for marcel breuer's admirers

brian buchalski

i'll second dammson thoughts here. a least some of the blame should be cast at the local zoning ordinances/statutes. after my initial exchange with ms. vicky bloom she pointed out that they were subject to the local laws. i responded, ''fair enough, i'll direct some of my angst towards those responsible for such regulations" unfortunately i haven't yet been able to identify a planning department in grosse point farms. here's their city website (their welcoming description is fucking hilarious):

unfortunately they don't seem to have a dedicated planning department. i'm keep digging and hopefully find something to pass along soon.

thanks again everybody.

Jan 25, 07 8:54 pm  · 

Just heard back from Dwell:

Hi John,

I will post this on our new community site, “Dwell Connect” (see our main page). However, if you are inspired to join, you should post it under our “architectural preservation” group.

I also passed it on to the rest of the creative team. I didn’t know about it. We’ll see if it inspires something more. Are you personally taking an measures against its demolition? You could also contact the National Trust ( A Paul Rudolph house was destroyed last week, and unfortunately their hands were tied, but it may be a different case in each state.

Thanks for writing, and for thinking of Dwell. We’ll see what we can do!


If anyone wants to post this under the "architectural preservation" group or see if they can drum up some curiosity with the National Trust, that would be great! I unforunately have to get back work.

Jan 25, 07 9:16 pm  · 
rondo mogilskie


Jan 25, 07 11:04 pm  · 
liberty bell

I just posted it at Dwell Connect. I think you need to join to read this link to what I posted. If anything interesting gets going over at those discussion boards, I'll let you guys know.

I wondered about the zoning/parking requirement variance issue - seems pretty simple that a variance would be a big step toward saving the building.

Jan 25, 07 11:41 pm  · 

i've started a note back to ms bartell, offering to try to drum up a volunteer brainstorm. i'll ask her if the library would be willing to share information with a bunch of us. we could probably use the ftp joshcookie will set up as an archive of that info?

if you haven't seen it already, here's what they're shooting for:

my note back will be much more congratulatory and respectful than my first. this is a smart group of people, trying to do the best they can for their community. we can only help by being positive, offering potential ideas in the spirit of shared goals.

given the amount of money they've spent on their other libraries, i was wondering if they couldn't get some parking up on the roof, with a ramp and reinforced roof structure, like the way grocery stores were built in the 50s/60s. then they could basically park on the entire footprint. snow days would suck, tho.

ms bartell DOES have a streak of the snarky. fun though. i'd probably like her. this was in the comment back in answer to my first note: We are not "stewards of our cultural legacy"; we run libraries. hahaha!

Jan 26, 07 7:49 am  · 
brian buchalski

well said steven, i agree.

personally, i'm becoming more interested in the idea of the library selling the building or otherwise opening up the possibility of its adaptive re-use. i've contacted the board again to find out if they done any studies on this possibility or met with any developers who might have some ideas (and realistic expectations) of the risks/opportunities in such a project.

i know that the author of the free press article made some suggestions such as restaurant, theater, offices, etc. i'm curious to know how likely these possibilities are given the local market. we'll see how that goes.

i could definitely envision that main space with the window wall serving as a restaurant or cafe...maybe even with some exterior seating for the warmer months. and i'd love to claim that director's office as my own so maybe some combination of uses could fit into the structure in a manner that'd keep the building from being torn down. i'm definitely not a pristine preservationist, i'll accept some butchering if it's done with the proper sense of appropriation.

Jan 26, 07 9:10 am  · 

while i wouldn't discourage that direction, puddles, it scares me a little. right now the building is a 'public' building and is handled as such. it's probably the only reason the board is willing to talk to us.

once a building becomes tied to private interests it becomes much more subject to market successes and failures and becomes possibly even more vulnerable to demolition or simply irremediable modification than if it stays in the public realm. and restaurants, especially, are notoriously unstable.

that's if they sell it. the building might remain safer if the board continues to own it but leases it for another function. but i doubt they want to be landlords as it gets complicated and is completely foreign to their mission as a library.

