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for marcel breuer's admirers

575
brian buchalski

for those of you interested in the work of marcel breuer i just found out that grosse pointe is considering the demolition of his modest & unpretentiously modern central library building.

it's not one of his most notable works so i had some trouble locating photos but here's a few...

recent photo of front


an original rendering


some early & now historical photographs:
exterior


interior


young hooligans stealing books under the cover of darkness


adult reading room


branch director's office...

...where no doubt an evil bureacrat is today sitting and planning the destruction of this building to be replace with one of these pieces of schlock...

...that seem to be more popular as library branches in the other quarters of grosse pointe

i've contacted the library board myself to weigh in on the matter and was a bit surprised to find that one of their primary motivations is providing more parking. if any of you have an extra 60 seconds and care about buildings like this then i'd encourage to send a short email to the library board telling them that you think it'd be a shame if they tore down their library on account of parking...or something to that effect. after all, how many small towns can lay claim to having an original by one of the mid-century's leading architects? and shouldn't libraries be more concerned with their responsibility as stewards of cultural heritage (via buildings as well as books) than accomodating parking demands of a community too lazy to walk? enough of my 2¢

the library decision makers can be reached at this address:
libraryboard@gp.lib.mi.us

more of those classic archival photos available here

andd thanks for your help & interest...at the very least, i hope the library board is surprised by the number of architects from across the country protesting...kind of knock them out of their provincial little bubble, right? thanks again.

 
Jan 23, 07 9:07 pm
AP

thanks for taking the time to write this up puddles. i'm certainly fond of Breuer's work....off to write an email...

Jan 23, 07 9:17 pm

i'll get right on it, too. thanks, puddles.

Jan 24, 07 7:35 am
b3tadine[sutures]

damned idiots. i'll write too.

Jan 24, 07 8:20 am
AP

sweet. I've written and been responded to:

Hi Mr. Plewke,
This is Vickey Bloom, the Director. I will forward your email to the
trustees. The Board has already said that whatever firm is hired for a
new library
will be asked to look at whether there is any way to save the
existinglibrary and renovate or add on to the building. Studies done in
the past have not given much hope because of the amount of parking
needed. We
need to be able to go undergound for the parking.


Perhaps we should ask Mrs. Bloom for the direct route (trustees contact info)...

Jan 24, 07 8:54 am

Here's mine, sent a little while ago:

Stewards of the Grosse Pointe Public Library:

Your community has a cultural treasure in the Breuer library that I've heard is now being considered for demolition. Isn't it one of the library's primary missions to be the steward of our cultural legacy? Across the country modern architectural gems are slowly disappearing, despite the protests of those who recognize their value as part of our artistic and cultural legacy from the twentieth century.

Breuer has a place in design and arts history both as a teacher and a practitioner and as a colleague of Michigan's famed architects and designers the Saarinens. He was responsible for developing an architectural approach which was incredibly influential, and for the design of furniture and other products which are still in production (and in increasing demand!) today. With the recent rediscovery of mid-century modern design across the country, better the library should be celebrating the legacy of Breuer with an exhibition than permanently erasing such a beautiful example of his work.

Often, after having lived with them for so long, any building begins to seem a little dowdy to their users and management. Our culture has taught us to throw things away when we think they've outlasted their use, despite the negative effects of this waste of resources, inattention to the value of embodied energy (energy already spent in making something) and the ultimate spoiling of our landscape. I would hope that you would at least consider enlisting the help of a sympathetic (not apathetic) architect to review the feasibility of renovating the library to its original glory before deciding that it's time for it to end up in a landfill. It's the only way to honestly say that the library's board has fulfilled its obligation to the community: protection/stewardship of the community's intellectual and cultural capital for future generations, consideration of and responsible use of the community's resources, and provision of general public access to the fruits of the knowledge and creativity of those who have come before us.

Is the board really considering this demolition for a reason as short-sighted as additional parking? There must be other ways of addressing parking and/or pedestrian and transit needs faced by the library other than razing the library itself. The current structure sits nicely up against the sidewalk, reminding of a time when walking was considered as viable a way of moving as a car. The likely result of replacing this library would be an inward-focused building surrounded by parking – the current model for new construction of everything from spas and banks to libraries and restaurants. Asphalt would be the initial visual experience of the library site rather than something which more elegantly communicates the library’s role as a public amenity and resource.

Parking is always an issue, obviously. But it's also something that has been studied and restudied. Experts as noted as Alex Krieger of Harvard's planning and urban design program have realized - and written about their findings - that there will never be the perception of enough parking until everyone can park at the front door.

