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for marcel breuer's admirers

573
Living in Gin

Nice.

Jan 25, 07 10:22 am  · 
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evilplatypus

My old hometown outside Chicago just recently went through this. The Library was in an Old Mansion in a giant park which was a one time wealthy industrialist estate. For years the Library functioned very well, despite its eccentric layout. In fact, it's eccentricity is was led to its charm. Now the town has built a ultra planned perfect library that while great, has cost the town plenty of bucks and increased taxes. The arguement was that the old library didnt meet modern library planning principles. Well one of those principles is that the entire library be on one floor if possible!!! Talk about sprawl generator. So maybe the experts should rethink their criteria before condeming well functioning buildings. After all, this same town of mine, had one of 3 mies houses in america, and moved it from it's wooded lot to the giant park, where they turned it into an art museum, but just grafted the mies onto a new structure. Would have been much more powerful as stand alone structure with minimal attachment. See below....




The Mccormick house is in the foreground-the tan brick infill enwall struct.

Jan 25, 07 10:25 am  · 
 · 
evilplatypus

no doubt the same treatment would prob be given to the gross pointe if saved and added on to. I should note- in Elmhurst's case, they anexed land to the park for parking and it worked.

Jan 25, 07 10:33 am  · 
 · 
JMBarquero/squirrelly

wow liberty bell I applaud you're tenacity.

i too got my response and have no qualms about sharing: here goes:

Dear Mr. B*******,

I am afraid you misunderstand the nature of our problem with the existing Central Branch of the library. It is not just the need for additional parking. We muddle along quite well with the parking we have. But the building was designed at a time when libraries had no computers, no audiovisual materials, no program rooms. Our building has a second floor that is not handicapped accessible because we have no elevator. Every time we buy a book we have to throw one away. Whenever we have a program, the rest of the library has to stop operating. Our staff is in small cubicles and cannot work efficiently. We have serious space needs. We have explored for years other options to destruction of the building. We looked for another piece of property to build on; unfortunately, as you may know, Grosse Pointe is heavily built, and available land is scarce. We also have consulted with two different architectural firms to see if we could add space to our existing building. We have been told that (1) we can't add enough space to meet our needs and (2) if we add space, we would have to add parking, and we have no more room for parking without putting it under the building, which requires significant demolition. We have not given up on the issue, and as we go our for bids for architects to work with us on Central, we will explore with them whether it is possible to meet our space and parking needs while preserving all or part of the existing building. If your firm would like to be considered for that project, please let us know. Believe me, we have a Board that is sensitive to our architectural heritage. But we have to provide the community the library services it has paid for and deserves.

Laura Bartell
President, Board of Trustees
Grosse Pointe Public Library

and I will be replying to her statement and call for my office to be involved, although we are in California. This may be the difficult aspect of this suggestion.

Steven - I'm for becoming involved in some sort of effort to brainstorm.

Jan 25, 07 10:42 am  · 
 · 
Chili Davis

I just sent an email as well. It read as follows:

Dear Board Members,

I have lived in the Detroit metro area for approximately five years now. In that short time span, I have noticed a great many things that makes Detroit undeniably unique. One of the metro area's more understated qualities is the collection of brilliant architectural works from 19th and 20th century masters. The obvious land marks are hard to overlook, but sometimes it's the often unseen details that give a city its personality. Among these overlooked details is the Central Library Building in Grosse Pointe, designed by Marcel Breuer. It has come to my attention recently that a possible plan is in the works calling for the destruction of this now historic architectural jewel. It appears that the issue with the current structure is a lack of parking areas it provides. Might I suggest a number of ways to negate the parking problem, while keeping the work of a leading architect intact? Perhaps an ample amount of space for parking and locking of bicycles would encourage an alternate method of transportation that is both good for the community and good for the environment. Another alternative would be to provide library patrons with a lot a short distance from the existing building, leaving them with only a short stroll to the library. There are many other alternatives I encourage you to look at. I, myself, am a student of architecture, and I can almost guarantee that if you provide your issues with the current layout to a school of architecture in the area (Lawrence Technological University, University of Detroit Mercy, or University of Michigan) they would gladly take the challenge head-on and provide you with a solution that meets both the required program of the building, and the need for historic preservation. I encourage you to rethink any ideas you may have had of destroying this great building, as it holds within itself just as much history and knowledge as the books inside.

