Monday, July 31, 2006

Lost Relevance

The following experts come from an article "The Story of Cleveland" written by a Henry E. Bourne and published in the New England Magazine, August 1896:
(My notes are in italics.)

"...They(the railroads) might bring traffic to the city, but they could also, and did, carry by to other markets, freight which in the earlier days had to be at least trans-shipped at Cleveland. For this reason, in the latter part of the fifties(1850's), the city seemed in danger of suffering from arrested development, if not from actual decadence..."

"The career of Cleveland, like that of many other cities in the middle West, has been remarkable; but many years must pass by before it will become a city with a distinct civic individuality. It controls 300,000 or more inhabitants, scattered for ten miles along the Lake and five miles inland, and yet it is hardly more than a group of towns. A careful map of the city would show here a New England town, there a half dozen German streets, over yonder a Polish or Bohemian or Hungarian settlement, still further on a little Italy. Cleveland's sagacious business men have been very successful in welding diverse pieces of metal into great engines of power and good. Will they be equally successful in merging all these types of men, with their conflicting ideas, into a strong and loyal, broadly sympathetic body of Clevelanders?"

Has Cleveland lost her relevance in a global age? Has the global "rail road" passed her by? Has racism and "conflicting ideas" alienated her citizens and cast her once great neighborhoods into forgotten ghettos and fiefdoms? Where are her "sagacious" men and women now?

Despairingly yours,

L. S. Moore


Friday, July 28, 2006

FAT’s “How to become a Famous Architect”

FAT is a British firm that offers a stinging How-To guide entitled: “How to become a Famous Architect.” I encourage everyone to read it and enjoy before reading further.

While the guide over exaggerates and ignores the hard work (?) and talent (?) it takes to become a “famous architect,” it presents several valid discussion points.

First, does “noteworthy” architecture prefer style over substance? According to the How-To guide, success relies on shocking firm names, photoshoped designs, and mystique. FAT explains that “if it sound good, it is good.” Take a look in many architecture books or periodicals: lots of pretty images and little writing. I would assume design decisions are based on intellectual reasons, but they are rarely presented. Without commentary, many designs appear intellectually shallow. They are simple formal or spatial plays that ignore the outside world. History, politics, religion, and pop culture present exciting opportunities for architecture, yet their influences are either ignored or not discussed.

On a related note, vague goobley-gook about ‘space’ and ‘form’ (derived from the mystique) is not an acceptable substitute for logical discussions about design. However, logical dialogue should not be confused with simple-minded discourses. It takes extensive intellectual ability to explain complex reasons with reasonable clarity – but surely this is not beyond the minds of the world’s best designers.

Taking this concept further, architecture can be seen as an argument – a physical construction of an architect’s ideas. Without logically-stated reasons, critics cannot judge whether the design succeeds or fails at conveying them. This is especially important in the “anything-goes” game of contemporary design. Instead of discussing design, architects emphasize novelty and pseudo-intellectual sound bytes. Since it is “unique,” it is “good.” Perhaps some architects, as FAT recommends, avoid comprehensible discussions to save themselves from well-deserved criticism.

Next, does the media and academia form our opinions on “good design”? As a recent graduate of architecture school, I felt professors’ philosophies were often shoved down my throat. Instead of allowing students to develop their own design philosophies, they are read from the gospels of Gropius, Mayne, and Gehry. In addition, a design was thought to be “pushing the envelope” because it was featured on the cover of Architectural Record. From my experiences, students accept the media’s and academia’s opinions with little object. If the “authorities” - who developed their opinions through instruction from the previous generation of “authorities” - say the design is good, then it must be good.

What would happen if major architectural journals started to feature only classically-inspired designs? Would people follow like lemmings? (Initially, I would say probably not… contemporary and modern architecture has deep roots in the architectural community … people tend to fight change (i.e. a return to classicism). But after some time passes, who knows? Note: I have nothing against classical architecture, it is merely an example).

