Pop Smart - Atlanta: The city too busy to preserve

(Photo courtesy Mack Scogin Merrill Elam Architects)

Architecture fans had better up their dosage of Prozac before reading the following article, in yesterday’s AJC, about the possible demolition of Mack Scogin Merrill Elam Architects' Buckhead library. I had originally hoped Buckhead developer Ben Carter was helping bring culture to the area by making high-profile sculpture by the likes of Frank Stella part of the “Art on the Streets” streetscape in his $1.5 billion Streets of Buckhead project set to open in 2009 and covered in a New York Times travel piece here.

But now, Carter is offering the city of Atlanta $24 million for the site where the award-winning library currently sits, to level the nationally renowned library, designed by what might be the city’s best architects, Elam and Scogin. It’s hard to applaud the arrival of art works to the area if architecture has to be erased to make room. The article is a keyhole into not only how we view architecture in the city (make it pretty, or don’t bother making it), but also book learnin’. Carter proposes to build a new library, but the implication is that the old one is simply an impediment in a developer’s plan. It’s as if Atlanta has to always take two steps backward for every step forward.

What I found most shocking about the article, though, was the unabashed yokelism of some of the businessmen quoted in the article.

Fulton County Commissioner Tom Lowe, quoted in the AJC, likened Elam's and Scogin’s library to “an abortion.”

This is embarrassing, but actually what Lowe says in the article:

“I am a lover of art. I can even stand abstract art. But God darn, who in the world would build something like that? There ain’t no damn artistic value to that library.”

There is a reason people in other parts of the country sometimes look at Georgia as a backwater. Between the Barbie bandits, runaway brides, crane sitters and the good ol’ boys who can’t bother speaking proper English, even when interviewed, it can often be a real trial living in a state where people like this are your symbolic representatives.

Local architect Greg Walker, whose firm Houser Walker Architecture was the recent winner of Atlanta's Emerging Voices architecture competition (which I judged in 2003), alerted me to an online petition already in the works. And a local architecture forum has been running a thread with the expected outrage and resignation from some who have witnessed just this sort of cavalier approach to culture in the city's past.

Will the library be saved? Do Atlantans even care?

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