Monday, February 23, 2009

Marcel Breuer: The Masterpiece Builder

Named by Time Magazine as one of the "form givers of the 20th Century", Marcel Breuer--born in 1902 in Pecs, Hungary--is remembered as one of the most influential architects and designers the world has ever known.

Early in life he developed an interest in art, which led him to Weimar, Germany where he studied and taught at the famed Bauhaus school. Once there he participated first as a student from 1920 til his graduation in 1924. Thereafter, Breuer became a faculty member or "Bauhaus Master" from 1924 to 1928; by which time the school had relocated from Weimar to Dessau.

From the outset, Breuer had a clear understanding of the "form follows function" principle. To this, he embraced the concept of unit construction, and in 1925, with his innovative use of raw materials, Breuer was credited with being the first to use tubular steel in furniture; a now ubiquitous, modernist technique applied around the world. As well, Breuer was also one of the pioneers of minimalism.

In Europe, from 1928 to 1937, Breuer enjoyed a flourishing architectural practice. However, because of the outbreak of The Second World War, he made a decision to relocate in America. It was during this time when Harvard University offered him an Associate Professorship at it's School of Design. Simultaneously, many of his other colleagues were migrating to the U.S. including Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius, Le Corbusier and Bauhaus (faculty) colleagues Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe. At Harvard Breuer was joined by Gropius, who taught at the school as well. Breuer continued to teach at Harvard University until 1946. And in 1970 he received the only Honorary Doctorate in Architecture ever awarded by that school.

Throughout his illustrious career, Marcel Breuer was commissioned for numerous, monumental civic structures, with some of the more notable being The UNESCO World Headquarters (Paris), The Whitney Museum of American Art (NYC), The University of Massachusetts Campus Center in Amherst, the headquarters of The Departments of HUD and HEW in Washington D.C., St. John's Abbey (Minnesota) and The Atlanta-Fulton Central Branch Public Library (Atlanta). In addition to his civic commissions, Breuer also received many residential commissions, including The Wolfson House, Breuer House and The Frank House, which he created in collaboration with Walter Gropius.

A major Exhibition of Breuer's work was shown at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art in November 1972, and at Paris' Louvre Museum in the summer of 1974. More recently, in 2002 The Smithsonian Institution created an exhibition entitled Marcel Breuer: A Centennial Celebration

Marcel Breuer 1902-1981

AFPL Central Public Library - Special Collections
Archives @ The Smithsonian Institution

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Wren's Nest: Blogging for Breuer


Lain Shakespeare -- great-great-great grandson of Joel Chandler Harris -- Executive Director of The Wren's Nest -- has recently signed the "Plea for Preservation" online petition. This now comes from the blog @ The Wren's Nest.

From: The Wren's Nest

Thursday, February 19, 2009
Atlanta’s Central Library in Metropolis Magazine

Posted by: lain // Category: Historic Preservation // 4:16 pm

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. Read More.


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Metropolis Mag: Atlanta's Downtown Library

February 18, 2009
- International design magazine -- art and architecture journal -- Metropolis Mag, has publish in its February issue, a featured piece about Atlanta's Downtown Library. The building, The Atlanta-Fulton Central Public Library -- designed by legendary architect Marcel Breuer -- is at risk of being demolished under the auspices of Robb Pitts, a notorious Atlanta politician. Nonetheless, with both a local and national preservation effort gathering steam, the table may soon turn and Mr. Pitts will have to find himself another architectural site to pick on.

Written by renowned journalist Jonathan Lerner, those interviewed for the magazine article consists of a veritable roll call of who's who in the art and design world, including Dr. Isabelle Hyman, Barry Bergdoll, Jon Buono and Max Eternity.




Atlanta’s urge for a trendy new central library may mean that time is up for Marcel Breuer’s final building.

- Click Here to Read -

Monday, February 16, 2009

Sign the Online Petition: A Plea for Preservation

300 Signatures in 8 Weeks !


To: The Fulton County Board of Commissioners

To: The Atlanta-Fulton Public Library System, Director John Szabo
To: Fulton County Board of Commissioners, Chairman John Eaves
To: The City of Atlanta, Mayor Shirley Franklin

We call to you attention that any and all attempts to obscure, defund and otherwise, with willful intent, delegitimize the great, historical significance of the currently standing and fully functioning, 28 year-old Atlanta-Fulton Central Public Library, are now being met with resistance; as witnessed in the formation of this petition, operating in tandem with other forms of collective civic action.

We call to your attention that this declaration makes no assumptions about what may become, as we are most concerned with what we feel should be.

We call to your attention that the architectural site that we seek to protect and preserve was designed by legendary architect Marcel Breuer, who counts among his more than 300 public and private commissions, with being credited for the design of The Whitney Museum in New York City, the HUD and HEW buildings in Washington D.C. and (in a partnership) the UNESCO building in Paris, France.

We call to your attention that it is our desire to work with, not against, the leadership and stewardship of this collective civic investment, in that we believe that "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"

So let it now be known that all who sign herein speak peacefully, in a unified spirit of service, cooperation and preservation with the hope that our voices shall be known, counted and heard. As we ask that the leadership attributed to deciding the fate of this site, regard this petition as a formal request that said leaders make a sincere and honest pledge toward instituting a policy of site renovation and preservation in respect to Marcel Breuer's enduring legacy as expressed in his final epic work, the iconic Atlanta-Fulton Central Public Library.


