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.