Central Library’s renovation: Four more opportunities for public comment

By David Pendered

Fulton County residents have four more opportunities to express their thoughts about the planned renovation of the Central Library, in Downtown Atlanta. The first two meetings were held Wednesday.

This rendering shows one way to enliven the exterior of the Central Library with decorative lighting. The proposal comes from Atlanta architects who hope to spur conversation about the possibilities of freshening the design without altering its historic significance. Credit: praxis3.com

About 10 persons attended the two sessions Wednesday, library spokesperson Claudia Strange said Thursday. Strange said library officials  hope many individuals will attend a future meeting to share their thoughts about what the renovated library should provide to the community.

Here’s the meeting schedule:

  • Oct 10 – 11 a.m. and 6:30 p.m., in the Central Library Auditorium;
  • Oct 19 – 6:30 p.m., at the Alpharetta Library;
  • Oct 24 – 6:30 p.m., at the South Fulton Library.

The Atlanta-Fulton Public Library System intends to renovate Central Library in order to better meet current and future needs. The library opened in 1980 and a large portion of the facility is vacant, used for storage or otherwise not serving a significant public purpose.

Fulton County’s procurement department is still determining who will move and store the library’s contents during the construction period. The bid has not been awarded, according to the department’s website. The bid was issued July 27 and the deadline for responses was Sept. 11.

The decision to renovate the building was reached after a public outcry against a proposal to demolish the building and build a Downtown library elsewhere. The architecture of the building was part of the outcry.

Central Library, planes

Saved from potential demolition, Central Library’s contents are to be moved and stored for three years while the building is renovated. File/Credit: David Pendered

Central Library is the last building designed by world-renown architect Marcel Breuer. He used the same brutalist style he deployed in his acclaimed Whitney Museum of Modern Art, in New York.

Central Library opened in 1980 as the Atlanta’s statement to the world that it had arrived as a major city. The design isn’t to everyone’s taste, but it does mark a moment in Atlanta’s history during the administration the city’s first black mayor, Maynard Jackson.

One renovation plan floated by the library system called for retooling five or six floors for library purposes. This would leave three to four floors available for lease. A number of potential public uses have been discussed, including locating Fulton County employees in the space.

Renovating the floors for library use would involve, “extensive renovations,” according to the report. The remaining floors would require less extensive renovation efforts.

One design for the renovated library has been offered. It’s intended to promote conversation about the possibilities for the renovation. The design resulted from the combined effort of the Atlanta-based Architecture and Design Center and Praxis3.

Here’s how Praxis3 describes the collaboration and resulting design:

  • Central Library, restaurant space

    A once-bustling restaurant space that featured servings of asparagus topped with hollandaise sauce has been shuttered and turned into an apparent storage closet. File/Credit: David Pendered

    “The Atlanta-based Architecture and Design Center (ADC) has undertaken an unsolicited, pro-bono design effort with the assistance of Atlanta firm, Praxis3 architecture + multidisciplinary design, to show that the Atlanta-Fulton Central Library designed by Marcel Breuer can once again be a vital, dynamic part of the Atlanta community. It is our belief that this 20th Century architectural masterpiece can be updated to become an iconic exemplar of the 21st Century public library.

  • “To this point, the design team shows a reprogrammed building with many reimagined civic and library functions. Key interventions on the interior of the building open up the space and gives it new life. An exterior renovation could reinvent the plaza into an open and inviting civic space while adding direct access to lower level gallery and auditorium spaces. Lastly, a series of subtle but dynamic media projections would enliven the building’s façade while respecting the building’s historically significant architecture.
  • “This effort was entirely unsolicited and is intended as a study for the public and for various political entities to demonstrate what the library can become.”

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

3 replies
  1. Letmesaythis says:

    Brutalism is sculpture – it does not have a facade.
    It is intended to be viewed from all sides, top to bottom, left to right.
    “Updating the facade, fucking up the floors, stairs on the interior. will soon be regretted.
    How many masterpieces have we lost in Atlanta due to the style, at the time, being out of vogue.
    There are several Beaux Arts buildings in downtown with false International style glass paneling systems on their exterior…all done with the intent to “update.”

    Maintain the building as is, make no changes on your watch, as the building will out live you and yours.
    And in 100 years, future Atlantan’s won’t be wondering why ‘they updated’ the building they way they did…and hosting fundraisers to restore the building to it’s original intent.Report

    Reply
  2. Tom Budlong says:

    I was involved in the planning and construction of this building as a library employee at the time it was built and was very concerned about the proposal to tear it down. Any plan for renovation must respect Breuer’s original design. So please don’t mess with the facade or remove the great internal staircase. One interesting fact about the staircase is that it was originally meant to have smooth polished surfaces, but when the forms were removed and wood grain could be seen, it was left alone and became one of the building’s best design features. Great architects often adapt their designs during the building process and serendipity can create great results.

    The building was originally designed to have flexible interior spaces, but actual changes over the decades haven’t always been done well. Creatives and government don’t always mesh very well in the country. I always thought it was ashame that the public couldn’t access the wonderful roof garden patio, so I would like to see a design that allowed for that. As long as the exterior windows aren’t altered, most of the upper floors can be reconfigured in different ways. Please also keep the “Wisdom Bridge” sculpture in the front.

    The Delectables restaurant had wonderful food and was greatly missed when it closed. I once submitted a proposal to turn the space into a restaurant business incubator to teach job skills to disadvantaged people, but nothing ever came of it. At that time, all the original kitchen equipment was still in place.

    I sincerely hope that Fulton County will not let government bureaucracy get in the way of creative solutions for this building’s future.Report

    Reply

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