Jan 26, 07 9:33 am  · 
liberty bell

Agreed, puddles.

I responded once again but feel too exhausted by the whole thing to post it.

That Ewald Branch, as linked to by Steven, is flat-out ugly. The Woods branch has some nice enough moments, but both are generally, well, cheesy. That's my very professional and considered response.

Maybe I'll post more later.

Jan 26, 07 9:33 am  · 

Is this building on the National Historic Register?

Jan 26, 07 9:36 am  · 
Generally, properties eligible for listing in the National Register are at least 50 years old. Properties less than 50 years of age must be exceptionally important to be considered eligible for listing.

so, while i believe the answer is NO, the bldg is now eligible, and seems to meet many other criteria on the National Register site.

Jan 26, 07 10:19 am  · 

I was looking at the book, New buildings and Project, by Marcel Breuer, published by Praeger Publications, 111 Fourth Avenue,
New York, N.Y., USA. to see if this Library is mentioned.

Oddly there is no mention of this project in Work in Retrospect 1921-1960. Which makes me wonder why it was not included in this important document of Breuers projects.

Early work: projects, furniture, interiors, housing, 1921-1933

Doldertal Apartments, Zurich 1934

Gane's Exhibition Pavilion, Bristol, England, 1936

Wheaton College Art Center, 1938

Breuer House, Lincoln, Massachusetts, 1939

"Civic Center of the Future", London, 1939

Haggerty House, Cohasset, Massachusetts, 1938

Chamberlain Cottage, Weyland , Massachusetts, 1940

South Boston Redevelopment Project, 1943

East River Apartments, New York, 1944

"Plas-2-Point" Prefabricated Housing, 1942

Cambridge Servicemens Memorial, 1945

Tomkins House, Hewlett Harbor, New York 1945

Breuer Cottage, Wellfleet, Massachusetts, 1943-1948

Geller House, Lawrence, Long Island, New York, 1945

Robinson House, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 1946-1947

Breuer House 1, New Canaan, Connecticut, 1947

Exhibition House, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1949

Wolfson House, Pleasant Valley, New York, 1949

Clark House, Orange, Connecticut

Cooperative Dormatory, Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, N.Y., 1960

Hanson House, Huntington, Long Island , N.Y. 1959

Breuer House 11, New Canaan, Connecticut, 1951

Neuman House, Croton-on Hudson, N.Y. , 1953

Arts Center, Sarah Lawrence College, Bronxville, N.Y. 1950-1952

Stillman House 1, Litchfield , Connecticut, 1950

Caesar Cottage, Lakeville, Connecticut, 1952

Grieco House, Andover, Massachusetts, 1954

Torin Corporation, Oakville, Ontario, Canada, 1953

De Bijenkorf Department Store, Rotterdam, Holland, 1953-1957

UNESCO Headquarters, Paris, France, 1953-1958

Saint John's Abbey and University, Collegeville, Minnesota,

Gagarin House 1, Litchfield, Connecticut, 1954

United States Embassy, The Hague, Holland, 1954- 1958

Litchfield High School, Litchfield, Connecticut, 1954-1956

Member's Housing, Institute for Advanced Study, Princton,
New Jersey, 1954-1957

Starkey House, Duluth, Minnesota 1954-1955

Convent of the Annunciation, Bismark, North Dakota 1954-1959

Laaff House, Andover, Massachusetts, 1956-1957

Railroad Station Project, New London, Connecticut, 1955

Torin Manufacturing Company, Los Angles, California, 1955

Hunter College of the City of New York, Bronx, New York 1955-1959

Staehelin House, Feldmeilen, Switzerland, 1957-1958

New York University, Univesity Heights, 1956-1957

Van Leer Building, Amstelveen, Holland, 1957-1958

"El Recreo" Urban Center, Caracas, Venezuela, 1958

Tanaguarena Resort Apartments, Tanaguarena, Venezuela, 1958

Vacation House Project, Aspen, Colorado, 1959

Ustinov House, Vevey, Switzerland, 1959

Charles Center Project, Baltimore, Maryland, 1960

Temple B'Nai Jeshurun, Short Hills, New Jersey, 1961

McMullen Beach House, Nantoloking, New Jersey, 1960

No mention of Grosse Pointe Library but it is important to look at the dates of the buildings so one gets a real understanding where his level of work was at during the time of creation of this building.

