The Watch

Atlanta-Fulton Central Public Library

Atlanta, Georgia, United States
Did You Know?
The Atlanta-Fulton Central Public Library opened under the leadership of Ella Gaines Yates, the first African American director of the city’s public library system.
A Closer Look

Atlanta-Fulton Central Public Library

The Atlanta-Fulton Central Public Library rises eight stories above the sprawling urban metropolis of Atlanta, Georgia. Its cube-shaped, neutral-toned cement façade embodies the modern style of the library’s architect, Marcel Breuer. Completed in 1980, eleven years after it was originally commissioned, the library exhibits the modernist tendencies of Bauhaus design in its lack of ornamentation and its extensive, asymmetrical interior space. It is designed in what is colloquially known as the Brutalist style, derived from the French term betón brut, meaning “raw concrete.” Inside the steel-framed modernist monolith, enormous staircases wind their way up the central corridor, expanding the open floor plan and flooding the library with natural light from above. Outside, the weighty composition of Richard Hunt’s 1991 stainless steel sculpture, The Wisdom Bridge, reflects the character of Breuer’s design. 

In November 2008 legislation was passed to direct public funds to the construction of a more contemporary library, a decision that would likely see the destruction of Breuer’s final work. The Atlanta-Fulton Central Public Library was included on the 2010 World Monuments Watch in order to draw attention to its potential plight, which echoes that of many modern structures. Preservationists and planners must seek to ensure the functionality and relevance of the library and other buildings like it in the changing urban context.

Since the Watch

A period of apparent agreement among decision makers not to demolish the library followed the 2010 Watch. However, discussion of replacing the library with a new building gained renewed momentum in early 2016. A public petition to protect the library from damaging renovations and demolition was accompanied by significant media coverage and reinvigorated preservation efforts, once again bringing national attention to the decision facing the Atlanta City Council. In June 2016, the council passed a nonbinding resolution to build a new central library in the same location as Breuer’s structure, making demolition a strong possibility. Local professional and advocacy groups, however, mobilized quickly. In August of 2016, county commissioners voted to renovate—rather than replace—Breuer’s structure. Commissioners also voted to authorize bond funding for the library.  

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