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Council approves public library’s ‘landmark’ status

The Albuquerque City Council voted unanimously Monday to designate the Main Library at 501 Copper NW a city landmark. Supporters say the building is a significant example of the architecture style known as Brutalism. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

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Brutalist design has further cemented its place in Downtown Albuquerque.

The Albuquerque City Council on Monday unanimously approved designating the city’s Main Library – the three-story, brown brick structure at Fifth and Copper NW – a city landmark, affording the building certain protections should significant changes be contemplated in the future.

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Prominent Albuquerque architect George Pearl designed the Main Library in Downtown Albuquerque in 1975. The city council on Monday approved the building’s designation as a city landmark. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Designed by prolific Albuquerque architect George Pearl and completed in 1975, the library cuts a relatively stark figure and its aesthetics are not universally appreciated; despite voting in favor of its landmark status at a meeting earlier this year, one member of the city’s Landmarks Commission called it “one of the ugliest buildings I’ve ever seen in my life.”

But in pursuing the designation, city staff called the library a significant example of the Brutalism architecture movement of the 1960s and 1970s, and part of the wider urban renewal effort that reshaped Downtown. Supporters also tout the building’s functionality, saying the open interior spaces have proven highly adaptable as library services have evolved and modernized.

It has already been listed by the New Mexico Register of Cultural Properties and the National Register of Historic Places.

“Brutalist architecture is exemplified by a unification of structure and walls, often constructed of brick or (more commonly) poured-in-place concrete, which were cheap to construct. It embraced individual expression that catered to specific design programs rather than repetitive design elements,” Leslie Naji, a senior planner with the city, wrote to the Landmarks Commission last fall in pursuing the designation. “George Pearl focused on the needs of the library administration and the public. Rather than interior cast-concrete walls, Pearl designed a system of movable walls for flexibility. Each floor is readily navigated, with large open spaces, and easily located stairs and elevators. The interior wall finishes are brown brick, wood paneling and wall-to-wall carpet. The result is a warm, inviting environment.”

The city Landmarks Commission voted to recommend landmark status in January. Mayor Tim Keller forwarded the recommendation to the City Council and Councilor Isaac Benton – an architect – sponsored the resolution the council voted on Monday. He noted during the meeting that Brutalism comes from the French word for concrete and “wasn’t about doing buildings that were ‘brutal.’ ”

“It’s really a human building,” Benton said during the meeting. “There are great little spaces and alcoves with natural light and a view out the window where you can tuck in and do your thing in the library, which is what most people like to do – settle in with a book or magazine. … I really think highly of this building.”

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Prominent Albuquerque architect George Pearl designed the Main Library in Downtown Albuquerque in 1975. The city council on Monday approved the building’s designation as a city landmark. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

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