With The Central Library renovation up for discussion at the July 20th meeting of the Fulton County Board of Commissioners meeting we thought it was a good time to provide some information for general use.
What is the current status of the building?
The Fulton County Commission is in the process of deciding whether the building will be renovated or
sold to a public or private entity.
If it is sold a new Central Library will be built most certainly somewhere Downtown. Currently the Breuer
Library has no protection as a historic structure, so the potential for radical change altering the
character of the building or demolition is a very real threat. The building was listed on the 2010 World
Monuments Watch List of Most Endangered Significant Cultural/ Architectural Sites.
At a public meeting on June 20th with Fulton County officials, 95% of those who commented supported
renovating the building and maintaining it as a public building. 76% said it should remain a library.
On the agenda for the Fulton County Commissions July 20th meeting is a proposal to make “extensive
renovations to five or six floors and nominal renovations to 3 or 4 floors”. The extensively renovated “5
or 6” floors would continue to function as a Central Library, and the “nominally” renovated floors would
be “available for lease”
The Agenda Item Summary of the proposal suggests a project budget of $40M to $55M. Previously
discussed budget amounts have ranged between $85M and $185M going back the original vote to
support the current building campaign.
Some of the proposed budget would be spent on design fees and other “soft costs” Typically these
constitutes around 30% of a project’s cost. The remaining money would constitute the construction
costs. Specific work mentioned included replacing and upgrading finishes. Repairing and upgrading
mechanical, electrical and other building systems and making necessary repairs.
The proposal does not indicate that problems with the building’s functionality, appearance, and
maintenance will necessarily be addressed. Nor does it indicate any evaluation of and updating of library
services would be a part of the renovation.
An outpouring of concern from the public has recently made the building’s preservation a concern. The
ADC recently started a petition to save the library that to date has nearly 2,000 signatures. A recent
Curbed Atlanta on-line poll showed over 80% of the general public in favor of saving the library.
What is so significant about the current Central Library Building?
The current building was one of the last works by Bauhaus architect Marcel Breuer. The Bauhaus, which
began in 1920’s Germany was the seminal modernist design school of the 20th century. Mr. Breuer was
one of its last surviving disciples and died a year after the library opened in 1980. The building is
considered by historians and critics to be one of his finest works. He was also the architect for the
Whitney Museum in New York—recently re-commissioned as the Met Breuer by the Metropolitan
Museum of Art.
The Atlanta Central Library is now considered endangered because of the library’s uncertain future. This
has sparked articles and on-line postings around the world.
Isn’t this just a Brutal(ist) building?
The term Brutalism indicates an architectural style, not a description of the building. It was originated by
British architectural critic Reyner Banham to describe a style that flourished from the 1950s to the
1970s. Derived from the choice of material in many of the buildings of the time, Brutalism is a reference
to the French term béton brut, which literally means raw concrete.
Do we still need a central library?
Traditionally, great cities and cultures have always included great libraries. Atlanta is no different. From
Great Library of Alexandria, to the iconic New York Public Library and the hyper-modern Seattle Public
library, great libraries have marked their cities as places of great culture. In the Breuer designed library
we have an iconic, significant work of architecture that with some thoughtful renovation could be as
exciting and dynamic as any in the world. The ADC will soon be releasing a few ideas in the form of
renderings and diagrams to help show the general public the potential of the Central Library and just
how exceptional it is.
What about the homeless problem?
Libraries such as this are public buildings and as such are open to everyone. The problem of
homelessness is a broad societal problem, and the presence of homeless people in the library cannot be
solved by renovating the library, but as the purpose of libraries is to bring information to those who
wouldn’t normally have access to it in order to better themselves, there may be some role for the library
to play in providing information or access to vital services.
What would the world-wide reaction be if the building were allowed to be demolished?
Atlanta’s reputation for untimely demolition is well known. We have lost many significant historic
buildings in the last 50 years. There is some perception that Atlanta is finally turning the corner on urban
issues but allowing this significant public building to be demolished would once again set back the city’s
reputation as a place that understands the importance of architecture, design and culture.
Why preserve and renovate the building?
The 36 year old Central Library is fundamentally sound, though it is showing the wear of years of
underfunding and neglect. The underlying organizational principals of the original design provide a great
deal of flexibility for updating the building’s functions. The open floor plans provide a general flexibility
that could well serve the emerging ideas of what a 21st public library should be. The building’s rugged
yet somehow light sculptural form is an excellent expression of its public character. The building is
beautifully sited and wonderfully detailed and is a modern icon that could easily be updated
What a Renovation Might Cost?
Building renovation costs vary a great deal depending on the numerous factors such as the extent of the
renovation, the peculiarities of the site, and the state of the local construction market. Below are a few
recent renovation projects that share some characteristics with a possible renovation of the Central
Georgia Tech has begun work renovating and updating its academic library. The buildings
date from 1949-1968, but have gone through several renovations during their lifetime.
The complex in total is about 225,000 sq. ft., slightly smaller than the Central Library’s 260,000 sq. ft.,
and the proposed construction budget of $63 million is about $8 million more than the highest proposed
project budget (construction budget and soft costs) to renovate the central library.
In 2012 the St. Louis Public Library completed an extensive renovation of its 190,000 sq. ft. 1912 era
Central Library. Project costs for the building were $70 million.
What could this building be in the future?
The building can accommodate any number of future uses. Libraries are changing, but at the heart of it
all, they are places for the sharing and creation of knowledge and information. We believe that in the
future libraries will still house books and periodicals, but that they will also help people navigate the vast
amount of information available today, give people access to tools, such as cutting edge technology, and
become community gathering places for the exchange of ideas and development of knowledge. There
are any number of community functions that could be included possible future library planning. The
current building is well suited to accommodate these functions.
Please join our efforts to save and reinvigorate one of Atlanta’s most significant buildings—