According to architect Aldo Rossi, the collective memory of a city is based on common places that a community remembers. Buildings that evolve over time are key to the collective memory of a city: they are shared memories that shape a city's identity. Rossi called these buildings urban artifacts, and likened them to works of art because they help shape and are shaped by the public's unconscious. These urban artifacts evolve over time: they change their functions, they grow, they shrink, but the core stays the same.
The Grosse Pointe Public Library is an urban artifact--it has become part of Grosse Pointe's collective memory. Donated by Dexter M. Ferry (local businessman and father of W. Hawkins Ferry, a noted Detroit architecture historian and art collector), the library serves an important role in the community. As a public space in an increasingly privatized environment, the building stands as a common room, a space for public meeting and exchange.
This civic role is enhanced by its location. The library is situated on a key intersection between Kercheval Avenue and Grosse Pointe South High School. Another architect interested in buildings' roles within the city, Kevin Lynch, has noted that buildings on key intersections stay longer in people's memories, because we use them as reference points. Rossi considered that the relevancy of urban artifacts was strongest when they acted as propelling elements, adapting and changing to meet new demands and in turn conditioning its surroundings and establishing themselves as focus points of change and dynamism.
Now, it may be time for this particular urban artifact to evolve, to adapt itself to new conditions. The conditions of its modification should be studied carefully: the program should not only be a sum of functional needs but should reflect the requirements for a 21st century library that Grosse Pointe needs. This role should be the agreed upon result of a consensus of stakeholders taking precedence over codified rules and regulations, which can be addressed with imaginative solutions.
The following chart sums up a series of strategies that came up during the ideas charrette: proposals for programming arrangement, siting, parking, building massing, material use, and ecological or sustainable elements. These strategies show a wide-range of attitudes towards the original building. All allow for it to grow and change. Unanimously, they demonstrate that a substantial expansion can be done within the site without tearing down the current Breuer building.
Some proposals focused on the program, reinterpreting it to emphasize the library as computer center, family space, community living room and/or social space. And sometimes just a nice place to read a book. Other proposals contemplated the required overall area, and focused on the massing in relation to the existing building. Some projects solved this problem through separate volumes connected by plazas, gardens and/or passages, while others proposed adjacent volumes, wrapping around and sometimes over the existing building. In terms of materials, several proposals included glass and/or brick as a complement or counterpoint to the current building. Finally, several projects stressed the importance of sustainable elements, and all of them took into account the fact that the most environmentally responsible action is not to tear down an existing building.
While this article will obviously focus on the architectural proposals and the processes which generated them, it cannot be overemphasized that the project likely would not have happened without the cooperation and open mindedness of the members of the Central Library Board and Building Committee. Their willingness to give mapa time to present the proposals and then engage a discussion in an open, public forum was significant (in no small part because it gave us architects a deadline!) and generous. Part three of this feature will include the report Brian and James gave of their public presentation.
The Modern Architecture Protection Agency is very happy to present these fifteen proposals, and hope they help illustrate the many ways the Grosse Pointe Public Library Central Branch can grow and adapt itself to its 21st century needs while retaining at its core a building that, in addition to being the work of a Modern master, is a significant part of the community's history.
Brian Buchalski | British West Indies / Detroit, MI
Trained as an Architect, Brian Buchalski is currently enjoying an extended holiday on a small tropical island. He has worked/lived in both the Midwest and New England where he's been able to indulge his interest in adaptive reuse of buildings and wear out several pairs of running shoes.
Christian Wellenhofer | Germany
Practicing in Nurnberg, Bavaria, (Germany) educated at the Technical University of Munich, working with different architects on various projects in Bavaria and charettes in Europe. This design charette is very interesting because M. Breuer is an eminently respectable person. I like the Grosse Pointe Public Library and want to take an active part in saving this historical and lovely building.
E. Kemper | the American Midwest
Intern Architect, UC alum, practicing in the mid-West.
Attending grad school this fall to study sustainable architecture and building technologies.
Andrew Leibchen | Providence, RI
Andrew is currently an M.Arch student at the Rhode Island School of Design. The few hours of his life not devoted to the study of architecture and sleep he spends at home with his partner Chelsea and their cats. Truth be told, he is a few cats and a sex change operation away from being a crazy cat lady.
Meredith Klein + Aaron Plewke | New York, NY via Jacksonville, FL
Meredith and Aaron graduated from the University of Florida School of Architecture in May 2005. They recently left the sunny South to live and work in New York City. If you know anyone with a cheap apartment for rent in NYC, please let them know.
Jose Barquero | Los Angeles, CA
born: San Jose, Costa Rica / moved to the US at an early age;
he now calls los angeles home
intern architect/senior designer, graphic artist
BArch: Woodbury University, Burbank, CA
MArch: The Bartlett school of the Built Environment, UCL, University of London, UK.
Ana Maria Leon | Ecuador
Ana Maria got her diploma in architecture in the Universidad Catolica de Guayaquil, and went to grad school at Georgia Tech and the GSD. She teaches architectural design, history and theory in Ecuador and sometimes she gets to practice it as well. She often refers her students to Archinect (hi guys!).
Bora Barut | Los Angeles, CA
Bora Barut is an architect. He has graduated from Yildiz Technical University Architectural Faculty, Istanbul in 1999 and established STUDIOM in 2004 in Los Angeles, California. He has been running for international competitions and working on residential and commercial projects throughout Los Angeles Area.
Joe Latozas + Brian Helbert | Detroit, MI
Brain and Joe are both University of Detroit Mercy graduates and practice their own form of architecture in the pleasant Northwestern burbs of Detroit. Brain enjoys underwater basket weaving and death metal while Joe spends his spare time reading poetry and contemplating world domination.
Joshua Carrell | Santa Rosa, CA
Joshua is a project manager in Santa Rosa California. He has a BS in Architecture from the University of Minnesota, and an M.Arch from the University of Oregon, from which he graduated in 2004.
Donna Sink + Rodchenko Werner | Indianapolis, IN
liberty bell and vado retro, both architects in Indy, made acquaintance on Archinect.
M.Arch Cranbrook Academy of Art,
in private practice since 2005
BA Art History, Indiana University
M.Arch, University of New Mexico,
architectural project manager at Rowland Design