Jan 26, 07 10:22 am  · 
vado retro

you guys only like this building cuz it looks like something in dwell magazine. if this was a gothic revival building you'd all be reaching for the wrecking ball...

Jan 26, 07 10:28 am  · 

well, the board pres has said that this building was not completed to breuer's specification' which could mean several things:

-it could have been an unbuilt project for a different site,
-he might have designed it earlier but it was shelved until the early 50s when they had the money to do it,
-another architect may have taken it over, etc.

i was curious what that comment from her meant, anyway.

in new orleans there was a library that h h richardson designed as a competition entry for somewhere completely different.

lots of wright's near-death projects were completed by taliesin.

in louisville we have a mies building that most agree was his last building, one that he probably never saw.

obviously breuer wasn't near death in 1953 but there may have been other reasons. or maybe it was just a lesser project among the many coming through breuer's office at the time.

Jan 26, 07 10:32 am  · 

Has the board been in contact with the State Historic Preservation Office in accordance with the National Historic Preservation Act? This building is over 50 years old. Is anyone else out there dealing with their SHPO? Around here we can't even tear down reused WWI barricks that had been remodeled into now terribly outdated public housing without consulting with the SHPO. In Michigan

Jan 26, 07 11:00 am  · 


I was kinda wondering myself. I believe his partner Herbert Beckhard is alive. Robert Gatje was also a member of this firm along with Hamilton Smith. One of them might be able to fill us in on what was the senerio.

The monograph lists even small buildings. I'm familiar with his work in my immediate area, and I don't think there was anything left out of the monograph. I listed only the buildings during the time this building was built. The projects are listed and photographed right up until 1970. Many of his more well know works come to light after 1961.

Jan 26, 07 11:04 am  · 

following links from what emaze just provided:

john r. axe, a member of the library board, is also a member of the michigan historical center foundation.

The Michigan Historical Center is part of the Department of History, Arts and Libraries, whose mission is to enrich quality of life and strengthen the economy by providing access to information, preserving and promoting Michigan heritage, and fostering cultural creativity.

Jan 26, 07 11:09 am  · 

sorry, member of the grosse point library foundation, not the library board itself.

Jan 26, 07 11:12 am  · 

Hmm, good question about the "authenticity" of the library's design. Can anyone contact his partner?

Also, it occurred to me that I could actually go see this thing, theoretically. So if anything were to happen charette-wise, perhaps some of us could make the trip?

Jan 26, 07 11:24 am  · 
Chili Davis

I'm sure I'll be in Grosse Pointe sometime in the next few weeks. My old roommate lives blocks away from this library.

Jan 26, 07 11:26 am  · 
Living in Gin

I might be up for making a field trip from Chicago, depending on timing. I can drive if others are willing to chip in for gas.

Jan 26, 07 11:28 am  · 
Chili Davis

Actually, 3.25 miles.

Jan 26, 07 11:30 am  · 

we should have an archinect visitation party at the library. i am only a handfull of miles away.

Jan 26, 07 11:40 am  · 

It is not that uncommon people will attach a well knownarchits name to a project when there was little or no involvement. Once and a while the local real estate rag will feature a house and attach a well know modern architects name to the project and when you look at it well there is no way it could possibly be. The House is a knock off done in an modern style so the realtor assumes it is a Breuer. The difference between a knock off and the real thing is about a million dollars.

Jan 26, 07 11:41 am  · 

Hey LiG, myriam is now in your neck of the woods (so to speak) so you guys can carpool.

I think the idea of a rooftop parking would be quite interesting. Furthermore, the notion of it being used with other programme in mind could be useful. When that was mentioned the image that popped into my head was that of a local gallery. I mean in this affluent could be perfect for that!
w/ small cafe outside for those warmer months as suggested.

