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AD Readers Debate: Preserving Breuer's Brutalist Library in Atlanta, Problems with Coliving and More

AD Readers Debate: Preserving Breuer's Brutalist Library in Atlanta, Problems with Coliving and More
AD Readers Debate: Preserving Breuer's Brutalist Library in Atlanta, Problems with Coliving and More, Marcel Breuer's Central Library in Atlanta. Image via Docomomo
Marcel Breuer's Central Library in Atlanta. Image via Docomomo

The past two weeks have seen an interesting mixture of comments on ArchDaily. Topics of conversation have ranged from Brutalist preservation to the future of living, and from neoliberal planning systems to restrictive copyright laws, raising insightful questions, interesting ideas and impressive arguments. Read on to find out what has been occupying our readers’ minds these past two weeks.

Brutalist Woes for Marcel Breuer

via Docomomo
via Docomomo

The news that Marcel Breuer’s Central Library in Atlanta may soon face demolition upset many of our readers, as is often the case when a fine example of Brutalism is in trouble:

Why would they demolish this? It's a fantastic building, and I'm sure that restoration of it would not cost anywhere near $275 million dollars. I doubt it would be replaced with anything as impactful and interesting, probably just some generic glass and steel yawn. - jessie6693

I had the opportunity to visit this building a few years ago. Even in somewhat shabby condition, this building is still spectacular and an important part of Atlanta and Georgia's architectural legacy. Hopefully, if the involved governmental bodies believe it should be replaced, they will seek out a new owner that can use it, restore it, and keep it open to the public. - John in Georgia

However, others had a more measured view of what needs to happen with the building:

Strictly from a design standpoint, I'm a fan of Breuer and this seems like a good opportunity to save an example of Brutalist architecture since it's not a housing project. Preservation of Brutalist housing always seems to involve rationalizing the typically poor apartment units somehow. However, I don't think the public should have to foot the bill for an underperforming building. Restoration and re-use should get privatized. - HeywoodFloyd

This seems an interesting point, and privatization certainly would bypass the issues that some members of the public take with brutalist preservation. Somewhat ironically, this technique has already been a strong force for the preservation of brutalist housing in places like London, where the Balfron Tower, for example, is now a highly desirable place to live. However, I wonder how this system would work in the case of Atlanta’s Library; is there an alternative use for the building that would be profitable enough for a private company to take on its restoration?

The Problem with Co-Living

Living space in a Crown Heights, New York coliving space owned by Common. Image © Common
Living space in a Crown Heights, New York coliving space owned by Common. Image © Common

After an article about the trend toward “space as a service” which discussed coworking spaces and the newer concept of coliving spaces, one commenter was less than convinced:

I love the growing concept of worksharing, as flex hours and working remotely become more popular, a temporary office space system makes a lot of sense. The co-living concept gives me a lot of concern, however. With the exception of professionals who travel often for work, this seems to take advantage of many of the dismal affordable living options most young professionals face.

Trends like "living with roommates" and tending towards smaller and smaller spaces isn't indicative of what the market truly wants. More likely it is a symptom of wage stagnation and being grossly outpaced by the cost of living, or the proliferation of "luxury" developments in lieu of affordable housing.

I'm glad that more options are becoming available, but the result seems to be profiting off of a symptom instead of finding a solution. - Daniel James

I think this is an interesting point - certainly, coliving is not for everybody. But I believe the idea is to tap into not only “professionals who often travel for work” but also the new breed of workers who are not tied to a location by their job: freelancers and remote workers who might choose to travel and work from a new location intermittently. The phenomenon is also very closely tied to economic trends as Daniel James discusses here; the best explanation of this that I’ve encountered is this article by TechCrunch, which takes a positive stance on the situation, but your own interpretation of these economic trends is sure to be very personal.