However, the effectiveness of the (architectural) media appears to be limited to architectural circles. This is likely an oversimplification, but most homeowner prefer traditional houses over modern designs. Maybe they just “don’t get” contemporary designs. On the other hand, maybe they do!

It is unfair to portray the media as an elitist organization dictating design preferences. Books and journals serve an important purpose: they document new designs that most people will never see in person. In addition, not every project can be featured; therefore few buildings will be selected from the masses. My criticism is the media’s often-assumed authority on good design.

Obviously, there are exceptions to my comments. Many architects have intellectually stimulating designs (If anyone has some suggested designers, post them!). Likewise, I am not condemning contemporary design; rather I am stating my hopes for, in my opinion, better designs.

Now excuse me, I have to design my atom[ICK] decay house…


Wednesday, July 26, 2006


Above, street car rails recently unearthed from excavations for the Euclid Corridor Transportation Project. The new Bus Rapid Transit vehicles that will travel Euclid Avenue between Public Square and East Cleveland, will be a subtle throwback to the streetcars that once traveled the corridor (visit Toronto to ride some of the old Cleveland trolleys). Anticipated completion of the new Rapid Transit Line will occur sometime in 2009.


Monday, July 24, 2006

Urban Conventions

With work commencing on an expanded Javitz Center on New York City's Far West Side, a recently opened riverfront convention facility in Pittsburgh and other convention centers built or planned in Indianapolis, Minneapolis, Philadelphia and Cleveland, American cities have been racing to capture converging convention populations to revitalize aging city centers. By providing “insta-population” density, elected officials and business leaders hope to boost business at downtown restaurants, shops and hotels and attract a critical mass of people to encourage private investment in the urban core. While the economic benefits of these new and expanded downtown convention centers is debated among urbanists, undoubtedly, these new glass and steel behemoths are swallowing city blocks and imposing enormous, decorated warehouse volumes on pedestrian-scaled streets.

In this week's New Yorker, Paul Goldberger reviews Massimiliano Fuksas’ design for a new convention center in Milan. (See A Daily Dose of Architecture for coverage of its opening) The "most exciting convention center in the world," known as Fiera Milano, isn't located anywhere near the Italian city. Instead, the enormous Milan Trade Fair Complex sits at the site of an old gas refinery near an intersection of highways not far from the Milan airport. This new center, taking advantage of its sprawling site, is divided into "eight halls, each as large as a medium-sized American convention center... placed on either side of a central axis, an elevated street a mile long." As a result, the structure functions smoothly and efficiently and avoids the problem of overshadowing pedestrian-scaled urbanity. In contrast, designers’ recent response to urban convention centers’ challenges, often sacrifices the flexibility of expansive, uninterrupted exhibit spaces by separating and re-scaling volumes in a futile attempt to lessen the obtrusive presence.

The International Exposition Center in Cleveland, with over one million square feet of exhibition space, is one of the largest convention facilities in the world. While its incredible spans can accommodate auto shows, boat shows, and conventions of any size, it fails to offer the significantly more intimate meeting spaces and current comforts and amenities that newer facilities offer. As a result, its location adjacent to Hopkins International Airport has been planned for future airport expansion. The City of Cleveland along with local business leaders have identified the need to replace the aging IX Center with a new urban convention facility in Cleveland’s Downtown core. With a virtual guaranteed site behind Forest City's Tower City complex, continued discussion to attract a Medical Mart (read this week’s Crain’s Cleveland for an update) to become a critical component of the new project, and years of planning to gain public support and a plan to finance the construction of a brand new structure, Cleveland is likely to abandon the current convention center location south of the city to open a new urban convention facility sometime within the next decade.

“Convention-goers are expected to stay in Milan, and most of them travel to and from the city center via a new underground rail link. The Fiera is only a convention center – not one of those ‘edge-city’ nodes like Tyson’s Corner outside Washington, or the Galleria section of Houston, which try to provide all the elements of a traditional city amid suburban sprawl and end up draining the metropolis to which they are attached. The Fiera has no shopping, no cineplexes, and, for now, no hotels – nothing to fulfill the current mantra of ‘mixed-use’ as the obligation of all large-scale urban-development projects.”

