Search results for "Met Breuer"
Petition Under Way
Virginia’s only Marcel Breuer building threatened with demolition
Although Marcel Breuer's is most famous for designing the UNESCO Building in Paris and the Met Breuer (the former Whitney), the architect also designed a monumental public library in Atlanta. The future of that building, like so many Brutalist structures, is now in jeopardy.
It wasn't always this way. In the mid-1960s, attitudes towards the architect and his future building were solicitous: The then-director of the Atlanta library system was so impressed by the Whitney (completed in 1966) he urged the library board to invite Breuer to design the Central Library. After negotiating a 275-page program, and significant delays in funding, the project was completed in 1980. The six-story, 265,000-square-foot library featured a 300-seat theater, a restaurant, with space for more than 1,000 patrons and one million books. On the exterior, precast concrete panels are bush-hammered for texture, while inside, floors two through four are connected by a massive concrete staircase.
During the 2008 recession, the city asked voters to approve a $275 million bond referendum to expand two library branches, build eight new ones, and renovate others. If the county could come up with $50 million, over 30 percent of the bond could go towards…replacing the Breuer–designed library with another library.
Although critics like Barry Bergdoll have praised the structure as a perfect example of the "heavy lightness" that characterizes Breuer’s Bauhaus–influenced forms, the Brutalist aesthetic did not play well in Atlanta. Whether this indifference expressed itself through lack maintenance is difficult to determine, but the building has deteriorated, and programs have shrunk: In the mid-1990s, the theater closed after part of its ceiling collapsed while the restaurant was shuttered at the end of that decade. In 2002, the city spent $5 million to renovate the building, adding colorful walls and carpeting to improve its public perception.
As preservation petitions from groups like Docomomo attest, many municipalities struggle to preserve modern architecture, especially buildings that are seen as not user-friendly, or those that are "aesthetically challenging." Stephanie Moody, the chair of Atlanta’s library board, has asked the county to consider reallocating the funds for the central library for use at other, more popular branches. The remaining cash would be used to buy land and build a new library to replace the main branch.
Moody told local blog Creative Loafing that downtown doesn’t need a library the size of Central. County commissioner Robb Pitts framed the situation bluntly: “[Funding] would be for some renovations plus the construction of a brand new Central Library to be located in Downtown Atlanta. Period,” he said. “They’re not renovating the existing one. It’s very clear that the construction [of a new one] is what the voters called for.”
Although the building is listed on the 2010 World Monuments Watch List of Most Endangered Sites, its fate remains undecided, for now.
The iconic Marcel Breuer–designed Whitney Museum is set to reopen March 18, giving back one of the city’s most beloved architectural spaces. The building will be reborn as the Met Breuer; the Metropolitan Museum of Art will repurpose our old concrete and granite pal as a contemporary arts outpost in an eight-year lease. The agreement includes a restoration and series of contemporary interventions to bring the museum up to speed.
“We wanted to take the building from harsh back to handsome,” said Met exhibition designer Bika Rebek, referencing a 1966 Ada Louise Huxtable article that called the quasi-Brutalist Breuer building “harsh and handsome.” Over time, the Whitney had removed many of the warm, “handsome” parts including rich wood details and colorful carpets.
The Met’s in-house design group and architecture firm Beyer Blinder Belle (BBB) had three main goals in mind at the outset: To create a welcoming visitor experience, to treat the building as a work of art, and to establish a Met identity within the building.
These three goals presented challenges. “We had to figure out how to update the building without erasing history,” said Brian Butterfield, senior exhibition designer at the Met. Four interventions will provide this update, including the removal of the flag display in the front, a large media screen in the lobby, a new welcome desk with a subtle, angular form that nods to Breuer’s geometric twists in the original building, and a new public café space with a row of trees by Swiss landscape designer Günther Vogt.
BBB led the restoration, which included refurbishing the bush hammered concrete using a precise matching aggregate. They also refinished the floors and updated the wood and metal around the stairs, leaving the patina to show where hands had worn it away over the years.
The Met Breuer will open with its lobby and lower floor un-ticketed. The outdoor area below Madison Avenue will be open to the public, drawing in patrons and passersby. The inaugural exhibitions, also opening March 18, will be Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible, which focuses on a wide range of unresolved artworks by the likes of Cézanne and Jackson Pollock; and Nasreen Mohamedi, a retrospective of the Indian artist’s career that includes more than 130 paintings.