Perspectives in architecture: a “large library” opens a new chapter

The renovated exterior of the Central Library in downtown Atlanta.

In front of several hundred attendees at the inauguration of the Atlanta Central Library on May 25, 1980, then Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson proclaimed, “A great city deserves a great library. The 10-story Brutalist-style downtown building of internationally renowned architect Marcel Breuer, his partner Hamilton Smith and local firm Stevens & Wilkinson bolstered the city’s growing national and international stature and delighted lovers of architecture with a strong sculptural form; exterior concrete panels; a dramatic concrete staircase; and minimalist details.

The original facade of the Central Library in 1982. (Courtesy AJC / Georgia State University Archives)

The Atlanta Central Library rose to prominence as Breuer’s last major project after his death in 1981, but declined with support as architectural taste discriminated against Breuer’s style. The passage of the 2008 referendum on library obligations with stipulation for the construction of a new central library prompted preservation groups, the Atlanta Chapter of the American Institute of Architects and the public to unite to save the Atlanta Central Library from possible demolition. In 2017, the Atlanta-Fulton Public Library System hired architectural firm Cooper Carry in association with Vines Architects as designers and Moody-Nolan in 2018 as the reference architect for the renovation project of the $ 44 million library.

Then-mayor Maynard Jackson speaks with library director Ella Yates about the library construction site in 1979. (Courtesy AJC / Georgia State University Archives )

The architectural team worked with library management and Fulton County Library Capital Improvement Projects Administrator Al Collins to prioritize additional natural light in the building, with the reorganization from surplus interior spaces, to flexible uses of exterior and interior spaces, to new exhibition areas and the use of environmentally friendly spaces. materials and systems as design goals. Visitors to the library will find a significantly renovated building with a composition of new exterior windows that maintains the rhythm of the existing concrete panels, adds sunlight to the second and third floors, generates captivating views of the streetscape for users of the building, but also aided in the 2019 decision by the National Parks Service to temporarily deny a historic designation for the Atlanta Central Library.

Visitors move from an expanded plaza for community and private events in front of the library to the new entrance vestibule. A new staircase in the renovated lobby draws attention to a new atrium that centers and connects the interior spaces of the library. Once closed to the public, the newly accessible rooftop terrace will attract public and private events to the building. Library champions will appreciate the preservation of Breuer’s iconic stairwell connecting several floors and connecting enthusiasts to the building’s historic past.

The new atrium inside the renovated central library.

Participating in the inauguration of the Atlanta Central Library in 1980, Cooper Carry lead architect Tim Fish recognizes the importance of the renovated library “in bringing our community together” of multigenerational members, civic groups and professionals looking for meeting spaces, teens and adults looking for career advancement and new and current visitors. The library is scheduled to open to the public this fall. In these controversial times, residents and visitors to Atlanta will be well served by this vision for the Atlanta Central Library.

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