Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The National Trust: Breuer's last Design


The National Trust for Historic Preservation:
Threatened in Atlanta: Breuer's Last Design

Preservation Magazine - One of the most notable pieces of modern architecture in the American South may be demolished and replaced with a new design.

Local artist Max Eternity, along with New York University Breuer scholar Isabelle Hyman, have turned to the blogosphere as a grassroots method of garnering support for the library. To demolish a modern structure so integrated with its environment, Eternity writes on the blog, "seems sociologically, aesthetically, and historically incomprehensible—to say nothing of economically wasteful." Read more.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Béton Brut: An Architectural Primer

Auguste Perret (1874 – 1954) was a French architect who specialized in reinforced concrete construction, known as Béton Brut. Meaning ‘raw concrete”, Béton Brut, aka Brutalism, is an architectural style that was once much beloved. This was especially true in the postwar age, at a time when world leaders, governments and institutions held high hopes for a better life. In rebuilding their nations, these leaders aspired to create more egalitarian societies that were also uniform. And having harnessed the industrial revolution, with the emergence of easy to use, low-cost building materials, structurally sound pre-cast concrete became a favorite for civic revitalization. Most all the great modernists used it, with Le Corbusier, who had been formerly been employed by Mr. Perret, referring to Béton Brut as his “choice material.”

With its grand massing, Brutalism has a visual heft, also conveyed in structural strength. The use of a steel frame, with high grade reinforced concrete for the superstructure, makes these buildings very sound. Another clever aspect of this style is the implementation of accentuated supporting columns, creating distinct design attributes while dually enhancing the buildings durability even further. Indeed, a wise achievement.

Still in recent times, buildings of the Béton Brut age--Modernist and of the International Style--are perceived by some as anything but fabulous; with many of the world’s most iconic structures, like The Atlanta-Fulton Central Public Library, Cleveland’s Ameritrust Tower, New York’s Whitney Museum and Boston’s City Hall having all (at some point) come under critical attack. There are, however, those who beg to differ.

Notably, at ground zero of this ongoing debate on the truth and beauty of concrete modernist structures, a rather high-profile organization calling itself DOCOMOMO, has come of age with local chapters throughout the world. DOCOMOMO is a moniker, which stands for DOcumentation and COnservation of buildings, sites and neighborhoods of the MOdern MOvement. On their (international) website it states that their mission is to:

1. act as watchdog when important modern movement buildings anywhere are under threat

2. exchange ideas relating to conservation technology, history and education

3. foster interest in the ideas and heritage of the modern movement

4. elicit responsibility towards this recent architectural inheritance
The World Monuments Fund, as well as The National Trust for Historic Preservation, offers a clear intent to bring attention to buildings of recent history. Too, there are other indications that the currently unappreciated genre of Béton Brut is being revisited, with in 2004 La Centre National de la Danse, a Modernist Béton Brut building located in France, was awarded the Prix d'architecture de l'Équerre d'argent, one of France's most prestigious design awards.


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

An Open Letter to Greater Atlanta


To: The Citizens of Greater Atlanta
Attn: The Honorable Mayor Shirley Franklin, City of Atlanta
Attn: Fulton County Board of Commissioners, Chairman John Eaves

