Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Atlanta central library earns spot on endangered building list

Posted By on Wed, Oct 7, 2009 at 6:06 PM

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What does Atlanta's much-maligned downtown central library — a building that's been described as a giant cinderblock with windows — have in common with the ruins of Machu Picchu, a 17th-century Dutch fort in Sri Lanka and a group of pre-historic burial stones in a Jordanian valley?

Well, they are all among the dozens of structures, historic sites and geological formations included on the World Monuments Fund's 2010 Watch List of the planet's most endangered places.

(I have to admit I wasn't familiar with the WMF, which bills itself as the "leading private organization dedicated to saving the world’s most treasured places." Glad they made the distinction of being private, because I'm quite familiar with UNESCO, the kick-ass, Paris-based UN offshoot that fulfills that role in a public capacity.)

As you may recall, the central library building was one of the last designs by world-famous architect Marcel Breuer, who also designed the similar Whitney Museum in Manhattan. Last fall, Fulton voters approved a $275 million bond referendum that included funds dedicated to relocating the central library to another site. The Breuer building would be sold, presumably to a private developer who could decide to renovate it or tear it down.

According to the WMF:

Atlanta-Fulton exhibits the modernist, Brutalist tendencies of Bauhaus design, eschewing excessive ornamentation while promoting asymmetrical designs that offer plentiful and unique interior space.

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The potential plight of this building echoes that of many modern structures, particularly those of the Brutalist period, as preservationists and planners seek to ensure their functionality and relevance in the changing urban context.

So, what weight does the WMF's designation carry? Um, actually, none whatsoever. But it could help draw attention to the building's architectural significance. The real trick will be getting Atlantans to like the building.

(Photo courtesy WMF)

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