In Cleveland, the anticipated convention center will complete the unfinished southern end of Tower City Center and sit on a site that cascades from the City streets atop the Downtown bluff to the industrial valley below. Among the final Downtown site selections, this site best avoids an uncomfortable confrontation with existing, more intimate context with a location at the southern edge of Downtown. In addition, it will connect into an already expansive office and entertainment complex, will provide an opportunity to connect truck and auto traffic to major interstates without significant interruption on the Downtown grid, and allow travelers to connect to the region’s airport via rapid transit.

A better opportunity to completely separate the sprawling and ever-changing functions and requirements of this exhibition ‘factory’ from the center city has been lost in the critical need for a revitalized Downtown. A regional convention facility, much like an area airport, does not need to occur at an urban center for the health of its city and metro area. A better-performing convention center and less invasive structure, that can still provide the same opportunity for hotel and restaurant dollars to be used Downtown, would be ideally situated in the way Milan’s Fiera has. Either replacing the existing IX Center and extending the airport rail line or building on a similarly located site can, like Milan Fiera, allow the convention center to be the best version of a convention center. Committing a convention center for a site which could better be used for hotel, office and retail expansion (located conveniently at Tower City’s rail hub) to serve an outlying facility, will follow the missteps that other American cities have already taken. The result will stifle an opportunity for a plagued urban center to refine its gritty character through organic demand and subsequent growth, by landing the human equivalent of an airport hangar at the heart of a steadily resurging city.


Wednesday, July 19, 2006

A Better Future for You

For all of you out there who, like me, just can't get enough of the wonderfully innocent consumer images of the mid 20th century, then this website should satisfy your appetite. Cars, radios, industrial propaganda, fantastic images of our future, this site has it all. I highly recommend browsing through the decor section and definitely "the DT's"! Your life will not be complete without seeing this site. All your friends and neighbors have. Isn't it time you have too?

Your Partner in Mass Consumerism,

L.S. Moore


Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Turn on the Lights!

Cleveland's Terminal Tower's arrived at her 75th anniversary celebration this year dressed in a cloak of steel scaffolding. For the next few years, Cleveland's historic tower will be undergoing an extensive restoration project on its stone exterior. Those familiar with the normally fully-lit tower have, sadly, seen it disappear each evening - leaving a much emptier Cleveland skyline to come home to.

Even with Key Tower or the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as icons of recent years, the Terminal Tower remains the definitive Cleveland landmark since its completion 75 years ago. Meticulously documented in Cleveland archives and made famous in Margaret Bourke-White's photographs, the Terminal Tower should be dressed for its anniversary celebration.

While I find the steel scaffolding mildly attractive (as it gives the illusion of an inside-out top), it could benefit from a designs eye to enhance the superstructure through lighting, fabric or otherwise. Innumerable ideas could transform Terminal Tower into a work of art.

Precedents include Michael Graves design for the Washington Monument, the murals surrounding St. Paul's Cathedral in London and the lighting exhibition, Luminocity, of the Cleveland Trust Rotunda.


Friday, July 14, 2006

Euclid Medical Mall

The top-ranked Cleveland Clinic is amidst a flurry of construction projects on their Main Campus with the anticipated 2008 completion of their $500 million Heart and Vascular Institute. The ten-story crescent-shaped heart center designed by NBBJ, will create a striking new public face for the health campus and become the focus of the new main entry for all patients, employees and visitors.

This building and other current and proposed building projects and infrastructure improvements continue to rise among more than a dozen city blocks between East 86th and East 107th Streets with a majority of recent construction and planning focusing around the north and south sides of Euclid Avenue, the historic artery between Public Square and the world renowned museums, universities and healthcare campuses on the east side of Cleveland.