What little gain will you realize by moving forward with this plan? And what will be lost?

The library facility that Grosse Pointe has is not just an aging facility that your board has to keep running and it would be negligent to think of it this way. It's an example of some of the best design work our international culture was producing at a certain point in the mid-twentieth century - and not just in Grosse Pointe, or in Michigan. Breuer was even more than a national treasure; he was an international figure. Please, honor what you have. Culture over cars.

Thank you.

Jan 24, 07 9:27 am
snooker

Protype for demolition: Perelli Building New Haven now equals Ikea
and parking lot

Jan 24, 07 9:32 am
AP

well done Steven.

now in the news

Jan 24, 07 9:34 am
liberty bell

Despite my moments-ago rant re: preservation in Thread Central, this is the kind of preservation I can get behind. I'll send an email now - good one, Steven, of course! Mine will be considerably shorter.

Jan 24, 07 10:00 am
liberty bell

Here's mine:

I am an architect and received my Masters of Architecture at Cranbrook Academy. During the four years I spent in the Detroit area I came to a much greater understanding of Modern architecture. Detroit in the 1950s, especially the auto industry but also all the manufacturing associated with it, exhibited exactly the optimism for the future that Modern architecture sought to embody in built form. Modern buildings in Detroit have a quality of appropriatenesses that is not always the case in many older east coast cities.

The demolition of a Marcel Breuer building would be a tragic loss of cultural property. Though the architecture of the 1950s and 60s is not always considered "historic" and thus worth saving, there is a quick-growing appreciation of and movement to save these structures. In my experience, Detroit in 30 years could be considered a treasure trove of Modernist structures, if they are allowed to survive.

There are many, many architecture firms in the Detroit area (and beyond) who would consider the opportunity to maintain and renovate the Breuer public library building to be an honor. The project could then be a testament to forward-thinking design, both of the 1950s and of today. Please don't demolish the building and thus lose a piece of Detroit's built cultural heritage.

Jan 24, 07 10:19 am
myriam

maybe we should propose a free (pro bono) archinect design study!

ask them if they'd be willing to provide us with a short statement of programming needs and a site plan and some current photos, and we will provide them with a free online charrette to brainstorm some ideas (at no cost to them!) to get the ball rolling on what they could do with their treasure!!!

Jan 24, 07 11:11 am
myriam

preservation + archinect challenge + pro bono work!

Jan 24, 07 11:11 am
JMBarquero/squirrelly

whilst my email was not as elegant and thought provoking as yours Steven or yours Lib Bell....I too did write.

It does sadden me that this nation has become so passive and careless that we don't preserve the little beauty we have. And yet, I constantly hear (from those that have traveled abroad) "gosh why can't the US be more like those places in europe we visited?"

well....part of the reason is situations much like this one!

my $.02 cents.


Thanks puddles.

Jan 24, 07 11:14 am

Here's mine, sending one every minute for the next week.

Don't listen to any emails you receive that tell you to save your mediocre library. Do what ever you want! Or put the library underground so all the new parking can be above ground. Plus, enlarge you're DVD collection, more tragedy and more comedy.

Gesundheit,
Rita 2 cent Novel

Jan 24, 07 11:47 am
liberty bell
...enlarge you're DVD collection...

Cm'on, rita, those librarians'll only listen to your advice if it is grammatically correct!

Nice use of "mediocre", though.

Jan 24, 07 11:49 am

^^^ evidence that even a clever sense of humor can be destructive.

Jan 24, 07 11:50 am

"Don't get me started! Don't even get me started!!"

Jan 24, 07 12:00 pm
not per--corell

dear library board-

if you tear down your beautiful but inconvenient breuer library, while you're at it you might also want to throw away all of the books in your art and architecture sections. they probably aren't really important either and think of the space you'll save. you could park cars in the areas formerly reserved for their stacks!

Jan 24, 07 12:12 pm
vado retro

Dear Libarians of Michiganistan,

I applaud your decision to provide more parking. The automobile is what made Michiganistan strong. The automobile is Michiganistan's cultural legacy. Everybody has cars and some of those people go to libaries. Most people in Michiganistan are a bit obese and are cardiovascularly challenged, which creates a need for parking that is closer to the libary.

In fact, I would propose a new type of libary that celibates the automobile. Have you ever considered combining the libary with a carhop inspired drive-in? Cute girls on roller skates and hotpants could bring Danielle Steele and Tom Clancy and Bill O'Reilly books right to the car, thus eliminating the need to actually get out of the car.

