 21, 2008

“At the time of the initial campaign for the current Atlanta Library, Atlanta was described as “a city with a lot of buildings but not a lot of architecture.”  Breuer’s Atlanta Library is unquestionably a work of “architecture.” Its heavy massing and concrete construction represent a mode of design and a material no longer in vogue in parts of this country. But Breuer had a particular interest in the sculptural potential of concrete in modern architecture, as he conceived architecture as sculpture. And concrete was a material that, at the time the Library project was underway, was very cost-effective for a public building.

Tastes change with regard to the appearance of buildings as they do for every cycle of creative activity. Concrete architecture of the 1970s is not at this moment universally appreciated. But to remove a significant modernist monument — important in and for its time and still satisfactorily fulfilling its original function to serve the community — designed by a major architect of historical importance and world renown, would be a serious civic blunder in the cultural history of Atlanta.”

Read More Here

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1 Comment»

[…] that was headlined by Isabelle Hyman, a professor of art history at New York Univerity. Their website laid out a case for keeping the existing […]


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