We all know J. Murrey Atkins Library: the beacon upon a hill. It has served the UNCC community as a landmark and place of learning for nearly 55 years now. Built in 1965 with the addition of Dalton Tower in 1971, Atkins is now one of the most iconic buildings on campus. Atkins was built in a mid-century modernist style. A style that sought to break from the elitism associated with higher education at the time in favor of a new education for the masses. Atkins Library originally represented that hope, being the epicenter of education in the Charlotte Mecklenburg area. In recent years (and after many renovations), it seems that Atkins Library has lost sight of that original goal in favor of a building that is hardly functional. The changes to Atkins Library have not only been costly and made the building nonfunctional, but they have also besmirched the school's rich architectural history.
Built in 1965, Atkins Library has been a local landmark for not only the University, but the University City region for decades. That is why it is a complete tragedy that the building has lost so much of its marvel in recent years. The infamous 2005 renovation that covered the exterior of Atkins in brick and added new additions to the west side of the library was a complete stain on the University’s rich modernist architecture. At a university that was originally designed by arguably one of the most famous North Carolina architects, A. G. Odell Jr, there is a rich architectural standard that has been ignored. One must ask: at a school that was created to educate the common working people of Charlotte, why do our buildings look like bastardized and faux elitist copies of the buildings of UNC Chapel Hill? Atkins Library is now just one of the many failed renovations on campus that is both visually and functionally flawed. Atkins Library is nothing but a place to wander, endlessly searching for a class, media space or group room.
As an institution designed to store information, Atkins Library is successful, hands down, as the most valuable asset in perhaps the entire Charlotte-Mecklenburg area. As an institution designed as a place of student interaction, the building fails. The building floors are difficult to navigate and create a maze of intervening corridors, bookshelves and work nooks. The library is filled with hidden corridors and difficult to find study rooms forcing students to wander until they stumble upon their destination. Also known for its infamous inconsistencies in regards to air conditioning, many of the older portions of Atkins are consistently warmer than their newer counterparts. It must be stated that Atkins remains the most important resource on campus. It's too bad students can't find those resources.
In short, the changes that have taken place in Atkins Library represent a greater change that has been taking place on campus for the last 20 years. In a school that was designed in a modernist style that would echo the modern education that the people of Charlotte were receiving, it seems criminal that the school has shifted its architectural vernacular to a style that rejects the fundamentals of UNCC’s original mission statement. In a school that seeks to break its association with UNC Chapel Hill, perhaps it is also time to break from those architectural traditions.