In the past few weeks, the fates of two classic Brutalist buildings by architect Marcel Breuer were determined – with differing results. For the Atlanta Central Library, it was good news, as the Fulton County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to support the renovation of the building, saving it from the wrecking ball. Meanwhile, the American Press Institute in Reston, Virginia, was not so lucky, as Fairfax County’s board of supervisors voted to tear down the building to make room for a new a townhouse development project.
First opened in 1980, the Central Library in Atlanta contains a 300-seat theater, a restaurant and space for 1 million books, and a facade representative of Breuer’s sensibilities, with its bush-hammered concrete panels and Bauhaus-inspired forms. Over the years, the building fell into disrepair, with its theater closing in the mid-1990s, and the restaurant closing a few years later. Even after a $5 million restoration in 2002, in 2008 taxpayers voted to approve a $275 million bond referendum, which would replace the Breuer-designed building with a new library.
Since then, the library’s fate had been up in the air until the board of commissioners’ vote two weeks ago. The current proposal now calls for a $40 to $55 million renovation of five of the floors, as well as a “nominal investment” on the four remaining floors to potentially lease out the space. Exact plans for the project are still being determined, with ideas including calls for a new arts center or partnership with Georgia State University’s art department, Woodruff Arts Center or Fulton County’s Arts & Culture department.
A few states north in Fairfax County, Virginia, preservationists received bad news as Breuer’s American Press Institute (API) headquarters was slated for demolition. Built in 1974, the 48,000 square foot building, featuring precast concrete panels, was built in Reston’s non-profit district to serve as a conference center for API events. After merging with the Newspaper Association of America in 2012, the API headquarters closed its doors, leaving the building vacant.
Historians had argued that the building constituted a significant work in Breuer’s catalogue, and suggested repurposing the building as a library or the home of another non-profit. A vote by the Planning Commission to not demolish the building gave preservationists hope, while an online petition received over 1,600 signatures from people all over the world. But with no county funds available to preserve the site and no buyers expressing interest in restoring the building, it was not enough to stop the redevelopment plan from going through. The site will now be used to build 34 townhouses and an apartment building as part of a masterplan designed to construct higher-density housing near Metrorail’s Silver Line train route.