Friday, October 27, 2006

When "Ugly" Distracts - Cleveland Trust Tower

Yesterday, a forum held at CSU's Levin College of Urban Affairs presented the history and relevance of Marcel Breuer's Cleveland Trust Tower, its opportunities for re-use, and alternatives from demolition. Sadly, the first public discussion to consider the reuse or preservation of the tower may have been too late. The effort to educate the community on the significance of Marcel Breuer's career, his design of the tower, and the challenges and advantages for rehabilitation should have happened concurrent with the County's architect selection process. Hardly a whisper from the public about the importance of keeping this building, whether as an important piece of existing urbanism or as a landmark architectural design, determined the fate of this highrise months ago. Even as the presentations from panelists representing County government, architecture, preservation, green building and construction technology concluded yesterday evening, there was no clear consensus of its design significance or, simply, of the advantages of adapting the structure for another use or another "look".

While the public forum has come late in the decision-making process (final recommendations are expected from the Commissioners in three to six months), it still provided an opportunity for the design community (represented by the panelists and a large percentage of the forum's guests) to show a certain amount of unanimity about whether or not to keep the building. Hampering this conclusion has been, from the earliest discussions about the tower, its appearance and design merits. The question of whether the Cleveland Trust Tower is "ugly or not" has led the community in circles, further leaving the fate of the building solely in the hands of Commissioners who see a dark and oppressive building - an unsuitable image for the requirements of the County, which aim to paint as rosy an image of itself for their constituents (a major reason the site was chosen in the first place - the location of one of the universally-loved icons in the City, the classically-designed Cleveland Trust Rotunda).

I would suggest that instead of debating the design merits (of which there are argueably few and at less than forty years since its completion, are difficult to determine anyway) a serious decision should be made about the importance (or not) of retaining a piece of the city which took an incredible amount of energy and effort to create, remains structurally-solid and reasonably achievable to reoccupy, and is sited respectfully to adjacent buildings and to pedestrians at street-level. While stylistically there are infinate variations of new construction, adaptive re-construction or preservation at the site (of which the public need not be concerned about immediately), there are only two choices to decide the future of the Tower's framework: the structure should remain or the structure should be dismantled and placed in landfill. Consensus that the structure (in whatever form) should remain, will be the only chance the tower will survive.

IF efforts to retain the Tower are successful and the County Commissioners begin to seriously consider its reuse, incredible opportunity presents itself for creative adaptation of Breuer's Tower, one of many late-modern brutalist structures that have fallen out of favor in recent decades. I have yet to be convinced of Cleveland Trust Tower's historical significance, however, respect the influence of Marcel Breuer in modern design and commend his exploration of precast concrete design and its role in re-creating envelopes for skyscrapers - a departure from the more-than-common curtain walls that define Mies' predecessors in mid-century American cities.

My vision for the new County administration headquarters would retain the structural frameword of the existing tower, make required floorplate additions on Euclid Avenue and south of the tower on East Ninth Street. The curtain wall, after removal for asbestos remediation, would return in another form: partial replacement of Breuer's panels (located appropriately in response to solar conditions - likely at the south elevation), and installation of a modular precast and glass curtain wall on remaining elevations (an attempt to successfully re-interpret Breuer's concept in the twenty-first century, integrate with the deep-set existing panels, and fashion an image reflecting the cycle of rebirth of a City that continues to re-tool). The challenge to Kohn Pederson Fox's design team would be daunting, requiring respectful adaptation of one of the works of a Modern master while creating a landmark that can be beloved timelessly as the Rotunda has. The decisions of the County would be admired, investing heavily in local labor and materials for the renovation of the Tower and Rotunda (opposed to new construction which requires significant international production), and standing behind Cleveland as a city that needs not to raze the values and accomplishments of earlier generations to reach prominence once again.

For further information, read Steven Litt's, Art museum values style that county wants to junk, published in the Plain Dealer last week, CSU Levin College Forum's Love It/Hate It? Renovate It/Raze It? A Public Forum on the Breuer Tower (a video of the event is archived somewhere on the site), Breuer Building Forum; Bias Abounds at Improvised Schema, and a gallery of images at

(Of particular interest, compare the debate surrounding the Lollipop Building designed by Edward Durell Stone at 2 Columbus Circle in New York City which is under reconstruction.)

