Sunday, January 25, 2009

The 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 Bauhaus 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 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 it' 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.

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Preservation Equation

Beyond the messy dealings of questionable motives, convenient omissions and other attempts by one or more public servant(s) to "hijack" the public treasure and trust, let it now be stated in the most unambiguous terms that this is a site devoted to the goal of securing the certain preservation of the Marcel Breuer designed Atlanta-Fulton Central Public Library. To those ends a chart [below] is provided; demonstrating how that goal can be achieved. On the chart one will see two equations. The upper equation leads to certain preservation, while the lower equation - currently in effect - represents what has been ratified by the library system's Executive Director combined with the library's Board of Trustees and a majority vote from The Fulton County Boards of Commissioners. Thus, the building is now challenged - leaving it at risk - endangered through uncertain preservation.

- click chart for larger view -

Please click here to read and sign our petition "A Plea For Preservation"
Please click here to visit our new site, and read an essay by Dr. Isabelle Hyman

Monday, January 5, 2009

Marcel Breuer: The Man, The Legacy

Born in 1902 in Pecs, Hungary, Marcel Breuer, is remembered as one of the most influential architects and designers of the 20th Century. Early in life he developed an interest in art, which led him to Weimar, Germany where he studied and taught at the famed Bauhaus school. Once there he participated first as a student from 1920 til his graduation in 1924. Thereafter, he became a faculty member or "Bauhaus Master" from 1924 to 1928; by which time the school had relocated from Weimar to Dessau.

From the outset, Breuer had a clear understanding of the "form follows function" principle. To this, he embraced the concept of unit construction, and in 1925, with his innovative use of raw materials, Breuer was credited with being the first to use tubular steel in furniture; a now ubiquitous, modernist technique applied around the world. As well, Breuer was also one of the pioneers of minimalism.

In Europe, from 1928 to 1937, Breuer enjoyed a flourishing architectural practice. However, because of the outbreak of The Second World War, he made a decision to relocate in America. It was during this time when Harvard University offered him an Associate Professorship at it's School of Design. Simultaneously, many of his other colleagues were migrating to the U.S. including Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius, Le Corbusier and Bauhaus (faculty) colleagues Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe. At Harvard Breuer was joined by Gropius, who taught at the school as well. Breuer continued to teach at Harvard University until 1946. And in 1970 he received the only Honorary Doctorate in Architecture ever awarded by that school.

Throughout his illustrious career, Marcel Breuer was commissioned for numerous, monumental civic structures, with some of the more notable being The UNESCO World Headquarters (Paris), The Whitney Museum of American Art (NYC), The University of Massachusetts Campus Center in Amherst, the headquarters of The Departments of HUD and HEW in Washington D.C., St. John's Abbey (Minnesota) and The Atlanta-Fulton Central Branch Public Library (Atlanta). In addition to his civic commissions, Breuer also received many residential commissions, including The Wolfson House, Breuer House and The Frank House, which he created in collaboration with Walter Gropius.

A major Exhibition of Breuer's work was shown at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art in November 1972, and at Paris' Louvre Museum in the summer of 1974. More recently, in 2002 The Smithsonian Institution created an exhibition entitled Marcel Breuer: A Centennial Celebration

Marcel Breuer 1902-1981

AFPL Central Branch - Special Collections
Archives @ The Smithsonian Institution

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Special Interest, A Campaign of Disinformation


The Atlanta-Fulton Central Library, built by legendary architect Marcel Breuer is one of the most iconic structures in Atlanta. However, there appears to be (by default) a stealth campaign, orchestrated by elements within the local government - namely Fulton County Commissioner Rob Pitts and Library Director John Szabo, who think this building is of no use and needs to go away - to muddle and confuse the well-documents issue at hand. Which is that Szabo and Pitts was quoted by another commissioner, Lynn Riley, as stating that Pitts et all were attempting to do the unthinkable.. with Riley saying "it was disappointing that a comprehensive library facility master plan could be hijacked for an un-substantiated purpose".

However, now that these same individuals - Szabo and Pitts - have been made aware that a growing movement for preservation is underway, they - particularly Mr. Szabo - have been disseminating information through what would appear to be one or more "covert" operatives who go about claiming - on chat boards, architectural sites and hearsay conversations - that they have inside information to the fact that the site is not at risk, further stating that there is no need for a preservation effort because the building is safe. I believe this rhetoric is coming from Szabo, because in a private conversation back in July 2008 (in the parking lot of the county commissioners building) John Szabo attempted to make me believe the same thing - even after he had endorsed Pitt's plan to strip all funding, using the money instead to build a new central. But if that is so, that the building is not threatened, then why don't Robb Pitts and John Sazbo just say that for themselves...on the record? Why don't they just hold a press conference and produce legally binding documents which provide such remarkable assurances? Yes, If John Szabo and Robb Pitts are committed to preserve the current Central Library, then why did they maneuver to defund the site of the originally proposed $34,000,000 for upgrades and renovation, and have been instead raising money ($84,000,000) to building a new site?

And furthermore, why is John Szabo on the record in this op-ed piece published in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, where he passionately advocates building a new central, lavishing praise on Robb Pitts while making absolutely no mention that no one ever asked for a new central - that the existing central is an 8-story building, approximately 260,000 sq ft. in size, taking up a full city block - and only 28- years old..."serving it's purpose" quite well as stated by Isabelle Hyman, Professor Emerita at NYU - Guggenheim Fellow - author of Marcel Breuer, Architect:The Career And The Buildings. And why doesn't John Szabo, Rob Pitts or the Atlanta Journal-Constitution mention the fact that Mr. Szabo used to be the Library Director in Clearwater (Tampa) whereupon he successfully advocated for the existing Central Library there to be demolished and a new one built...with that exact thing having happened. Then no less than 5 years later he's in Atlanta, attempting to do the same thing.

Hello? Are we to believe that all this is mere coincidence!

But most importantly, why has none of these questions been answered, when one considers that when all is said and done, the entire cost of restructuring the totality of the Atlanta-Fulton Library System could easily go from the orginally stated $225,000,000 to something like $500,000,000 when one considers all the costs of building a massive new central. I mean, just what is the going rate of purchasing an entire city block these days? I mean, even in these hard times, I would imagine that an entire city block of AAA property would still cost a very pretty penny...and that's just the land!!!

Are John Szabo and Rob Pitts bold faced liars who seem to have no shame? I think so. And I suspect, as with the debacle with The Atlanta-Fulton Buchead Public Library, that it's just a matter of time before it gets revealed that there is some "good old boy" back-room scheme going on, of which to funnel this public property into private hands. But they - the misguided and corrupt -failed with Buckhead (for now) and they will fail with Central.

So I say to Szabo and Pitts...THE GIG IS UP!

Please read and sign our petition here, and help to put a stop to the insanity in Atlanta.

We ask for your support.