Dear Greater Atlanta,
To a city that I love, admire and respect, I write today expressing my concerns about the future of The Atlanta-Fulton Central Public library, commissioned by former Atlanta Library Director, Carlton Rochell. The library site, which encompasses a full city block, is an architecturally significant building and plaza designed by internationally renown architect, Marcel Breuer. Along with the building, at the site, on its terraced forecourt, a monumental sculpture designed by Richard Hunt sits in residence. The sculpture, entitled “The Wisdom Bridge”, was commissioned by one of Atlanta's most beloved former mayors, Maynard Jackson.
So why am I concerned? Because, I believe this important site is in grave danger.
Two years ago in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, the Grosse Pointe Central Public Library, another civic site also designed by Marcel Breuer, was going to be demolished. Fortunately the Grosse Pointe’s Central has been saved, and is in route to be restored. Over time, the citizens and the leadership of Grosse Point came to understand that progress also meant preservation; that to successfully move into the future, one must also respect the past. The Grosse Point Central Library stands proud today and is in the process of having a complete, respectful renovation. Furthermore, the site is now recognized by the World Monuments Funds as one of 2008’s World’s 100 Most Endangered Sites; an achievement not to be taken lightly.
In the Downtown Central Library, Greater Atlanta has a legendary treasure of its own, but it needs to be respected and carefully preserved. To those ends, I am proud to announce that the site has been nominated for the World Monuments Fund 2010 100 Most Endangered Sites.
Enclosed with this letter is a selection of comments from the online petition, “A Plea for Preservation”, which now has over 400 endorsements; representing an international voice, sharing my views. Atlanta is a world class city and it would be a world class shame to destroy this masterpiece, a one-of-a-kind architectural site.
This year marks the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Bauhaus, the school in Germany, where many believe the foundation for modernism was laid. Marcel Breuer went there as a student and later taught there as a teacher, before migrating to America and teaching at Harvard. The Atlanta-Fulton Central Public Library is the very last building the Breuer built in his 50-year career; a stellar career, which saw more than 300 public and private commissions. So the significance of this site, its pedigree and provenance -- function and locale -- cannot be overstated.

Respectfully yours,

Max Eternity

Cc: Council Chairperson Lisa Borders, City of Atlanta
Cc: The Honorable Mayor Jere Wood, City of Roswell
Cc: Executive Director John Szabo, Atlanta-Fulton Public Library System
Cc: Executive Director Susan Ellis-Proper, AIA Atlanta
Cc: The Creative Loafing
Cc: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Cc: Art Papers Magazine


Monday, March 16, 2009

Sign the Petition and Visit the Wordpress Site


In December 2008 an online petition and preservation website was created for the Atlanta-Fulton Central Public Library's preservation cause. Sign the petition here, then visit the other site where you will find a wonderful introductory essay written by Professor Emerita @ New York University, Dr. Isabelle Hyman. A noted Marcel Breuer scholar, Isabelle Hyman is the author of "Marcel Breuer, Architect: The Career And The Buildings."

Click here to visit the Wordpress site.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Kemp Mooney: Architect | Educator @ Central

Last night at Central, Atlanta's Downtown Library, it was a treat for all who were there on site to witness Professor Kemp Mooney's lecture about Bauhaus and Breuer. Mr. Mooney, himself an architect and veteran educator who has been teaching for more than 30 years, presented in his lecture, an oral history of the Bauhaus and early American Modernism.

Using a well organized archive of photographs and ephemera, Professor Kemp succinctly synthesized 7 decades of both personal and observational milestones and occasions, reducing a formidable wealth of knowledge into a conversational narration based on analysis and direct personal experience.

After his talk, there was a brief Q & A session, where the Professor was asked about the challenges facing the Downtown Library and what he thought might be done to raise awareness towards a more sane approach to urban renewal. Kemp responded effectively saying that he thought that the lack of awareness was in large part directly due to the fact that the "children of Atlanta don't grow up being around and hearing about good architecture. " Continuing to speak to this point, he highlighted the fact that when new architectural students enter school here in the city, that most often those students are not required to take a class on the more recent aspect(s) of architectural history, Mid-Century Modernism; also synonymous with the Bauhaus and the International Style.

The point seemed well taken. Still, with individuals like Isabelle Hyman, Barry Bergdoll, Susan Piedemont-Palladino, Jon Buono, George Smart and Jonathan Lerner also playing a role in the eloquent dissemination of information signifying the relativity of Bauhaus, Breuer and Modernism, though the challenges of transformative learning may at this time seem a daunting task, the reality being revealed is that a certain degree of interest does exists.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Central & Buckhead Preservation Presentations


Wednesday, March 11, 6:30 pm

Place: Atlanta Fulton County Central Library, One Margaret Mitchell Square

Cost: Free

- Presentations are followed by a self-guided tours -


When: Saturday, March 7, 11:30 am

Where: Buckhead Branch Library, 269 Buckhead Ave NE.

Reservation required: rsvp@docomomoga.org

Cost: Free



UPDATE: March 24th

Central - DOCOMOMOga's Review

Central - Pictures from the event