EDIT 11/21/06.
See a gallery of Tower images at


Monday, October 23, 2006

Green Cleveland, The Home House Project

Courtesy of Dru at TOI Studio, take note of an upcoming gallery show at the Cleveland Institute of Art Reinberger Galleries: Green Cleveland, The Home House Project. On November 3rd, a panel discussion, "Housing the Future: New Definitions of Affordability" and an opening reception in CIA’s main gallery launch the month-long exhibition of 100 award-winning designs for sustainable, affordable housing.

Some background on the Home House Project (from TOI Studio): “In 2003, the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art (SECCA) held a competition based upon affordability, design and sustainability in housing. The open competition drew 440 multi-national entries which were based on the typical layout of Habitat for Humanity’s three and four bedroom designs.” See Dru’s site to view CIA’s postcard advertising the show.

It’s curious that the show begins in a little more than a week, as there’s been no mention of its opening from area publications and newsletters or directly from the sponsoring organizations (EcoCity Cleveland, Cleveland Public Art, Parkworks, among others). Not to mention, area architecture organizations and institutions are not directly involved. Regardless, find an opportunity to visit University Circle for Green Cleveland and visit the Cleveland Museum of Art for Barcelona & Modernity: Picasso, Gaudi, Miro, Dali (October 15th – January 7th).


Sunday, October 15, 2006

A Natural Flats?

As extant maritime and rail dependent industries left Cleveland's Cuyahoga River Valley over the last decades, the image of the densely-built industrial Flats at the height of the machine age has been filed away in digital libraries, local archives, and history books (see the new Images of America publication "Cleveland's Flats".

Interestingly, years of abandonment has provided Mother Nature an opportunity to swallow the scarred valley floor with native shrubs, trees and grasses. Whether the future of the Flats will continue a natural de-volution or develop into a blend of industry, recreation and commerce is still a question - regardless, the few who venture into the valley today notice Nature's reappearance in and around bridges and bricks, gravel piles and river bulkheads.

Cleveland Public Art and Don Harvey recognized the "evolving natural environment in an area of Cleveland commonly thought of as the industrial heart" with the May publication of The Natural Flats: A Field Guide to Habitat in Unexpected Places, a self-guided tour of the Flats' wildlife with images from Harvey and writings from region's naturalists. The Field Guide is available for purchase from CPA and guided walking tours are being given by the Canalway Center of the Cleveland Metroparks.

In the continuing "greening" of the Flats, Mittal Steel recently announced the reintroduction of native plants around its property south of Downtown. Dr. James Bissell, Curator of Botany at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History was hired to oversee the project of green buffer zones along the Cuyahoga River and along property edges. Among the dozen or more plants being tested in the tainted soils are wafer ash, staghorn sumac, prairie dock (shown above) and switchgrass (each illustrated on WCPN's Thursday interview "Adding Green to the Mittal Steel Landscape"). Planting has commenced at the first of three sites, a terraced hill at Independence and New Campbell roads.

Mittal spokesman, Dave Allen, says in Wednesday's PD, "we live in downtown Cleveland and we have a great plant, but it looks like heavy industry. We want to dress it up so it looks like a great plant." Interestingly, this hasn't been the first time Flats industry has polished its look for the public. As related in Images of America, the Cleveland Press sponsored industrial valley tours by bus rides and excursion boats or self-guided car rides in the 1950's. Standard Oil built tourists a model of "number one" refinery and set up an observation porch overlooking its operations, sightseers navigated beside U.S. Steel Company's shipping fleet and tourguides narrated the history of bridges and manufacturing along the route.

Could sightseeing expeditions happen again? Fifty years ago, Clevelanders witnessed an unparalleled dominance in refining and manufacturing. Today, a new story has developed, one which describes a more complete history of growth and decline in Flats' industry, and poses a challenge of Clevelanders to consider new images for the Flats, today and tomorrow.


Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Chamber Music on Tap

Wednesday, October 11th (see the attached flyer) Allegra will present a performance by members of The Cleveland Orchestra at the Great Lakes Brewing Co. Your favorite brews, food, and world-renowned music are all included - expect an impressive evening organized by the Junior Committee of The Cleveland Orchestra. What better way to spend an autumn evening in the city?