While the urban core of Cleveland has been making a slow resurgeance, the Cleveland Clinic has been exploding in size and stature. For more than a decade the Clinic has been ranked among the top ten hospitals in the US, this year earning a top three ranking. The success of the Cleveland Clinic, along with University Hospitals and Case Western Reserve University, has encouraged investment in local biomedical incubators, has netted millions in NIH research funding, continues to attract national healthcare conventions, and provides fuel for consideration of a new national Medical Mart, modeled on Chicago's Merchandise Mart.

Invariably, generations of growth to earn a top-three distinction, has had a lasting impression on the Cleveland Clinic Main Campus and in turn, on the eastside of Cleveland. A lack of extensive campus planning has left a confusing, disjointed hospital complex scattered over several city blocks. However, the planned opening of the new Heart Center and Urology Institute has set in motion a massive planning effort by the Cleveland Clinic, in cooperation with landscape architect Peter Walker, to develop a comprehensive design strategy through and around existing buildings and create a plan for future expansion. In the local media in the past week, we've seen the first results of the ongoing planning process. In Friday's Plain Dealer, Tom Breckenridge featured Walker and the Clinic's ambitious plan to close Euclid Avenue to auto traffic as it passes through the Cleveland Clinic campus. The local television media also covered the plans, featuring the Clinic's statement and reactions from the City.

In this undertaking, RTA's new bus rapid transit would continue to carry passengers through the new transit mall between East 86th St. and East 105th St. Auto traffic would be diverted around the campus onto Chester and Carnegie, and a new boulevard-style entry road would take visitors from Chester Avenue to a circle in front of the new heart center. Currently, the Cleveland Clinic is approaching the City and RTA to determine the feasibility of closing this stretch of moderately trafficked and heavily transit-traveled federal highway route. See the PD's interpretive site diagram below:

While an architecture and urban design education has instilled in me an instinct to rail broad modern "urban renewal" projects such as Erieview and the demolition of the Warehouse District, it also left me with an enormous appetite for big ideas. The Clinic, with a $1 billion annual building budget and in vicious competition to become the nation's number one hospital has the influence to make earth move. Like the industrialists of an earlier era, the Cleveland Clinic and other biomedical institutions have and will make an everlasting impact on the City. A project of this size and scope, as a design education had taught us, is worth our serious consideration (and this substantial weblog entry).

The Clinic's latest building spree has produced the stand-alone Cole Eye Institute, Taussig Cancer Center (both designed by Pelli) and the International Hotel and Suites among others - all set twenty feet or so off the Euclid sidewalk and landscaped with low shrubs and carefully manicured grass lawns. With the continuing direction of the design and placement of these new buildings, this stretch of Euclid Avenue has gone from the dense Doan's Corners neighborhood it once was, and has been transformed into the health "campus" that we see today. All that remains from the past, is a decidedly urban, but severely underused, traffic artery, transit route and pedestrian right-of-way juxtaposed against an ever-emerging campus of specialty institutes, research centers and hotels.

Compare this new hospital campus to academic university campuses. While one can't deny that urban university campuses can be seemlessly integrated into the City, ie., combining residential and retail uses along with classrooms and university offices, a parklike healthcare campus within the City is an ideal planning solution for a number of reasons: to locate highly specific, but inextricably linked (consider nervous disorders affecting one's heart, for example) healthcare facilities adjacent to one another, to create a softer and more welcoming image and healing environment, and to capitalize on the Clinic's desired growth-strategy through cooperative concentrated off-campus development that some urban campus universities (see Case's Triangle, CSU's Collegetown and OSU's South Campus Gateway projects) are just beginning to invest in.

A move this dramatic will bring together, for the first time, city planners, the Regional Transit Authority and the Cleveland Clinic to make a coordinated change through multiple city neighborhoods. A bold direction like creating a transit and pedestrian Euclid mall between East 86th and East 105th will further improve this portion of the Euclid Corridor (with thoroughly calmed and softened Euclid through the medical campus) and provide an unprecedented opportunity to leverage the Clinic's plans against the planning of a concentrated mixture of neighborhood amenities and employee services at each end of the Euclid Mall and along the increasingly trafficked Carnegie Avenue. Zoning and planning can influence successful development along these nodes of growth at the periphery - the realization that many urban universities and cities have just begun to come around to after years of town and gown conflict.

