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University of Southern California

May 27, 2014

Assistant Professor Kenneth Breisch  is currently at work on a history of the Los Angeles Public Library, the centerpiece of which will be a chapter on Bertam Grosvenor Goodhue’s Central Building, which opened in 1926. "In part and in detail the building recalls numerous ancient styles," observed Goodhue's associate architect, Carleton Monroe Winslow, "for no building, particularly a Library, can disregard the accumulation of architectural experience of the past."  As conceived by the architect, working in collaboration with the poet and philosopher Hartley Burr Alexander and sculptor Lee Lawrie, this "accumulation of architectural experience" can be perceived in manifold and ambiguous ways.  Goodhue’s "modified" Spanish Colonial forms, for example, suggest a plethora of ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern traditions.  Articulated with classical pilasters and pylons that metamorphose into busts of ancient artists and philosophers, Goodhue's library sits like a great ziggurat in a lush garden.  The central tower, its crowning pyramid sheathed in colorful mosaic tiles, recalls at once Iberian, Byzantine and Egyptian sources, as well as the form of a modern American skyscraper. Alexander’s inscriptions, as well as Lawrie's sculptural figures, likewise, borrow from Greece and Rome, the ancient Near East, Egypt, China and India, to create a veritable cathedral of knowledge, intended to be experienced as a literary and philosophical journey through history.

Professor Breisch is the former Director and founder of the School's Graduate Program in Historic Preservation, which, under his leadership, has been the recipient of California Preservation Foundation President's and a Los Angeles Conservancy Preservation awards. He has taught at SCI-Arc, The University of Delaware and The University of Texas at Austin. Professor Breisch has published numerous articles, book reviews and book chapters on American architectural history, especially in the areas of library design and vernacular building. His book, Henry Hobson Richardson and the Small Public Library in America: A Study in Typology, was published by MIT in 1997.
He is the co-editor of Constructing Image, Identity and Place: Perspectives in Vernacular Architecture, IX (Nashville: University of Tennessee Press: 2003) and Building Place: Perspectives in Vernacular Architecture X, which will be published in 2005. He is currently completing a book on the history of library design for the Library of Congress, and is working on a book on the history of the Los Angeles Public Library system. His research has been funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Rockefeller Foundation and the University of Michigan.
Professor Breisch has been a member of the board of directors of The Vernacular Architecture Forum and the Society of Architectural Historians, and currently serves as President of the latter group. He has been a member of the Santa Monica Planning Commission and is now on the Library Board in that city.

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