Saturday, October 07, 2006

Selling the City in Lights, P.III

After covering the limits noted under the new billboard ordinance this morning, I documented a few of my preferred public art "billboard" locations (alright, large purple daisies may be a bit absurd...). See Selling the City in Lights, P.II for a little more background.

Please bear with the self-amusement of this exercise (not that each post thus far hasn't been for my own selfish enjoyment) - regardless, I hope you were able to enjoy the beautiful Saturday afternoon in whatever way you chose to spend it.

A few considerations:
High frequency of passersby, visitors
Location affords an opportunity to be appreciated from near and far
Placement catches natural light for much of the day
Proximity to parks, plazas or seating (inc. outdoor dining areas)
Low potential for new construction to obstruct views, create shadows
Opportunity for art billboard to become an ongoing tradition for a neighborhood or place

Warehouse District

Public Square

East Fourth Street

Gateway District


Thursday, October 05, 2006

Selling the City in Lights, P.II

The following amendment warrants a follow-up to August 15th's post and discussion on allowing Clear Channel Outdoor to place billboards within the CBD (previously restricted under Cleveland ordinance), Selling the City in Lights.

From last month's Cleveland Planning Commission Meeting, found on local planning blog Cleveland vs. The World (text taken directly from Scott's weblog which regularly documents Planning Commission Meetings):

Ordinance 1282-06: Amends sections of various ordinances related to wall murals and airport land protective districts, and authorizes the city to enter into a lease with Clear Channel Outdoor to erect a billboard on land at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport.
The wall murals will be located within the CBD and Flats Oxbow District. There will be six total –one will be public art. They can only go up on walls that are unsightly, needs to cover 8% of the unsightly wall, and can contain no more then 30% text. The Planning Commission has yes/no authority over any particular wall, location and the way the sign is placed on the wall. Once the wall is chosen, the image (which will be high resolution art/photo) can change every six months without review. The community will review the one wall that will contain the public art element.
Coyne: Expressed concern about how the ordinance ties the city’s hands as far as regulation is concerned.
(Passed: 4 to 2)

My understanding of the ordinance is that there is no limit in size (a minimum of 8% "unsightly" wall coverage), that advertisements are limited to two-dimensional banners, and imagery will be an overwhelming majority of the billboard. The images used, other than the public art element, will be unreviewable (only the placement of the advertisement). These descriptions, I expect, will keep billboards out of Playhouse Square (no electronic displays) and Public Square (no empty building faces) and will instead find a home on a bare wall in the Warehouse District or Gateway District (plenty of building faces, and much viewability).

While I doubt these five ad-billboards will change the look of Downtown much beyond adding a little color, light, and commercialism (unless Doritos are mounted tastelessly on the blank facade of the Standard Building backdrop north of the Old Stone Church), I am excited to see a commitment to a new piece of public art - another to contribute to the rich collection the City already enjoys, and a new, ever-evolving display for two-dimensional design. I can imagine a great tradition beginning with this timeless "canvas" as it's passed from generation to generation.

Maybe I will stumble upon a sunny weekend afternoon to capture a few locations where this public art canvas could have a great visual presence. Stay tuned...


Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Wind Spirals

Could this new urban windmill and developing wind power technologies take a new place among the water towers and smokestacks that dominated downtown skylines in the earliest part of the twentieth century? President Michael Schwartz would like to see a green and white SmartEnergy Spire placed on Cleveland State's downtown campus.

PD's Chris Sheridan writes about this fiberglass corksrew-shaped wind machine designed by CSU professor Majid Rashidi and its well-timed introduction amidst increased federal funding for solar and wind power and the creation of a County task force examining alternative energy strategies.

If this design concept is successful (and pays off financially), expect to see variations of the corkscrew wrapping telecom towers, incorporated into highrise spires or perched atop existing office buildings. As this technology develops, could entire buildings incorporate turbine components to capture wind bursts?

EDIT (10/04/06) A collegue directed me towards Turby, another such urban wind turbine product that can be placed atop buildings and afixed with LED lighting to create messages/logos as the blades spin.