An urban campus is not the cause of further accelerating the blight of its neighbors, instead, the failure to cooperate and create timely urban development policy to support and capitalize on big, once-in-a-generation investments by these new Cleveland industrialists is keeping the small resurgeances of these neighborhoods from turning into a dramatic rebirth.

As details of the Cleveland Clinic's plans begin to emerge and the City and RTA continue to respond, I expect this discussion will become more specific and heated. Check out some of the area message boards (GreenCityBlueLake, Brewed Fresh Daily, UrbanOhio and Cleveland blogs) for other observations and opinions.


Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Hip to Be

An editorial in Crain's Cleveland this week came from Leadership Cleveland Class of 2004 members Mayor Debbie Sutherland, Councilman Martin Sweeney and Andrew Roth informing the business community that the Public Square proposal published recently by the Plain Dealer was a product of their own conclusions and design visions (a nod to Blog on the City for the heads up). A point they stress (and for which The Design Rag had previously attributed to the famously opportunistic Volpe) is that the only successful resolution of the underperforming Square is to fully unify the space. Get your hands on this week's Crain's or subscribe to the digital magazine to read what they had to say.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

The removal of intersecting roadways and a completely and permanently unified Public Square is the only good solution to provide an opportunity for a successful, memorable and positively monumental public space. Before the public weighs in on narrowly focused elements and activities (such as previously proposed ice skating rink, restaurant, bicycle rental, add your personal piece of heaven here...) a collective Cleveland voice needs to emphasize the importance of a rebuilt Public Square and the desire to have a permanantly contiguous Public Square.

Visionaries must consider solutions to the most important challenges of creating a unified Square - re-routing traffic and transit, addressing and engaging adjacent landmarks and destinations (Burnham's Group Plan, Tower City Center, Soldier and Sailors Monument, Euclid Avenue, the Cuyahoga River, RTA's Rapid Transit, Lake Erie, etc., etc.) and creating a new identity for the space. These decisions will leave an everlasting impact on the future of Cleveland as much as Burnham's Mall, the Union Terminal and I.M. Pei's Erieview plan have already, and create a framework in which shortsighted uses, events, and activities can come and go and continue to evolve over the next several generations.

Consider the above alignment of plaza/greenspace and roads. This "Corner Roadway Scheme" provides intersecting tunnels under Public Square, corner roads for the interception of Euclid Avenue, an opportunity for traffic and transit to move between caddy-corner streets and open plazas to Tower City Center and Mall A. The potential refinement of this layout has been illustrated in the previously posted "Forested Plaza" option.

What is the best alignment of infrastructure and pedestrian circulation to achieve a fully unified Public Square? How do the towers surrounding the Square as well as anticipated development affect the character of the space? What is sacred? Is anything from the current Public Square and surrounding context untouchable?

Direct ongoing discussion on Public Square and our illustrated proposals on this page or contribute visions and discussion to Improvised Schema's recently created discussion forum concerning this topic and future design discussions.


Sunday, July 09, 2006

Square Speculations

See the above sketch for the first in several thoughts on how Public Square could be revisioned. This attempt and subsequent attempts to re-design Public Square may not always present fully developed concepts - expect to see practical solutions as well as ambitious and sometimes outrageous elements. Regardless, our intent is to encourage the discussion and dissemination of larger ideas that will result in a fully-utilized Public Square and a thoroughly considered monumental space that Clevelanders can be proud of and visitors write home to mom about.

We encourage comments and hope to see further discussion and visions for a new Public Square. See Improvised Schema's Call for Ideas and reactions from "The Design Rag" and "Blog on the City" for background on the Public Square challenge.


