Monday, June 26, 2006

Misguided Intelligence

Reading through the Forum section of the Cleveland Plain Dealer has become almost comical; mostly because if you don't find it comical, you might find yourself sulking in a corner, depressed that you live in what is most definitely the worst city to live in on the planet...Rarely do you read an uplifting response to a Steven Litt architectural critique of some aspect of the current urban environment. People constantly analyze the problems that plague the city of Cleveland, when perhaps the biggest of problems do not lie in those things that can be analyzed. Imagine if half the attention paid picking out what was wrong with the city was re-directed towards finding a solution. How many times a year can we really complain about public square being a morbidly under-utilized space? The public square problem evolved from the social evolution of the city of Cleveland, and not really just the city of Cleveland, but cities everywhere. We have a square that was functionally designed to fit within the social parameters of a time when you didn't have the current volume (and types) of vehicular traffic that now shares the space with pedestrians. Durign the early 1900's, before Terminal Tower, the majority of the buildings on public square were dedicated to retail commerce. The square functioned as a vibrant urban space because it was densely packed with 3-4 story retail buildings that functioned as drug stores, clothing stores, boutique hotels, smoke shops, and cafes. Now many of the commercial spaces offered on the first floor of terminal tower are far too large for these types of smaller retail functions to even think about moving back downtown. During the first part of the 20th century, the square functioned quite well because it wasn't that unrealistic to have each quadrant function as its own space because of the diverse retail uses that framed each square. Now we have a condition where the buildings that frame the square do not have a diverse enough mix of uses to produce an active urban face for the square. I am not quite convinced that a re-design alone of public square would really transform the space into something we could truly be proud of. Right now what should be being done is an initiative by the city (which we all know is not going to apparently we have to start it) to re-think the program of not only the square, but the surrounding buildings as well. Is there a better way to program the spaces inside terminal tower, especially on the ground level, that could permit some type of interface between the retail spaces and the square? What could truly produce something incredible is a re-design of public square, in conjunction with re-thinking how the urban forms that frame the space interact with it. You are not going to solve all of Cleveland's problems by sticking an information kiosk and hot dog vendors in the middle of each square, but there as surely ways to begin to immediately re-program at least the square itself. The most obvious concern about re-designing public square is the cost...Especially with ideas like burying Superior and Ontario being tossed around. So why not begin the idea forming stage of a re-design (which could take years) while producing immediate programming solutions that could at least activate the current space without significant cost implications (I know you've all seen "Design on Dime"...the rooms don't look THAT bad!). Worst case scenario is you'll discover a bunch of programming solutions that do not fit within the context of the current Cleveland culture, which will ultimately help inform the next "final solution" for public square.
One last thing...bit off topic...Why are so many people so completely against the idea of imploding the Cuyahoga Counter Services without me giving my opinion (tear it down), you can't help but find it humorous that people would get so upset about tearing down a building designed by Marcel Breuer....I mean, come on, it wasn't that long ago we imploded Daniel Burnams' Cuyahoga Building (to make way for the Sohio building...later renamed BP) , which was arguably a more significant building (being the first structure in Cleveland with a full metal frame). Not to mention we also imploded the building next to it, the Williamson building, which when it constructed in 1900, was Cleveland's tallest building. Not that I am saying we MUST tear it down...just do not rule it out as an option because you are "sure" you could save 10, 20 , or 30 million dollars by just doing a more simple renovation...sidenote...10,20, or 30 million...anyone else see humor in the ridiculous difference between each of those figures quoted in the Plain Dealer article....


Blogger Lester S. Moore said...

I think the reason why most people are discouraged is that there seems to be little hope for the future of architecture in Cleveland simply because the architectural community does not put forth any solutions nor do they provide any leadership to foster others' solutions. The point of this blog, and I think others, is to, at the very least, provide solutions. I don't know if in present form we can provide leadership, although that is a posibility for future discussion. Public Square symbolizes our effort to provide solutions. Its high-profile location and history of bad design decisions makes it a perfect focus for our cause. It is precisly this reason that we should shy away from making this problem complicated by involving the reprograming of surrounding buildings. The idea is to promote worthy design in others and involve the public in such designs. By making the problem more complicated, the public is less likely to be involved and we will again suffer with abysmal design proposals.

L. S. Moore.

11:01 AM  
Blogger Advocatus diaboli said...

The problem with merely providing a "worthy design" for the square, without thinking about how the square is actually going to function, is that the space will inevitably fall back into the category of under-utilized Cleveland public spaces. I think you may have misunderstood (perhaps because of poor and lengthy wording on my part) what I was really getting at with ideas on re-programming the framework for the square. The buildings and spaces are already there, and perhaps for years down the road they might not be able to get businesses to take the spaces, but they should at least make an attempt to provide more flexible retail space surrounding the square...In a city like Cleveland you really must limit the reasons a person would not want to move their business downtown...Which is an interesting problem, because the square is far too large a scale for the retail spaces lining it to create any kind of synergy for the square as a whole. If you take a look at the city of Vancouver, where for the past ten years or so, has had two city officials in charge of their planning commission. One of the planners was in charge of the actual built environment, and the other was in charge of making sure that the policies and political conditions were in place to promote development. If Cleveland were to dedicate two or three progressive urban planners/ architects to similar roles, it might actually possible for the idea forming stage of planning to result in something actually built. If you look at Cleveland’s' lakefront competition.... while it was a nearly great attempt at promoting ideas...not a whole lot seems to actually be coming out of it. It seems the city is not prepared, both politically and monetarily, to do something with the ideas that it actually does create. I think this is a great opportunity for blogs like this to create solutions that begin to not only raise the level of design in the city, but begin to collectively as a profession foster an environment where the ideas we do form actually get built (or at least for the time being influence what gets or doesn't get built), and not just become artwork.

12:11 PM  

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