In conclusion, the decision to demolish the Brewery building libary is not only a wise choice that celebrates the America's greatest invention, it also provides jobs for our hard working parking lot stripers! Bravo!!

Jan 24, 07 12:12 pm

Oh, and get that great new book on the workings of inspiration. I'm pretty sure it's called Even You Can Be A Copy Cat.

Jan 24, 07 12:19 pm
JMBarquero/squirrelly

nice vado......although girls in Hot pants bringing me stuff is always nice

Jan 24, 07 12:25 pm
j

two things:


1. "Everybody has cars and some of those people go to libaries."

this is the best sentence i've read in a while.


2. "I would propose a new type of libary that celibates the automobile."

i'm not sure how you 'celibate' something, especially an automobile, but it sounds interesting...

Jan 24, 07 1:05 pm
brian buchalski

ha ha...i'd love to celibate some automobiles

and wow...thanks for all the thoughtful responses everybody. i'm really impressed. and let me know if any similar situations arise in your parts of the world. i'd always be happy to lend my support with a letter and/or email.

thanks again.

Jan 24, 07 1:33 pm

I've noticed that the 1980s style Wawa is headed toward extinction! Please help save these lovely creatures.

Jan 24, 07 1:49 pm
liberty bell

Nice letter, not per.

My Miata is celibated. The same could not be said for all of my former cars.

Someone should alert the writer of the article puddles posted to the fact that this discussion is going on. That someone won't be me, at least not today.

Jan 24, 07 2:06 pm
aml

great letters- lb, per your suggestion i just sent the writer of the article an email linking to this discussion as my contribution to the cause.

Jan 24, 07 3:29 pm
aml

also- just sent an email with links to former teachers or just people i know in 6 universities, + nicolai ouroussoff, the arch critic at the nytimes. i think people that have some clout or may know someone that has some clout to either raise awareness or just make noise should know about this.

Jan 24, 07 3:52 pm
JMBarquero/squirrelly

wow aml, that's awesome. Thanks for doing that.

Puddles--- here's my response from Ms. Bloom:

Hi Mr. B*******,
I am Vickey Bloom, the Director. I will pass your email on to the board.
If I may ask, how did you hear about it on the west coast?


and I replied to her enquiry. (cause I mentioned in my email that I had heard about this travesty all the way over on this coast).

Jan 24, 07 4:30 pm
hckybg

If you are keeping count, I also wrote in to express my support for preservation of the library.

Jan 24, 07 4:32 pm
liberty bell

I also got a brief response from Ms. Vickey Bloom, saying she would send my email on to the board.

Good job aml!!

Jan 24, 07 4:36 pm
AP

aml, i'll take your cue and hit Blair Kamin up with an email - being that he is the nearer the pending tragedy than Ouroussoff...

Jan 24, 07 4:39 pm
lletdownl

this is a very impressive thread i must say. Look at the response generated by this single thread. I am positive miss vickey bloom (bless her heart) is shocked that she is receiving such emails.
Makes you think... if we really mobilized to rally against or for something, we could have a serious impact... or at least annoy the Ms. Vickey Bloom's of the world

Jan 24, 07 5:03 pm
aml

does anybody know is there an arch critic in california that might be interested in this? someone that writes for a big newspaper. with the demolition of that neutra house a few years ago, they might want to pick up on this now.

also, i think professors are a good idea because their emails carry some weight- ms. bloom will hopefully be bombarded by emails from ms. so and so from harvard, princeton or whatever, she may start getting genuinely alarmed. also, teachers have direct access to thousands of emails [their students] [insert evil laughter here--> muahaha!!].

my letter [deliberate but true guilt manipulation]

Dear Ms. Bloom,

I am an architecture professor in Ecuador, trained in the United States. I recently read an article on the imminent destruction of a Marcel Breuer Library. I also just spent the morning with one of my students, on a site visit to her thesis project: the renovation of a 1911 small building in the rural coast of Ecuador. The town has little money or understanding of the value of what they are loosing right now. There are owls and pigs invading the house. But we are dedicating a considerable amount of time and effort in order to make them aware of what is being lost is an important part of their culture and heritage.

This is not a building by a famous designer, it is almost beyond repair, it is surrounded by a very poor population with more life threatening problems than this one, and the funds are very hard to get. None of these things apply to the Grosse Pointe Central Library. We can only wish to have a building by such a distinguished, important architect such as Marcel Breuer. How can you even think about tearing it down?

