Atlanta's Central Library in Metropolis Magazine

One of the silliest trends in Atlanta recently has been to propose new “visionary” libraries to replace “old and busted” libraries.  Please recall Ben Carter’s offer to create a replica of the Buckhead Library.

Metropolis Magazine — an architecture, design, and preservation magazine — just published a story on Atlanta’s central library designed by Marcel Breuer, he of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City.

Atlanta Fulton Central Library

Breuer’s building is an example of brutalism.  It’s an angular, blocky architectural style which resides in the trough of no value for most people, including Fulton County Commissioner Rob Pitts.

Pitts would like to create a “visionary” “technology library” because other cities have built iconic libraries and been successful.  The Breuer Library would be sold and “repurposed,” which might as well mean “demolished.”  Pardon me, but this is totally wack.

Sure, the renderings of the potential new library I’ve seen look pretty, but don’t most renderings look pretty?

New Central Atlanta Library Rendering 2

I mean no offense to ai3, the architecture firm behind this rendering — it’s just too bad we’ve been through this before.  It’s almost as if history could repeat itself.

The Breuer Library is already iconic and visionary.  Plus, it was originally the new, modern answer to the beautiful Carnegie Library, which has been torn down.  Sounds familiar.

Atlanta Carnegie Library

Now only a pillar stands from the original Carnegie Library.  It’s a sad little monument.

The Breuer Library, like the Carnegie Library before it, is not broken, but it does need some updating.  Just because homeless people tend to congregate in front of the building does not mean tearing the building down is a wise thing to do.

As long as Pitts is talking expensive, pie-in-the-sky ideas (and he is!), why not repurpose the ground level of three parking decks that flank the Breuer Library?  Giving those decks ground floor retail would activate the street, making the library much more attractive and vibrant.

There’s a blog and a petition to save Atlanta’s Central Branch Library.  If you’re feeling limber, you can even tour the place courtesy of Docomomo and the Atlanta Preservation Center on March 11 at 6:30.

The moral —

Don’t: Tear down a significant, historic building designed by an internationally renowned architect.

Do: Read Overdue! in Metropolis Magazine by Jonathan Lerner and this post over at Terminal Station.

Then: Tour the place.

Edit, 2/26/09: It should be noted that I took the ai3 rendering of the new library without permission.

If you would, please discount that particular image from our Creative Commons license.  My bad.  I usually ask, and this time I neglected to. They do great work (truly), and their rendering should be considered separately from this issue.

Comments (11)

  • I have to say I disagree with you on this one Lain. I am all for preserving historical buildings, but just because something is old or “a great example of a style” doesn’t mean it should be saved. The fact is this design probably never should have been approved. To the common person, is this structure inviting and does it say “public library”. I would say not. Furthermore it is apparently not completely handicapped accessible. The elevators don’t even go to the top floor!

  • Disagreeing is encouraged, Deb! Keep it up.

    I would certainly hope that any renovation efforts at the Breuer Library would include ADA compliance updates.

    Brutalism often isn’t easy to swallow. All that concrete gets in the way. Ultimately I think the preservation of this building in its current capacity or otherwise will be a real boon for downtown Atlanta. It sure doesn’t have to be a library.

  • The article really says it all, but I’ll say it again: we have seen this all before. I was around when the gorgeous Carnegie Library was demolished to make way for the present “world class” library. Now, the present “world class” has to be kicked to the curb in favor of another “world class ” library…Geez!

    The present library is a piece of quirky piece of architecture, to be sure. It is, however, the last work by a world-class architect. Moreover, it was meant to be “world class” library in its time…what happened?

    Atlanta is such a profoundly stupid city when it comes to its history; what it can’t tear down, it renames. What other city would have proposed removing the name of the originator of its airport (Hartsfield) in favor of someone who only expanded it (Jackson.) Yeah, I said it!

    Sometimes, Atlanta deserves to become the soul-less wonder it seems to be rushing to become!

  • The root of the issue is not to save a building, but the fact that its greatest current use is as a public toilet for the homeless population in the area.

    Who in this discussion has even stepped foot in this architecturally significant City amenity? This building will only be significant if it’s use is reassessed. I say, let’s celebrate this wonderful building by giving it a program that supports future development of downtown.

  • I was there on Saturday and was totally turned off. Going inside the building is creepy. Nobody was browsing the stacks, just a handful of people actually reading. Most people were using the internet. The reading areas were in sad shape, just a some tables and chairs in front of the window, nothing comfortable looking. Oh, and its true about the homeless problem. But the staff don’t even clean up the front entrance, we were there and there was still cardboard bedding laid out in the plaza. Oh, i shouldn’t leave out the stab victim we encountered on our way into the building, they were nice enough to be picking up by ambulance when we were leaving. He could have bled to death in the time we were in the library. Thanks to the downtown concierge guys i guess he was ok. My conclusion is they need to clean up the streets down there, before they do anything. Then, if they ever get out of debt; they need to gut the building, and maybe even start fresh. That place as it stands now is not someplace to brag about, its a real #$%@ hole, and the people deserve better!

  • Even the swiftly passing ludicrous consideration to destroy a symbol such as the Whitney Museum is beyond belief. Do these “clever” people of authority have the slightest inclining into the architectural history that this building represents? This concrete slab of connotational, masterful art is one of the most predominant features of Bauahaus and it’s whole reason for existence! Why is it a concrete block? FORM FOLLOWS FUNCTION. World War 1: No art, just weapons. Russian Revolution: No art, just migration. All of the world’s most suffered, creatively deprived, and most talented artists and designers migrated to Bauhaus to start a new era of design. An era that centred it’s attention on FUNCTION. If it’s pretty, great. If it does it’s job, PERFECT. This ideaology became so logical and made sense so much that it WAS art. The magic that came with an ugly, but very mobile, angle-poised lamp was the perfect replacement for the magic felt when a masterpiece had been painted. THIS is why the Whitney building is so important. It’s a representation of a new era. An era that possibly, in my eyes, could have sped up invention so much that without it, we would be nowhere near the intelligence we’ve achieved today. Bauhaus is a beautiful part of history and “bland, boring, outdated” buildings such as the Whitney and Atlanta’s Central Library is such a blatent screaming sign that Bauhaus should live on for as long as art is among us. Rip down a Bauhaus and you rip down the optimism and hope for a new start in the 1920s.

  • I visit the library several times a month (I work downtown). At first I couldn’t stand the sight of it, but after using it, I’ve become attached. Yes, it’s hard on the eyes, but it’s so wonderfully designed. The stairs on the second and third floors are great, the window placement is perfect. I’ll fully admit that the homeless are a MAJOR problem and they sit near the magazine section – kind of creepy. But, it’s a unique building and Atlanta HAS to stop tearing down everything. I’ll do everything I can to help save this building.

  • I now live in the epicenter of Modernist appreciation Palm Springs, CA., but as a 20something in 1980’s Atlanta I remember the excitement of the opening of the Central Library. This is the most “world class” piece of modernism in the south. I hope the citizens of Atlanta do not embarrass themselves nor deprive the world of this building by destroying it in a shortsighted moment of stylistic opinion.

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