Jan 26, 07 11:47 am  · 

from the description of the project on the library's site, i think there must be more to it than that, snooker. not only do they claim it's a breuer, but herald the calder mobile commissioned especially for it. doesn't sound half-baked.

so, those interested in charretting this thing in some way, your thoughts. i started a note to ms bartell, but i think it shouldn't be from me but more from a group of us who might be interested in helping in whatever form. here's what i wrote. how bout some help editing it to be more inclusive of all of us? feel free to email me. we can make it a sort of living/evolving document....

You're correct that I wasn't fully understanding the needs that your library is facing.

By now I know that you've been very patient with a lot of notes about the potential demolition of the building. I've been in contact with some of the others with whom you've corresponded and all have been bowled over by your willingness to participate in a dialogue with us concerning the future of this structure.

While we obviously won't be able to know what ground has already been covered in your exploration – we’re playing catch up a little bit – there seems to be a consensus among the other architect-types with whom I'm connected that there may be some way that we can try to help in the brainstorming process concerning what the library might do to solve its space and amenities problems while also re-investing in the existing library building's future.

We certainly don't want to step on the toes of any other architects, especially if they've had access to the facility and to documentation of its existing conditions. And, ultimately you will probably need a Michigan architect to realize your expansion project. But we do believe that more minds working on the initial stages of a problem can sometimes come up with more answers - some of which might work. In our case, those minds will be motivated toward sensitive expansion of the current facility rather than demolition.

In my cursory initial research if your situation, it's clear that you've been sort of boxed in by the high school's athletic facilities. Not knowing where your property starts and stops and what the library's needs are, however, I'm not sure how much further my distant analysis can go. Would the library be willing to share information that they've learned over the course of your planning process with a group of volunteers in far-flung cities of the country?

What we're interested in proposing is what designers call a 'charrette', a limited-time written and graphic study of a design problem. I’ve read your strategic plan and noted the use of a SWOT analysis technique. A charrette often attacks things from a similar attitude, though more through use of the designer’s tools: drawings and photographs. We don’t know that we will succeed in helping, but what we’d like to try to ensure is that this wonderful building is not lost forever without our having made an attempt to find alternate paths.

Recently a large house by famed architect Paul Rudolph was torn down in Connecticut. Architects attempted to fight for it, but had heard about the issue much too late to be of any constructive help. The owner, when faced with so much opposition to the removal of the house, queried ‘Where were these people a year ago?’, when he was working to figure out what to do with the house. We want to be here for you, now.

Our motives are positive and intended to be constructive. We don’t want to get in the way of your progress in serving the needs of the community, but we would like to work alongside you, if we’re welcome to do so.

Jan 26, 07 11:51 am  · 

regarding the question about the SHPO, emaze, i am not sure the library is obligated to contact them because the library is not actually a government agency. the reason you have to work with the shpo when doing something with public housing is because it is a federal undertaking--all federal undertakings are subject to section 106 of the NHPA. This isnt the case with private landowners (which is why paul rudolph houses get demolished ;). I think it also pertains to state governments, but i do not know about local governments (my inclination is no) or semi-governmental agencies like a library. I suppose we could read the law to truly find out.

Jan 26, 07 11:55 am  · 
Living in Gin

Sounds good to me.

Jan 26, 07 11:59 am  · 
Living in Gin

(re: Steve's letter)

Jan 26, 07 11:59 am  · 
Mumby said he was not given any directives other than to come up with what it would take to expand the Central Branch. He came back with two plans.

Sounds like the initial "process" wasn't too much of a process, unless I'm reading the wrong article.

Jan 26, 07 12:00 pm  · 

Hey if you get enough of you locals.....think you could Hiest the Calder and move it to an undisclosed local for futher relocation. I would hate to think of them thinking of it as scrape metal and selling it to a local salvage yard.

Jan 26, 07 12:07 pm  · 

I like the letter Steve.
I am in the process of setting up access to my ftp. Once we have some resources to share, I would be glad to use it for that purpose, just be mindful that It isn't huge. Anyone interested in access should email me. I will update interested folks when access is available and when new stuff is added to the site.