Jan 24, 07 5:16 pm
joshcookie

I also wrote in, poor Miss Bloom's responses are getting shorter.

"Hi Mr. Joshcookie,
I am Vickey Bloom, the Director. I will pass your email on to the board."

Jan 24, 07 5:36 pm
aml

well i haven't gotten my email yet. come on vickey, pick up the pace!

... and i'm not kidding about the owls, either

Jan 24, 07 5:49 pm
Living in Gin

UMich is right up the road... Maybe some of their faculty would have an interest in this issue.

Great thread!

Jan 24, 07 5:56 pm
joshcookie

They have called our bluff, in response to my suggestion that I knew of some architects that would be interested in doing a pro-bono analysis I received this reply.

"Please send us the names of these architects. We would be glad to get them working immediately. The two architectural firms here we have asked to look at the issue both reached the conclusion that we could not achieve our space and parking needs while preserving the existing building.

Laura Bartell
President, Board of Trustees
Grosse Pointe Public Library "

Anyone interested in doing a pro-bono feasibility study for saving the library please contact: Laura Bartell at l.bartell@wayne.edu She is evidently a President of the board.



I am glad to help, but we really should have a Michigan architect to add legitimacy.
Anyone in Michigan up to the game.

j

Jan 24, 07 7:48 pm
strlt_typ
"...my suggestion that I knew of some architects that would be interested in doing a pro-bono analysis..."

seriously, is this statement true?


Jan 24, 07 7:57 pm
snooker

josh

You really think grosse pointe needs pro-bono? Maybe I'm way out of the loop, but isn't Grosse Pointe upper to Detroit, like Scarsdale is to New York?

Jan 24, 07 8:04 pm
joshcookie

Well our firm is willing, but we are in California. If there are any interested people in Michigan, to feed us info/ photos that would be a great help. We would be more than happy to see if we can come up with a better solution. We fully believe in volunteering for worthy causes, and I like Breuer's work.
Here is my full offer to her:

"I know of many architects who would be willing to do pro-bono feasibility studies and conceptual designs that could do just that. At the very least, you could then say that you exhausted all possible resources"

We have 12 architects here willing to put our heads together over it, yes for free. We talk the talk, and like to walk it as well.

If anyone would like to help, or suggest other design options, lets do it.

j

Jan 24, 07 8:08 pm
snooker

josh....think you need some detroit mover and shakers....on your side.....designer people from the automobile industry. The Automobile our worst enemy and yet the designers smart enough to see the value in saving this building.

Jan 24, 07 8:48 pm
liberty bell

I also received an email addressing (somewhat) the specifics of my email to the board. I don't feel comfortable posting that person's correspondance, but here is my response (the one I received was quite snippy, bordering on whiny, so my response is perhaps not as even-tempered as it should be):

I believe that if you have already made the decision that the existing
building will not work for you, then it won't. I also understand that
library collections are very different today than they were 50 years
ago, and believe that 50 years from now will be completely different
once again. Do you intend to build another state-of-the-art building
now, only to let your descendants tear it down? What a waste of raw
materials and loss of valuable example of history.

Not every Victorian building in downtown Philadelphia is a "treasure"
of that era, it is the collection of them that provides a valuable
window to the past and a cultural legacy that cannot be recreated. As
an architect who did renovations and additions to historic buildings
for ten years - including making multi-level sites handicapped
accessible - I know firsthand that ANY building can be made useful if
approached creatively.

And don't tell me that the residents of Grosse Pointe can't afford the
creative challenge of adding sensitvely to and renovating a building
by a recognized master of 20th Century art and architecture. You know
that's not true.


snooker, you are right. Grosse Pointe is filthy rich, hence my last two sentences.

Jan 24, 07 9:10 pm
not per--corell

the response i got was snippy too. but then, mine was sarcastic, so i probably deserved it. i don't mind reprinting this correspondence because she doesn't know me and i don't know her so it obviously wasn't private.

Unfortunately, because we haven't room for many books in our current building, disposing of the art and architecture section would not make room for a single vehicle. Believe me, if we could meet the library needs of our community while preserving the existing building (either by finding a different location for a new building or modifying the existing one), we would pursue it. After years of effort, we have concluded that those options are not available to us. However, we will certainly explore with the architects we interview whether they believe there is any way to meet our needs and preserve the building.

Thank you for your thoughts.