Sincerely,
Jason R. Davis


I'll keep you posted on future emails.

Jan 25, 07 11:12 am  · 
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JMBarquero/squirrelly

ok sent my reply. Dont' really wish to post it, but in essence, what I mentioned is some similar issues that Lib Bell brought up, in addition asking her to consider such things as additional firms to do feasibility studies as well as possibly an open competition for ideas, and/or the idea of approaching schools of architecture for basically "free solutions" or studies for proposals. Whilst they may not be completely spot on, they may offer possible avenues.

Jan 25, 07 11:14 am  · 
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JMBarquero/squirrelly

sweet chili aka Jason!

I suggested in my response to her response, I too suggested schools or architecture.

Jan 25, 07 11:16 am  · 
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aml

i also emailed metropolis magazine last night.

here's what i got this morning from Laura Bartell

Dear Ms. aml,

Thank you for your concern. We run a library. The building, designed in the early 1050s, did not contemplate many of the needs of a modern library. We have asked two different architectural firms to see if there is any way to modify the building to meet our space needs (putting in room for computers, audio-visual materials, books on tape, our art and tool collections, program room, teen area, larger children's area, making all areas handicapped accessible, etc.) and provide parking for the additional space. We have been told that it is not possible. We will continue to keep an open mind on the issue, and if we find an architect who can meet our programming needs and still preserve the building, we will embrace that idea. But we have to provide our citizens with the library services they had paid for and expect. I doubt that can be accomplished in this building. By the way, if you had ever seen the building, you would know that it is not very distinguished, even though it was designed by Breuer. It wasn't even built to his specifications. You would pass it by without a second look.

Laura Bartell
President, Board of Trustees
Grosse Pointe Public Library

that last sentence triggered my snippy response:

Dear Ms. Bartell,

I teach history and theory of 20th century architecture. It is the area of concentration of my master's degree from Harvard University. I have not seen the building personally, but i have seen several photographs, and I stand by my initial evaluation of its value. I hope you can find a solution to your problems without damaging the building, otherwise you will join a growing list of people that put convenience over culture.

Sincerely,

aml

Jan 25, 07 11:23 am  · 
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JMBarquero/squirrelly

nice aml.

frankly I think that's just such bullshit the comment about appearance. I think that this eludes to the real reason for the demolition. These people want something flashy that will capture the eye of anyone who drives by.....or so it seems!

Jan 25, 07 11:45 am  · 
 · 
joshcookie

I think they want arches, and glass, and pointy things, can we have pointy things?
Got that from a client once, specified a wind vane.

So I did go light on the apology, mostly focused on the fact that it wasn't my intention to undermine the architects they hired or the process in general, and that I just don't want to see the building go away.

I am still up for doing a charrette, online share or whatever. I am even willing to setup ftp access to disseminate information that people can get their hands on. Let me know if anyone is interested or has information.

We are going to do an internal charrette here (pending information )and if enough of my friends are interested we may open it up to other locals here as well.

I did make it clear in my email that I was still interested in receiving their programing document, so we will see if they really do want some Californian meddling in their affairs.
j

Jan 25, 07 11:53 am  · 
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brian buchalski

aml- i actually feel that the building's understated qualities including the fact that it is undistinguished enough to "pass by without a second look" are part of what make it's charm and what makes it special. as opposed to having, say, an iconic frank gehry.

chili- excellent suggestion with the local schools. i've started to think that this would actually make a wonderful thesis project for somebody. almost makes me wish i were still a student & could devote that kind of time & energy to alternative proposals.

i need to take another look at that asplund stockholm library thread...didn't that competition generate hundreds of entries?

