For Ken Breisch, the books found within libraries are just as fascinating as another defining part of many major libraries: their architecture. Breisch is an associate professor in the USC School of Architecture, and served as the Director of Graduate Programs in Heritage Conservation until 2011. His renowned work focuses on the architecture of American public libraries and museums.
During his time as director, the program received the California Preservation Foundation President’s Award and a Los Angeles Conservancy Preservation Award.
Breisch spoke on a panel Sunday at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books called “The Politics of L.A. Spaces: From Architectural Icons to Homelessness and Gentrification” along with R. Scott Mitchell, an assistant professor of practice at the USC School of Architecture, and Sesshu Foster, a poet and novelist. The panelists spoke on the growing problem of space in Los Angeles, and how it is contributing to gentrification and homelessness. Breisch spoke about the community-building aspect of public art spaces like libraries and museums.
The Heritage Conservation program Breisch directed was originally called “historic preservation,” but Breisch changed the name in order to better reflect the program’s intent.
“Historic preservation tends to have the connotation that we’re just saving big houses, which is fine,” Breisch said. “But every community in L.A. — and there are many different communities — have a heritage. Often times we’re not preserving things, we’re conserving things, so that, I think, is why we changed the name.”
The program aimed to expose students to the “foundational ideas and basic skills of urban design and place-making,” according to its website.
“I had a vision for the historic preservation program that was different than preservation programs were normally seen as, and I think other programs around the country are changing, becoming much less elitist, much more democratic in a lot of ways,” Breisch said. “So I think that’s a very good thing.”
In addition to the program, Breisch has published multiple books on American architectural history, such as The Los Angeles Central Library: Building an Architectural Icon and American Libraries: 1730 to 1950.