Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Visions of a New Public Square

In response to a Call to Arms and a Call for Ideas, this page will challenge the uninspired ideas that continue to plague Public Square by posting a series of illustrated visions for a new Square. In the next two weeks, we invite other blogs to put forth provocative ideas through words and images and hope that the creative collaboration inspires the broader online community to advocate for a better Public Square.
The Design Rag


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 happen...so 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 Building...now 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....


Sunday, June 25, 2006

Words to Ponder

"Your Commission believes that all the buildings erected by the city should have a distinguishing character; that there is not a gain, but a distinct loss in allowing the use of unrelated styles or no styles, in schools, fire, police and hospital buildings; that it would be much better to hold the designing within certain lines for these buildings, and that uniform architecture be maintained fore each function, which shall make it recognizable at first glance. The jumble of buildings that surround us in our new cities contributes nothing valuable to life; on the contrary, it sadly disturbs our peacefulness and destroys that repose within us which is the true basis of all contentment. Let the public authorities therefore, set an example of simplicity and uniformity, not necessarily producing monotony, but on the contrary resulting in beautiful designs entirely harmonious with each other"

Burnham, Carrere, and Brunner; the "Group Plan Commission"
In regards to the Cleveland Group Plan

L. S. Moore


Thursday, June 22, 2006

Public Square 1908

source: Cleveland State University Library

A panorama from 1908 shows that Public Square is in fact four Squares as a result of the needs of crosstown commerce and interurban travel. While nearly 100 years has passed, the Public "Squares" above are nearly indistiguishable from the uninspired spaces we drive/walk/bike through today (I would imagine the lack of glass and granite postmodern towers as the most immediate give-away).

Today, we are still following the misguided paths and ideas of an earlier time. There isn't a better public rallying point for promoting optimism of overcoming a tired tradition, than by uniting the crisscrossed park, taking a new direction around the Square and re-inventing a space that would become a world-class crossroads and meeting place for residents, travelers, employees, and visitors. Today is an opportune time to cast away the park-like "central interchange" that the century-old panorama above shows and make dramatic design gestures within a unified Public Square that the public once again has claim to.


Tuesday, June 20, 2006

A Call to Arms

If the course of Cleveland's architecture is to be righted then we, as worthy designers, must bring worthy architecture to the attention of the public. When faced with such abysmal architectural proposals, such as the recent thoughts on a redesign of "Public" Square , the architectural community should fight back publicly with alternate proposals or calls for public competition. However, the avenues for public architectural discourse are few and those that exist are quite inadequate to handle diverse opinions. There must be a call to arms within the architectural community to combat the dreadfully banal work that is being done. Discussion will go only so far to advance the cause of worthy architecture. Our best weapon is the ability to create a world in our minds and put it to paper. My call is to young and progressive architects of the region: We must SHOW, not TELL, the public what worthy design is and we must be publicly blunt when confronting inconsiderate architecture. We must organize for this cause, set aside our egos and in the spirit of creative collaboration that is desperately lacking, come together to promote ourselves and the worthy architecture we champion.

L. S. Moore

Shallow Plan

With an ongoing discussion on a redesigned Public Square wrapped in "personal agendas," Roldo is sure to have some words. Here's a snipet of what he wrote in this weeks Cool Cleveland:

When you sell – and that’s what the PD is doing – these projects that may never come to fruition you simply undermine public confidence in the city’s ability to produce what it says it will do. When things do not happen though they get a big push off in the paper it damages people’s confidence.


Sunday, June 18, 2006

"Public" Square

Cleveland's Public Square has time-over been re-landscaped, re-aligned and re-designed. Within the last few months, a new proposed design to address the under-utilized city center (which incidentally is listed among the Project for Public Spaces "16 Squares Most Dramatically in Need of Improvement") has been quietly revealed in university studies and on local message boards. On Sunday, June 11, this design proposal made its first big appearance accompanying an article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Still waiting for public outcry and some sort of reaction from the design community...

Here's one response to Sunday's article by Tom Breckenridge "Civic leaders envision revitalized Public Square" below. It illustrates only one of many problems with "influential voices" advertising a severely mediocre re-design of Cleveland's Public Square:

A revived Public Square would best contribute to the rebirth of Downtown Cleveland. However, a process by which the public is expected to pay millions of dollars, yet be excluded from any planning or design decisions would be folly and betray the intent of a truly "Public" Square. To best achieve a successful Public Square, we must involve the citizens of Cuyahoga County as much as possible.

Under the leadership of the Downtown Cleveland Alliance, in cooperation with representatives of local design advocacy organizations, a series of public forums should arrive at a program of goals and uses for a new Public Square. These forums would culminate into an open competition for the design of the Square. A competition would promote a comprehensive vision to join parts of the program, encourage the best in design, and give the appropriate amount thought and public involvement to make Public Square successful for the next 200 years.

Architect Paul Volpe's sketch and the ideas of "influential voices" is enough to advance the
cause for a redesigned Public Square, but alone lacks the public participation for the creation of a Cleveland "Public" Square that residents today and subsequent generations will be proud of.

In case you were wondering, there's no word so far from the local architecture critic.