Jan 25, 07 12:00 pm  · 
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aml

puddles, actually i think i agree with you - but the board president's letter had other implications- i think where we see subtle she sees boring, or just 'not pretty' and that's what bothered me.

but it was an impulse email - so far my fav emails are those from steven ward, liberty belll and of course vado retro's libarians of michiganistan [brilliant!].

in the end, it does no good to be snippy- i really like the open competition idea, and i would love to participate.

Jan 25, 07 12:20 pm  · 
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Chili Davis

I got my response.

Dear Mr. Davis,

I am afraid your impression that the problem we are having with the Central Library in Grosse Pointe is inadequate parking is erroneous. Although our parking is certainly not adequate, we would never consider demolishing the building for that reason. The Central Library was built in 1953 when there were no computers, no audio-visual materials, no books on tape, no program rooms, no teen areas, very little interest in children's books, no idea that libraries might have to make their facilities handicapped accessible. We are now at the point that we have to discard a book for every one that we purchase because we have no room to put it on the shelves. If we have a program at the library, it cannot be used by our patrons because the only space for a program is the main reading room. We have struggled with this situation for many years. We have looked for other available properties in our community that we might be able to acquire to build a new Central without success. We have had two different architects look at our building to see if there is any way to add onto it or build up or down or around it to get the additional space we need. We have been told that it is not possible to add on the space we need, and if it were, we couldn't get it approved by the city council because we couldn't provide more parking for the additional space on our property. We will be seeking an architect to assist us on the project, and if we find an architect who has more creative ideas and can preserve all or part of the existing building, we will be thrilled. But our primary task is to provide Grosse pointe the library services it needs. thanks for your thoughts. Actually because of our current parking limitations, many of our patrons do walk and ride bikes to the library. Unfortunately, they have few options.

Laura Bartell
President, Board of Trustees
Grosse Pointe Public Library


ERRONEOUS! I'm still deciding how I should take this. ERRONEOUS!

Jan 25, 07 2:03 pm  · 
 · 
AP

Chili, she's said the same thing to most of us. Mrs. Bloom made the statement re: parking, and Mrs. Bartell (since her name has now been put on the forum) has clarified the board's position (patiently, to who knows how many different people).

Jan 25, 07 2:51 pm  · 
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Chili Davis
"Frankly, it's pretty undistinguished."

Sounds to me they're pretty set on going the "new and shiny" route.

Jan 25, 07 3:02 pm  · 
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brian buchalski

in fairness, i'll also take some responsibility regarding the parking argument since my original post implies that parking is a major problem for them. as i understand it, they have multiple programmatic/facility issues due to the building's age and parking is just one of them (and admittedly one of my personal pet peeves). sorry if i've mislead anyone in to believing that was the main argument for demolition and you've inadvertently experienced some embarrassment on account of my original post (which maybe i should have left in draft form for a couple of days before posting).

for me, i feel that the main thing to stress is that however the library chooses to deal with their issues, we all continue to discourage from tearing down the building. thanks again.

Jan 25, 07 3:08 pm  · 
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if you google map the library - 10 kercheval ave, grosse pointe farms mi 48236 - and check out the satellite view it becomes clear what they're up against. a spacehog of a high school has taken up all the free area around the library. too bad nobody realized the need for expansion sooner, before the ballfields were built next door.

they do have a decent-sized surface parking lot behind the library and the high school has done some perpendicular parking off of fisher rd that could be mimicked, but the need for an addition would certainly displace their current parking lot.

there may not be enough room on site to sink a parking lot below an addition that (for example) doubles the size of the current structure, adding onto the back. but there may.

[more staring at it later.]

Jan 25, 07 3:18 pm  · 
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le bossman

Unfortunately, as "undistinguished" as this structure may be, I am almost certain that it's replacement will fullfill that title to the extent that it won't receive the sort of pleas that have been posted on this thread when it becomes slated for demolition in another 60 or so years. Does anyone know who the architects are that are claiming it can't be saved? Because this is a small public library, I'm sure they aren't noted designers in the area.