Jan 24, 07 9:26 pm
joshcookie

I had no idea about the socioeconomic state of Gross Point. Being as I just sort of thought all of Detroit was axle grease and steel. I am feeling a little guilty right now about my email correspondence with the Board, and not for the Boards sake. I don't know how I managed to gloss over, well completely miss, the fact that they had two firms do studies for the library. I feel a little guilty about publicly second guessing two, I assume, qualified firms analysis of the situation. That wasn't my intention in suggesting that we, in our firm, or others on Archinect, would by doing charrette type feasibility and concept designs, out do their choice. I approached this knowing that they weren't likely to change their mind, to do so would undermine any relationship they have with local architects. If the local architects thought any yahoo from California that questioned them would be more influential then they were the library would never get a local to work for them again. I guess the short of it is that I would like to apologize for playing the hypocrite and going off half cocked without all of the relevant information, and thus sounding as if I was trying to undermine other architects work.
That said, I still think they made a sh*t decision to raze any building to help them meet increased parking desires. What a waste of energy and blatant ignorance of environmental issues.

j

ps. They know who I am and where to find me, they will receive a similar apology tomorrow.

Jan 24, 07 10:45 pm

don't apologize too enthusiastically joshcookie. those two firms may have been given a program that backed them into the assumption that the library had to go. and there is always room for more ideas when it comes to a project for which 'we could find no other solution'.

i don't think any pro bono help from archinect'rs would displace their architects. but it may uncover an idea or two that hasn't been considered. i know that, as a professional, sometimes i get the time necessary to spend on a project and the research it requires, sometimes not. depending how it was handled, their current architect might welcome some brainstorming from outsiders. never underestimate the power of a good brainstorm by a lot of creative people!

i was thinking about it more this morning: we could brainstorm a little on the side, those of us who have the time and inclination. i know that i'm interested enough to do some information gathering.

what compels me is that they DO seem to have money to spend. they're considering underground parking for marcel's sake! i'm not ready to be someone who sends a snarky letter and disappears --- yet?

remember, when that rudolph house was torn down, the question the owner asked was 'all these architects who are upset, where were they last year?'

Jan 25, 07 7:02 am

other contacts that should be made if anyone has connections:

the author of the 2003 monograph, which is a luscious book, by the way, and the 2001 book.

and how about docomomo? any members among us?

national trust for historic preservation? they've been championing modern buildings more and more often.

lb and rationalist noted their fence-riding about preservation above, but i'm fairly committed to the preservation of the gems of our built environment. granted, each case is arguable, but so much of what gets torn down is of a human scale, construction quality, and design quality that our current professional and economic situation won't allow us to match it. this is such a case, as puddles noted with the very first post.

Jan 25, 07 7:09 am
liberty bell

I actually got another response to my second, more snarky email! I composed a long, long response in the shower this morning - will have to wait til I get to the office to write and send it though.

At least ONE board memeber, it appears, is interested in having something of a discussion about alternatives, and not simply ignoring and passing me/off as a crank is admirable on her part. AND means that concerted efforts on our parts may actually lead to a rethinking of the proposal.

joshcookie, what Steven said is true - and my second email response alluded to my belief that it's likely the architects working on planning may have been essentially given the task of proving that the building needs to be torn down. Get enough heads involved, and enough p[assion, and enough tax doalrs 9easily available in Grosse Popinte, IMO), and a more creative response can be found.

Someone call Dwell magazine, perhaps? They would seem to like Breuer.

Jan 25, 07 7:34 am
myriam

yeah, Dwell does little pieces on modern buildings about to be torn down.

Yes I would like to do a kind of online charrette. Perhaps that will form the basis of my email to the library folks. I have relatives in Grosse Ile but not Grosse Pointe... wonder if they know anyone on the library board?

Jan 25, 07 7:40 am

may be a hard sell, which is why we should keep at it. if their board is like our library board, they're essentially money people. their passions and interests are wonderful and altruistic, but tilt more toward universal education and access to information than toward stewardship of culture.

the director and the librarian-types should be sympathetic, though. especially if we can convey to them that this is a hugely valuable piece of their 'special collections'.

Jan 25, 07 7:49 am
AP

great to see this still going with vigor.

I also received a seemingly annoyed response from someone with the library board (not Mrs. Bloom). I made every attempt to respond kindly, rather than in-kind.

also, Blair Kamin responded to my email, stating simply that he'll look into it and thanks for the tip...

Jan 25, 07 9:02 am
AP
Mission Statement

"The Mission of the Grosse Pointe Public Library is to serve people of all ages by actively providing easily accessible information, materials, services, and programs designed to meet the community's evolving educational, recreational, cultural, and informational needs."

Jan 25, 07 9:03 am

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