Jan 26, 07 12:49 pm  · 

Yes Steven, good letter, and well formulated!

I'm in, just need to know what/how we will be doing this!

Jan 26, 07 12:57 pm  · 
brian buchalski

steven- excellent points about the risks involved in transferring the library to private ownership for re-development. i've since learned that the library is very reluctant to give up their site since it is conveniently located for their users and there are few or no nearby alternatives.

the authenticity of breuer's involvement is a bit odd...i'm now curious about that story too. but even if breuer had nothing to do with that building, i'd still try to save it based on it's own merits. those spaces are quite lovely.

Jan 26, 07 1:01 pm  · 
vado retro

I would suggest that in addition to contacting the library, that a letter/email be drafted and sent to the Detroit Free Press Columnist who wrote the article and to any others cited in the article who support its saving. It seems that if the columnist was made aware that a group of concerned design professionals and students would be willing to investigate possible alternatives to demolition of the building as a pro bono service may be worthy of a blurb in the fishwrap.

Jan 26, 07 1:09 pm  · 

yes we should have done. i thought someone mentioned that, but don't know if we followed through. anyone?

i won't have time to send note until the evening. will send as it is unless someone suggests changes.

should we gather names and contact info? i guess access to joshcookie's ftp may accomplish that anyway...

Jan 26, 07 1:35 pm  · 

i'm game for sure. the letter sounds great to me Steven, and i agree w/ vado on sending it also to the columnist.

joshcookie, email on the way...

Jan 26, 07 1:50 pm  · 

i wrote the columnist a brief note.

also: bill hartman, champion of the library in gallagher's article, manages the detroit office of gensler. wonder if he/gensler would be willing to help out. talk about resources!

Jan 26, 07 1:58 pm  · 

couldn't find this linked yet, but this is the work from jim mumby, the architect that did "pro bono" studies for the library. he works for fanning/howey.

in meetings of an april '05 meeting, he recommended demolishing the existing structure, even though he admitted it was a gateway and of significant importance. then proposed a conceptual addition to "respect" the libraries mid-century modern roots.
anyway, that's been discussed already. here is the design

self-serving douchebag?

Jan 26, 07 2:01 pm  · 
Chili Davis

It's a good thing it's pro-bono, because those renderings look cheap.

Jan 26, 07 2:03 pm  · 

Is it the renderings or the design?

Jan 26, 07 2:09 pm  · 
Chili Davis

I can't say that I'm a huge fan of either.

Jan 26, 07 2:19 pm  · 

actually, that's the grosse pointe woods library. it's been built. not the same project. careful not to spread misinformation.

fuel for the fire, folks. just received from mr gallagher:

Thanks very much for keeping me informed. Let me give you a couple phone numbers. Bill Hartmann, an architect with Gensler’s office in Detroit, can be reached at 313-965-1600. In addition, an architect named Stu Pettitt has just taken a seat on the Grosse Pointe library advisory council; he can be reached at 248-658-7777. Francis Grunow is head of Preservation Wayne, the local preservationist society; he can be reached at 313-577-3559.

Finally, on the other side, Harvey Weaver, past president of the library’s board of trustees, who, like Ms. Bartell, believes demolition is the answer, can be reached by email at

Thanks so much for your interest in this case. The building really is ideal for its site, and the article is occasioning a much-needed discussion about what that location needs.

Best wishes,
John Gallagher
Detroit Free Press

Jan 26, 07 2:36 pm  · 

so i realize i might be showing that i slept through most of my professional practice classes...

but isn't it slightly unethical to "recommend" the demolition of a building, perhaps worthy of preservation, and replace it with one your own firm plans to design?

i could see taking on an advisory role as being pro bono, helping select a qualified architect, etc.

but that really seems to go against the notion of "pro bono"
it doesn't do the public ANY good, yet it does well for the firm.

does this constitute an ethics violation? buehler? buehler, anyone?

