The massive revamp slated for downtown Atlanta’s nearly 40-year-old main library is—again—facing friction from people who abhor the idea of seeing famed architect Marcel Breuer’s work tampered with.
Central Atlanta Library is nearing a $50 million renovation project that will entail gutting and replacing the building’s electrical and plumbing systems, restoring its allegedly nasty bathrooms, and reimagining its programming, among other upgrades.
But one aspect some preservationists won’t stand for—at least, now that efforts to raze the building have been thwarted—is the idea to chisel windows into the renowned designer’s clay.
Plans presented Wednesday, however, showed just that, and folks in the community are irked that they didn’t have much of a say.
During what was supposed to be the final community engagement meeting “before consturction begins,” architecture professionals and residents raised some hell about a planning process they say left many in the dark.
Kyle Kessler, an Atlanta architect and community activist, has been digging though public records and found that community outreach conducted by the library leaves much to be desired, in his view.
Kessler asked the roughly 50 people in attendance Wednesday:
- “Did anyone here go to the community engagement meeting in October?” – 2 hands raised
- “Did anyone here participate in the business meeting in January?” – 1 hand
- “Did anyone here take an online survey?” – 0 hands
“There were six meetings that were held—or scheduled,” Kessler said. “The documentation I received from the open records requests showed there were only 19 individuals, who were not Fulton County employees or members of the design team, who participated in any of those conversations.”
Although plenty are eager to see the library spruced up—and cleansed of its urine odors from the homeless who regularly find refuge there—everyone who spoke during Wednesday’s meeting called foul on the amendments proposed for the Brutalist face of the historic structure: namely, the windows that architecture firm Cooper Carry seeks to cut into the building.
Tim Fish, a principal at Cooper Carry, told Curbed Atlanta the library has long lacked decent natural lighting, and that patrons will feel more comfortable with the sun shining into the facility.
Stasio Rusek, a frequent patron who can see the library from his downtown home, said prospective patrons aren’t deterred by a lack of lighting.
“Never once have I thought to myself, ‘I can’t come in here; there’s not enough lighting,’” Rusek said.
On the other hand, he continued, “The urine smells, the guy that had to be taken out on a stretcher today, the snoozing at the tables, the disastrous condition of the bathrooms [are deterrents]. You understand that’s going to keep happening, even if you spend $100 million on this building,” he said, noting that a significant security upgrade is needed, “so it doesn’t turn into Peachtree-Pine [homeless shelter].”
Jack Pyburn, a historic preservation architect and director of Docomomo US, discouraged the idea of the library’s face being altered. “I do think that the time will come when the community will regret a change to the exterior,” Pyburn told the meeting.
The structure, he said, will become more architecturally—and economically—significant in coming years, only if left alone.
Kessler argued that Wednesday’s meeting shouldn’t mark the final chance to weigh in on the project.
“This should have been where we started in the first place—with some ideas, with some concepts—and start giving feedback before we commit any more dollars or bringing a sledgehammer or a tape measurer to do any other work,” he said.
Fulton County Commissioner Natalie Hall, who says Central Atlanta Library has for years been atop her priorities list, told Curbed that she’ll push for more community input opportunities “within the next two or three weeks.”
As for the windows, Hall, who says she’s long been a proponent of keeping Breuer’s work as-is, said the redesign team can “easily just scoop that off the drawing.”