Friday, July 07, 2006

Star-Spangled Spectacular Concert and Festival

Come to Public Square after work Friday for the Star-Spangled Spectacular Concert and Festival. There's been much discussion in the print and digital community on the present and future of Public Square in the past month. This event, besides a chance to enjoy the sounds of the world-renowned Orchestra, is a rare opportunity to see thousands descend upon the Square and see the four quadrants unified into a single public open space.

The following calendar courtesy of the Cleveland Orchestra pressroom.


Star-Spangled Spectacular Concert and Festival

Date: Friday, July 7, 2006
Time: Concert will begin at 9:00 p.m. and will end at approximately 10:15 p.m.
Where: Public Square in Downtown Cleveland
What: The Cleveland Orchestra
Assistant Conductor James Gaffigan, conductor
Measha Brueggergosman, soprano
Dee Perry, host

J.S. SMITH The Star-Spangled Banner
WAGNER Prelude to Act III of Lohengrin
WAGNER “Dich, teure Halle” from Tannhäuser
BERNSTEIN Overture to Candide
ANDERSON The Syncopated Clock
ANDERSON Bugler’s Holiday
GERSHWIN “Summertime” and “My Man’s Gone Now” from Porgy and Bess
BRAHMS Hungarian Dances Nos. 3 and 1
TCHAIKOVSKY “1812” Overture
WARD America, the Beautiful
SOUSA March, “The Stars and Stripes Forever”

Pre-Concert Festival (programmed in collaboration with the 2006 Ingenuity Festival of Art and Technology)

Time: 4:00 p.m.-8:00 p.m. prior to the Orchestra’s performance
Where: Public Square in Downtown Cleveland
What: Festival performances by Cleveland-based music groups

4:00-4:40 p.m. Grupo Brasil
Portuguese music with Samba & Capoeira dancers
4:40-4:45 p.m. Video art of Kasumi
5:00-5:40 p.m. Halim El-Dabh and the Kent Community Drummers
Egyptian classical percussion music with traditional instruments
5:40-5:45 p.m. Video art of Kasumi
6:00-6:40 p.m. Joe Hunter’s Swinging Six and the Get Hep Dancers
Swing music with vocalist Erin Kusel & the Get Hep Swing Dancers
6:40-6:45 p.m. Video art of Kasumi
7:10-7:55 p.m. Cats on Holiday and The Prayer Warriors
Roots/Americana music with gospel singers
7:55-8:00 p.m. Video art of Kasumi
8:00 p.m. 2006 Cleveland Arts Prize videotaped award presentation


Monday, July 03, 2006

Centennial Challenges: An Exercise in New Lunar Urbanism

In order to satisfy our base of readers who have already discovered the secret to designing new buildings and urban spaces on our own planet or those who have begun to tire of the endless discussion of places that will cease to exist in a few thousand years anyway, we encourage a look at NASA's Centennial Challenges. These competitions range from designing a dexterous and flexible astronaut's glove to extracting "breathable oxygen from a supply of lunar regolith" (???). The prize for one's efforts lands a fat cash prize of $250k for most challenges. Success guarantees you a bit more payback and recognition than a few thousand dollars a local design competition will award you for your design prowess - and provides you an opportunity to be the next Andres Duany in the emerging New Lunar Urbanism movement.

A note to any brilliant astro-physicists, engineers or astro-industrial design geniuses out there who want to unveil the ideas they've been developing in their sketchpads for a remote-controlled robot that responds to video and data communications to efficiently build structures on the moon can contact The Design Rag. In addition to our reputation as the foremost leaders in the New Lunar Urbanism movement, we'll offer you the services of accurately and thoroughly filling out an application to NASA (we can type real good). In return, the Charter for New Lunar Urbanism (under the auspices of The Design Rag) will humbly accept a $250,000 purse to facilitate the creation of a lunar design advocacy group right here in Cleveland.

To read more, go to the NASA Centennial Challenges webpage. (Remember, you heard it here first!)

For related news about NASA Glenn's role in the Constellation program to develop Ares to send astronauts to the Moon and to Mars, see NASA's release.