Jan 25, 07 3:18 pm  · 
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Carl Douglas (agfa8x)

Just to play the devil's advocate, here...

Of course 'new and shiny' and parking are bad reasons to knock a building down. Of course Marcel Breuer was an excellent architect. But why protect this building in particular? It is a competent, understated building with a pleasant modesty about it, but is that enough? It looks great in the fifties photographs, but how is it looking these days? Surely Breuer would have been familiar with the need for buildings to keep up with their changing use-requirements.

Jan 25, 07 3:20 pm  · 
 · 

agfa8x- because it's unlikely to be replaced by something better.

It is a competent, understated building with a pleasant modesty about it, but is that enough? yes. and it's also an appropriate expression of its time and its civic/public role. (unlike the generic not-quite-colonial-gothic bank/shop/library/doctor's office picture that puddles posted at the top.)


breuer, having come from germany, would have been familiar with buildings that lasted for centuries...AND kept up with their changing use requirements.


whether it still looks as good is a different question. but one that's probably not relevant if they're going to undergo a major renovation.

Jan 25, 07 3:47 pm  · 
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myriam

While I very much appreciate the incredible patience they seem to be showing to answer all of us, still, they *must* realize they're not the only library in the world to have experienced this same problem! The Carnegie Libraries of Pittsburgh, for instance, just finished (I believe) a years-long process of updating its century-old buildings to house new audiovisual departments, larger stacks, expanded accessibility, etcetera, and those buildings weren't particularly famous either--just lovely old buildings that the city was committed to saving.

Perhaps they need to see some precedents to realize that there are different ways to solve these problems. Pittsburgh certainly has FAR less money in the bank (negative, even!) than Grosse Pointe.

Jan 25, 07 3:55 pm  · 
 · 
Carl Douglas (agfa8x)

You're right: it does need to be replaced by something better. But you can't always know whether it will be better or not in advance. You would be in a better position to predict than I am.

Continuing devil's advocate position...

What if one of the qualities of a modest building was that it had no aspirations to monumentality? That property of the building would be equally destroyed by its being converted into a monument. The modesty of the building is tied up with its function as a suburban public library. If it can't continue to be that, then it becomes an historical monument.

Jan 25, 07 4:00 pm  · 
 · 
myriam

HA HA HA I just looked up the Carnegie Libraries of Pittsburgh just to see if I could get some good renovation pictures--and right on the front page they have "featured branch--Squirrel Hill" --my old branch, which is only maybe 50 years old and not a noticeable building by any stretch of the imagination. Turns out they renovated it! Put this cool new glass enclosure where there used to be a sort of raised, derelict garden (cold in both winter AND summer), and it looks great. I didn't even know they were going to do anything to that boring old branch. Ha.

Jan 25, 07 4:02 pm  · 
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myriam

agfa8x, don't you think that renovating the building so it continues to *be* a functioning suburban library would retain it's modesty more than demo-ing it and building a grandiose fancy-pants library in its place? Or even a boring, "new!" library?

Jan 25, 07 4:04 pm  · 
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myriam

I took a closer look at the capital improvements and it turns out that the Carnegie Library Renovations are even bringing the libraries up to LEED certification level. Cha-ching! Go, Pittsburgh!

Jan 25, 07 4:06 pm  · 
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AP

i expressed at least once in my letter to president of board that more challanging preservation/adaptive re-use situations have been overcome in the past, and surely, board-willing, there is a way with Grosse Pointe...

Jan 25, 07 4:08 pm  · 
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snooker

If there going to tear it down....hope they hire will buder to design them a worthy new one. Grosse Pointe can certainly afford to hire him
to design them a bang up library which will serve their purposes for years to come.

Jan 25, 07 4:12 pm  · 
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myriam

Check out the "design" part of this Carnegie Library renovation... they call it "site opportunites and constraints"

What a difference terminology can make!

