Main Street Modern: Grosse Pointe Public Library
Grosse Pointe Public Library was built by Bauhaus-trained architect Marcel Breuer in 1953. The library represents Breuer’s mid-career transition from building residential structures to working on larger institutional projects. Breuer designed the library to be a gathering place for the residents in the community. The building is a two-story box-like structure with an unadorned brick façade in keeping with the building materials and aesthetic common in the neighborhood at the time. The double-height reading room has exposed structural elements, such as beams and ceiling slabs. The building has floor-to-ceiling windows and was designed to meet the goals of transparency, enhanced public access and enjoyment. The building functioned for half of a century before it was threatened with demolition due to space limitations and outdated technology.
How We Helped
Grosse Pointe Public Library was included on the 2008 World Monuments Watch as part of the “Main Street Modern” listing to encourage alternatives to demolition and build community support for preservation of modern architecture. Knoll, through WMF’s Modernism at Risk initiative, supported archival research and documentation to help guide Grosse Pointe Library with an expansion design that would allow the signature Breuer building to continue to serve the community. The design advocacy campaign was successful and Grosse Pointe Library was saved from demolition. Conservation and construction work will begin once all necessary funds have been secured for the project.
Why It Matters
Grosse Pointe Library was one of Breuer’s first major public commissions in the United States and the only building designed by Breuer in the Detroit area. It is an important piece of American architectural and social history. The library and other buildings included in “Main Street Modern” represent an integrated approach to design and a departure from traditional forms. The library exemplifies the post-war use of industrial materials and innovative technologies and represents a shift in American architecture when modernism was preferred over traditional styles to show progress and ingenuity.