(click here to sign)

Monday, February 9, 2009

DOCOMOMO Receives 2009 AIA Award

Selected as Recipient of the American Institute of

Architects 2009 Institute Honors for Collaborative Achievement

For immediate release:

New York, NY. – February 5, 2009 – The American Institute of Architects (AIA) has selected DOCOMOMO US as recipient of the 2009 Institute Honors for Collaborative Achievement. The award, to be presented at the 2009 AIA National Convention and Design Exposition in San Francisco, recognizes and encourages distinguished achievements of allied professionals, clients, organizations, architect teams, knowledge communities, and others who have had a beneficial influence on or advanced the architectural profession.


Affiliated with more than 50 international working parties and 10 national chapters, DOCOMOMO US is dedicated to the documentation and conservation of buildings, sites, and neighborhoods of the Modern Movement. John Morris Dixon, FAIA, on behalf of the AIA Committee on Design, nominated the organization for its vigorous and effective work to publicize Modern landmarks, document key works for archives, and research and disseminate preservation techniques particular to Modern buildings. “DOCOMOMO US, with its diverse membership of architects, preservationists, historians, and enthusiasts, has become both a recognized force and a respected name in the preservation of Modern heritage in the U.S.,” lauds
MoMA Philip Johnson Chief Curator Barry Bergdoll.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Bauhaus, Breuer and the International Style


In 2002 Professor Emerita, Isabelle Hyman, -- who personally knew Marcel Breuer, architect of Atlanta's central library -- had her monograph Marcel Breuer, Architect:The Career And The Buildings published. The book celebrated the 100 year anniversary of Marcel Breuer's 1902 birth. Thereafter, in 2007-08, The U.S. National Building Museum ran an exhibition, curated by Susan Piedmont-Palladino, called Marcel Breuer: Design and Architecture. Now coming up later this year through 2010, Barry Bergdoll, Professor @ Columbia University and Chief Curator of Architecture @ MoMa [The Museum of Modern Art] will have his curated exhibition on display on the 6th Floor @ MoMA; that show being a retrospective on Breuer's Alma Mater, entitled Bauhaus 1919-1933: workshops for modernity.

This is all good news.

Still, one of the most obvious challenges being faced in relation to the preservation effort for The Atlanta-Fulton Central Public Library in Downtown Atlanta, is a lack of awareness, appreciation and understanding of the historical significance and international pedigree of the building's creator, and the library site itself. In so far as, the architectural site could quite plausibly be considered as much a contemporary monument, as it is modernist, as it is pre-modern or Bauhaus; not to mention that because of its monolithic styled construction, the building appears to have it's roots reaching all the way back to ancient Mayan temples and the pyramids of Egypt. This point being made because, even to the casual observer, it is self-evident that the site both encompasses and transcends much of the architectural aesthetic, in America and around the world, for the last 90 years. And though the structure's site is less than 30 years old, it nonetheless, appears to be a perfect candidate for canonization. For, like Dr. King's childhood home or The Vanderbilt Biltmore House or The Empire State Building, The Atlanta-Fulton Central Public Library has all the fine markers and indicators of a legendary architect, doing very significant work in a historically important town.

So, how have we forgotten...the man, the legacy and the building?

It was 90 years ago when the Bauhaus School was first founded. And it was at that school where Marcel Breuer, architect of the central library, was enrolled as a student; completed his studies and became a teacher at the school therein. And it is because of that school's founder, Walter Gropius, along with other modernist associates like Le Corbusier, Josef Albers and Mies Van Der Rohe, who -- making the Trans-Atlantic journey to arrive in the U.S. circa 1940's -- worked through independent firms, government institutions and educational entities, like The Chicago Art Institute, Black Mountain College and Harvard University, to lay the very foundation of modernism in America. It is that same creative movement, which later expressed itself in what became known as the International Style.

The history of the Bauhaus, Modernism and the International Style is so rich and layered,that one can hardly absorb it all in two or three sittings. Yet as strange and ironic as it may seem, the ubiquity of those intellectual and cultural elders -- of that school -- of that era and age -- is so omnipresent that the masses often take the impact of Breuer and his colleagues' achievements as uneventful "normal" reality as opposed to priceless contributions to humanity's enrichment.

Could it be that Marcel Breuer's life and legacy was too spectacular and generous for its own good?

Hence, we should all be reminded that Marcel Breuer did not just create places for shelter and dwelling. He pioneered engineering techniques, painted wonderful works of art, created beautiful craftsmanship furnishings, all the while endowing private individuals and institutions around the world with his vast portfolio of iconic, architectural sculpture; for which to live, work and play. He opened up his heart and his mind, giving us a new way to see and experience the world.

In Atlanta we have the very last piece of his architectural legacy; the last building he completed before his passing just one year later. Thus we owe it to ourselves to preserve, retain and enshrine this aspect of our shared birthright and collective, civic heritage.

It may not feel like it now, but our descendents will thanks us later.

Please Visit The New Preservation Website


In December 2008 a new online petition and preservation website was created for the Atlanta-Fulton Central Public Library preservation cause. At that site -- the new site -- you will find a wonderful introductory essay, written by Professor Emerita @ New York University, Dr. Isabelle Hyman, author and noted Marcel Breuer scholar. Click here to visit the new site.