Jan 25, 07 4:15 pm  · 
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Carl Douglas (agfa8x)

I can't keep up the devil's advocate. I like the idea of renovating the library: the interiors of the reading room and office are great.

If the alternatives are renovating the Breuer building or building a grandiose-fancy-pants-new-and-shiny-but-boring library, then there's obviously no competition. But why does a new building have to be worse? As I said above, people from the area will be in a much better place to anticipate the outcome, and their judgements should stand.

I just wonder whether we spend as much effort insisting on good new architecture as we do on insisting on preservation.

Jan 25, 07 4:15 pm  · 
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myriam

I had a feeling you were mostly faking it, agfa. :)

You make good points, of course. And who knows--sometimes the new replacements really are wonderful contributions to the built environment. But like someone else said, you can never make a new Breuer, so if they're going to build a new building, why not build new somewhere else (say, over the large swath of parking across the street) and re-purpose the library as a community space?


**p.s. --actually I guess you kinda could make a new Breuer, if it's true that he didn't supervise construction (which I'm inferring from one comment of "it wasn't even built to his specifications") It wouldn't be the same of course, not in the same site (which of course is part of the building) etcetera, but, I guess you could technically rebuild something from original drawings. Not that anyone would ever do that or would ever *want* to--it just occurred to me as a digressionary thought.

Jan 25, 07 4:23 pm  · 
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liberty bell
Mrs. Bartell (since her name has now been put on the forum) has clarified the board's position (patiently, to who knows how many different people).

AP, the woman appears to have the patience of a saint. And she has responded to essentially every one of my points over three long emails - so she's really reading them and responding honestly.

That said, aml, I am glad you puffed up your Harvard chest and reminded her (and everyone) of the values we should hold in regard to culture over convenience. It is a hard argument we are making, but as I said, once a building is gone, it's gone, and they ain't making anymore Breuers these days!

I just wonder whether we spend as much effort insisting on good new architecture as we do on insisting on preservation. Good point agfa8x. We don't - but mainly because the rallying points don't seem to be there. A preservation battle, especially over a public building, is an easier sell than "Your stucco-pseudo-Colonial mini-mall is an affront to good design!". The developer just laughs and heads to the bank.

I have yet another email from Mrs. Bartell to attend to...back soon.

PS You archinecters all rock, as you well know!

Jan 25, 07 4:27 pm  · 
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strlt_typ

build a satellite here...fronting grosse pointe...

Jan 25, 07 4:32 pm  · 
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Carl Douglas (agfa8x)

[i]A preservation battle, especially over a public building, is an easier sell than "Your stucco-pseudo-Colonial mini-mall is an affront to good design!"[i]

Painfully true.

Jan 25, 07 4:34 pm  · 
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strlt_typ

then use the old building for archives...

Jan 25, 07 4:39 pm  · 
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JMBarquero/squirrelly

and what about that HUGE ass parking (open) lot that is diagonally across the street.

What appears to be there is some sort of mini mall type structure with ample parking, so why could they not build where they have now their parking and provide enough ADA parking spaces, and everyone else has to park there, and walk 1/2 a block to the library?

There are solutions....esp in this (what appears to be ) affluent neighborhood.

I like dammson's diagrams....

Jan 25, 07 5:16 pm  · 
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JMBarquero/squirrelly

oh and did someone call me???
Myriam????

squirrel????
haha

Jan 25, 07 5:18 pm  · 
 · 
joshcookie

The more I look at this the more interesting the design problem. Here is what my napkin notes are saying based on the nearly scaling of Google Earth.

They aren't going to get any more surface parking on the site without shrinking the building footprint or doing a parking ramp even with a full demo. A parking ramp even using a helical ramp is going to take up at least half of the site footprint.

So after demolition and after adding a parking ramp we are left with, conservatively speaking, half of the property to build new on (roughly the current building footprint)

If they need extra space, they will presumably be going up. Unless they are thinking 3+ floors, they aint gettin much by demolishing anyway. But then again, maybe a 4-6 floor central library is what they are after.

