clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Renovations jeopardize downtown library’s shot at making National Register of Historic Places

New, 57 comments

Chiseling windows into the final work of famed Brutalist architect Marcel Breuer is creating some issues

Construction crews cut holes into the side of the beefy grey library.
Earlier this year, crews began altering the exterior of Marcel Breuer’s final work.
Sean Keenan, Curbed Atlanta

National Park Service officials seem reluctant to add downtown’s Central Atlanta Library to the National Register of Historic Places, thanks largely to the $50 million renovations underway at the well-known Brutalist structure.

The circa-1980 library just north of Woodruff Park shuttered in July 2018 in advance of renovations spearheaded by the Atlanta-Fulton Public Library System.

This past summer, exterior work began on the building—something historic preservationists had long fought, vying to preserve the legacy of famed Brutalist architect Marcel Breuer.

But with the Cooper Carry-designed updates well underway, it appears the architecturally significant library’s chances of earning a place on the National Register of Historic Places are slipping.

In an October letter to architecture-focused nonprofit Docomomo Georgia, which had been lobbying for the library’s historic designation, NRHP historian Lisa Deline wrote, “The library nomination is being returned for substantive issues.”

Deline acknowledges the downtown library is “the only known Georgia example of the work of master architect Marcel Breuer” and “his last completed work before his death in 1981.”

But the nomination had been prepared in 2018 and submitted this past August. By that point, construction—to include holes chiseled into the facade for windows—had launched.

A rendering of Cooper Carry’s design shows the windows cut into the side hulking concrete structure.
The vision for the library’s future.
Cooper Carry

Wrote Deline: “In order for NPS to determine eligibility, a property must retain historic integrity. Retention of specific aspects of integrity is paramount for a property to convey its significance. Since the property is currently undergoing rehabilitation and alterations, we cannot at this time, make an eligibility determination until the project is completed.”

Docomomo can bid again for historic designation, but a nomination would have to show that “despite the 2019 alterations, the property retains sufficient architectural significance as ‘an excellent example of the Brutalist style...and as an excellent example of the work of master architect Marcel Breuer,’” per the letter, which was obtained by Curbed Atlanta through preservationist group Historic Atlanta.

Granted, a spot on the historic register is mostly symbolic, Historic Atlanta board chair Charles Lawrence told Curbed.

“It’s a largely honorific designation that acknowledges the library’s architectural significance on a national level,” he said.

Even if it had been secured years ago, Lawrence added, the historic designation likely wouldn't have spared the library from exterior changes.

"But the national recognition may have done more to temper Fulton County’s ambitions for this project," he said.