More Questions about Freedom of Panorama

© Samuel Ludwig
© Samuel Ludwig

Our article detailing the mess that is freedom of panorama laws around the world - the laws that determine whether you can or can’t take a photograph of a copyrighted building - led to just more questions:

What does this mean for resources like Google Earth and Google Street View? In Sweden or other panorama-controlled jurisdictions, are they now infringements of copyright? - Lawrence Bird

A good question - and the answer to this, as with most issues surrounding freedom of panorama, is “nobody really knows, and it’s complicated.” There is no publicly available information discussing how Google bypasses such laws, however this Wikimedia discussion about Street View in Belgium (another non-freedom of panorama country) comes up with a number of possible explanations:

  1. As streetview images are 360 degrees, it is possible to argue that any building or artwork is not the “subject” of the photograph, therefore granting more leniency under most legal systems.
  2. Most of Google’s servers are located in the United States, so they can make a reasonable case that they only have to comply with the United States’ freedom of panorama laws.
  3. Google is a large company with a lot of money for impressive lawyers, and therefore copyright owners would prefer not to risk a lawsuit over Street View images.

Challenging Patrick Schumacher’s Planning Vision

Courtesy of Monocle 24
Courtesy of Monocle 24

In Patrick Schumacher’s article Coup De Grâce, he argues for a new form of neoliberal urban planning, describing a system which frees governments of their responsibility to plan cities and allowing the emergence of what he believes would be a more effective, democratic planning system. However, commenter Daniel Carrapa took issue with Schumacher’s argument, posting a response which is so thorough it needs to be appreciated in full:

This article presents a very questionable “thesis.”

The issue of “negative planning” is decades old and has nothing to do with the process of urban deceleration we’re experiencing today. We have witnessed the effects of the downfall of the CDO market and its worldwide ramifications, striking at the heart of the construction industry that was being used as a vehicle for a massive financial model of debt-based growth. This is what happens when architecture and urbanism becomes the outcome of financial products – the city as a tool of finance.

And the article gets worse: “We are witnessing a sustained drive towards urban concentration in global hub cities like London.” No, no we’re not. We’re witnessing the effects of the monetary expansion policy (quantitative easing) followed by the Bank of England and now the European Central Bank. Without an economy functioning properly, the liquidity of the banks is being channeled to purchasing assets, particularly in the real-estate sector, instead of being used for productive investment.

There is a secondary (but likewise important) factor operating as well: the instability that is being felt in the financial markets and the risk of a worldwide deflationary crisis – which has motivated serious warnings by major financial institutions earlier this year.

So what you have is an inflationary bubble in the real estate sector, visible in many major European cities, the result of massive funds looking for safer haven by purchasing real estate assets. London is at the core of the interest by such investment funds, and the effects of that are hardly benign: inflated prices that push the middle-class away from the city center all over again. The city not for people, but as a tool for allocating money.

This transfer of funds, by the way, often has no repercussion in the construction market, which remains at an all time low in many European countries - meaning that the “real” economy might not be benefiting much from this phenomenon either.

To interpret these side effects as the dawn of a new “market-based” urbanism is quite pathetic. These are the results of deregulation in the financial sector, shattering all through the economy and most particularly in the field of construction and urbanism.

The impact of the crisis of 2007/2008 is still unfolding. We face economic paralysis, unemployment, growing inequality, poverty, massive migrations. Are we expected to believe “neoliberal post-fordism” and the invisible hand of the market will provide an answer for the issue of dwelling for massive waves of migrants? – just to give one example?

Planning models of the past may not suit the requirements of today, but to believe that our contemporary problems can be resolved without a serious consideration of the role of the state is, quite frankly, ludicrous - and, unfortunately, dangerous as well. - Daniel Carrapa

Keep the debate flowing! Please post any responses to these topics in the comments below.

About this author
Cite: Rory Stott. "AD Readers Debate: Preserving Breuer's Brutalist Library in Atlanta, Problems with Coliving and More" 22 Apr 2016. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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