Atlanta-Fulton Central Library

The Story

In 2008, the city asked voters to approve a $275 million bond referendum to expand two library branches, build eight new ones, and renovate others. If the county could come up with $50 million, over 30 percent of the bond could go towards replacing the Breuer–designed Atlanta-Fulton Central Library with a new library, leaving the iconic concrete structure to be sold or demolished.

In the spring of 2016, the bonds were approaching maturity and the threat to the library was imminent. Architects around the world, preservationists and Atlanta residents raised their voices and after many arguments, the Atlanta-Fulton Public Library System (AFPLS) decided to renovate the central library rather than abandon it for a new structure. Costs were a factor. 

The fight wasn’t over however as the library approached renovation time in 2017 and 2018, plans called for the removal of many concrete panels on the 1st, 2nd and 3rd floors to allow for more natural light thereby destroying the merits and intent of Breuer’s design, which, is actually not that dark. Plans calling for a central light-filled atrium were not nearly as contentious as the exterior alterations proposed. At this time the Atlanta-Fulton Central Library is under renovation and it remains to be seen if costs will allow for the large banks of windows.

History

(from ArchPaper.comAlthough Marcel Breuer’s is most famous for designing the UNESCO Building in Paris and the Met Breuer (the former Whitney), the architect also designed a monumental public library in Atlanta. The future of that building, like so many Brutalist structures, is now in jeopardy.

It wasn’t always this way. In the mid-1960s, attitudes towards the architect and his future building were solicitous: The then-director of the Atlanta library system was so impressed by the Whitney (completed in 1966) he urged the library board to invite Breuer to design the Central Library. After negotiating a 275-page program, and significant delays in funding, the project was completed in 1980. The six-story, 265,000-square-foot library featured a 300-seat theater, a restaurant, with space for more than 1,000 patrons and one million books. On the exterior, precast concrete panels are bush-hammered for texture, while inside, floors two through four are connected by a massive concrete staircase.