Modernizing of modernist building interiors is a daily thing. The now closed (due to funding issues they closed a bunch of branches) South East Branch library in Minneapolis, by R. Rapson, when still opened had electronic media, computers and judging by the different construction techniques, breuer's would be much easier to modernize. Adding a community room and gallery in the 2000 sq ft to the west side of the building seems feasible and would provide opportunities for accessible vertical circulation.

That's my 5-min analysis.

j



Jan 25, 07 5:45 pm  · 
 · 
Living in Gin

Parking problem solved:

Jan 25, 07 5:57 pm  · 
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JMBarquero/squirrelly

nice....skewer those biot***s.....hahaha

Im with you LiG.

Jan 25, 07 6:28 pm  · 
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evilplatypus

When a town decides to do a Library the highschool cant be too far behind. Any chance the highschool will be moving soon?

Jan 25, 07 7:09 pm  · 
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snooker

I think we should write her back and suggest it become the george washington bush national library......bring in the tanks and lower everything around it just to make room for an addition to the existing library...or maybe it could become a campus and it could be the greorge bush reading room.

Jan 25, 07 7:42 pm  · 
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snooker

They have public schools in Grosse Pointe.....thought all those people sent their young ones to Private Prep Schools in New England.

Jan 25, 07 7:43 pm  · 
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aml

snooker, you have twisted my mind in a knot trying to imagine what sort of books the george bush reading room would have. i hear the sound of crows and maybe some old mad magazines scattered in an empty field. oh, and a toilet.

Jan 25, 07 7:51 pm  · 
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aml

did i just type that out loud? yes i did. oops.

Jan 25, 07 8:04 pm  · 
 · 
liberty bell

hahahaha good one aml...a toilet.

Jan 25, 07 8:13 pm  · 
 · 
b3tadine[sutures]
http://www.gp.lib.mi.us/information/

In 1932 Philadelphia-born Alexander Calder created the first of his moving sculptures, which were named "mobiles" by fellow artist Marcel Duchamp. The ingenuity, inventiveness, and humor of Calder's' mobiles have made them one of the most popular, enjoyable, and accessible forms of abstract sculpture. They are suspended from a central support, to which are attached various cantilevered arms bearing brightly colored biomorphic shapes. Sensitively balanced, the forms are set into motion by random air currents and seem to dance before the viewer in endless combinations. This work, a gift of W. Hawkins Ferry, was made in Calder's studio in Roxbury, Connecticut, for the Grosse Pointe Library. While the play here of pure colored shapes and supports, placed at various heights and angles, is typical of Calder's mobiles, the steel wire that swoops into midair without a shape at its tip is a particularly whimsical and unusual feature. The mobile adds color and movement to the airy space of the main reading room of this library, which is the only building designed by famed Hungarian-American architect Marcel Breuer (b. 1902) to be found in the Detroit area.


If this library is anything like public libraries in NJ, they should do an extensive review of their collection of books, and purge dated material, get rid of their Romance "Novel" collections, and look at the possibility of a complete overhall of the existing material - this may free up necessary space to create needed to satisfy a growing community. The above passage is from their own website, nice huh? When it suits their needs, they'll tout the building and the art, but now that they lack the creativity to find a viable solution - building be damned.

Jan 25, 07 8:38 pm  · 
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ether

What a great thread. Thanks puddles. I emailed them and Dwell tonight. I'll continue to spread the word...

Jan 25, 07 8:41 pm  · 
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snooker

I want the Calder Sculpture if they are selling it in a tag sale!

Jan 25, 07 8:42 pm  · 
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b3tadine[sutures]

...one more thing, this location seems to serve the local community well, it's walkable, it seems that some public transportation is accessible, so what if there is not enough parking nearby...

Jan 25, 07 8:42 pm  · 
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strlt_typ

beta...i think planning/zoning is not giving the library a break...

Jan 25, 07 8:46 pm  · 
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