Jan 26, 07 2:39 pm  · 

damn. sorry. about that then. thanks for the clarification.

Jan 26, 07 2:40 pm  · 
liberty bell, that link goes to the Woods branch, which is a separate building in Grosse Pointe.

Steven posted this link to it above.

The Woods Branch and the Ewold Branch are two of three locations - the third being the Breuer.

I'd say the Woods Branch has...let's say....some acceptable moments in its design. The Ewold is straight up schlock.

So where did you find the info on "respecting the midcentury modern roots" of the Breuer after its demolition?

Steven, excellent letter - you really are an educator. and joshcookie, thanks for offering the ftp site use, that's excellent. Also, vado, at the bottom of page one I suggested someone contact Gallagher at the Free Press and the lovely aml did so.

Jan 26, 07 2:50 pm  · 
brian buchalski

thanks for that last post steven...i had been trying to track down both bill hartmann and francis grunow without any success yet today. guess i should contacted gallagher...duh

Jan 26, 07 2:51 pm  · 
liberty bell

Multiple postings going on, multiple questions multiply answered...

You guys ALL rock.

Jan 26, 07 2:52 pm  · 

No ROCK Liberty Bell! :o)

joshcookie, let us know when the ftp is up!

Jan 26, 07 3:16 pm  · 

oh shoot, forgot to add this:

if any of the archinectors here in LA wanna get together for this charrette, let me know, Im game. dammson?? dammson, anyone?

Jan 26, 07 3:17 pm  · 

meeting minutes w/ library board of trustees:

seems to possibly answer why breuer might not have claimed ownership of it as well.

IV. Concept for a new Central Library – Jim Mumby/Fanning Howey

Laura Bartell introduced Jim Mumby by thanking him for presenting his concept to the Board and reminding everyone that his effort was “pro bono” and not paid for by the Library. Mr. Mumby began by stating that the current building as it stands on the corner of Kercheval and Fisher, is a “beacon” to invite you to the downtown area on the Hill…..a “gateway” to downtown, so to speak. Jim said historians have recognized this by considering the corner of the building facing Kercheval and Fisher as the most significant aspect of Breuer’s design.

Using visual aids, Jim explained that his concept for the new building would be a 3-story structure that would reflect “mid-century architecture” in homage to the current library designed a half-century ago by noted architect, Marcel Breuer. He reminded everyone that, at this point, the design is just a concept and something to capture the spirit of the type of building that could be built on the current site. Jim went on to say that he feels this site needs to have its own identity because it is isolated and stands alone on the corner as you approach the Hill area. As such, he sees it as a lighter and more delicate building which is why the corner is primarily glass to give it visual impact. Next, Jim presented some basic facts about the structure: (1) Size: 40,000 to 45,000 square feet, including a 1500 square foot café on the north end of the building; (2) Cost: estimated $20-22 million for the total project excluding owner representative costs; (3) Time Frame: 24 to 26 months; (4) Program Room: a self-contained area on the 3rd level able to accommodate 300 people, possibly with a skylight; and (5) Parking Structure: below street level with 62-65 spaces, 9-10 foot ceiling able to accommodate full-size vans, a well- lit, comfortable environment with easy access to the Library.

When asked what was learned from the soil borings, he said they learned quite a bit including the important fact that no major utilities are located under the building. He said there appears to be 22-25 feet of good soil but the next 25-100 feet is not stable and, under the worst case scenario, might require deep foundations. Jim said it will take time to study and balance the project and emphasized that they are looking into methods to make it an intelligent, flexible, “green” building that will be environmentally friendly. He said the shape of the building makes it perfect for planning and adaptability.

In reflecting on the history of Central, Jim said it was the first design Breuer had done in brick rather than concrete and noted that the original intent for Central’s design was not fulfilled because adjustments had to be made during construction to accommodate air conditioning on the second floor.

After fielding several questions from the Board and the public, Mr. Mumby concluded his presentation by stating that for this project to become a reality, the entire community must support it…..the residents, the schools, the businesses, the municipalities…….everyone.

Jan 26, 07 3:18 pm  · 

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