Sunday, February 18, 2007

SAVE the Cleveland Trust Tower

Decisions are made slowly by the Cuyahoga County administrators - thank goodness.

Recently, Cleveland Plain Dealer Architecture Critic Steven Litt described Brutalist buildings' (like the Cleveland Trust Tower) popular disfavor in Cleveland and that it follows a national trend of demolition, erasing these cold, concrete fortresses from cities. The knee-jerk reaction is not always smart in every case Litt explains, and for Breuer's tower, a mistake to lose to demolition, "Knocking it down would erase a strong connection to the roots of Modern architecture, making downtown Cleveland blander and less distinctive."

Its not too late for the County to reconsider its plan for demolition. Asbestos removal in the tower won't begin for several months and county officials won't describe their plans to Cleveland's City Planning Commission to obtain a building permit for another week or two.

I favor the reuse of the Cleveland Trust Tower for the following reasons:

Green Building. The County has stressed its desire for a 'green' building, a symbol of its progressive ideology. Reusing the existing 29-story and enhancing its performance would be a most striking symbol of its commitment to sustainability by diverting the building from landfill, reducing the energy use required during demolition, and adapting a 35-year old building to meet 'green' performance standards. There is an inherent design opportunity to incoporate a new 'green' building envelope into its existing modular arrangement or by introducing a second skin of glass.

Local Reinvestment. As suggested by Dr. Elwin Robison a professor at the College of Architecture and Environmental Design at Kent State University, a renovation or rehabilitation of the existing tower could be largely served by the labor and material of local construction and manufacturing professionals. The construction of a new tower would require the use of materials and specialists (structural steel, for examble) from outside sources. In addition to investing in a high profile urban site, the County needs to maximize its commitment to the local design and construction professionals.

Design Fallen Out of Favor. One of the biggest reasons that Commissioners plan to demolish the Cleveland Trust Tower, is the perception of 'dark' and 'heavy' and 'uninviting.' Only 35-years old, the Cleveland Trust Tower is characterized as 'Brutalist' - a widely unpopular design methodology that has been applied to several buildings in the U.S. in the mid-twentieth century. I would suggest that the 'look' is subjective and shared by a wave of recent disfavor. Similarly, several ecclectic, and often dark and heavy Victorian-era buildings (Gray's Armory is an example that still remains) were demolished to a certain amount of disfavor and replaced with an ordered neoclassicism (in character with the City Beautiful movement). Later in the century, many of the business district's neoclassical buildings were sheathed in a skin of metal panel (the Euclid-Ninth Tower at the southwest corner of Euclid and Ninth is a good example of this) because of a mid-century design movement that looked disfavorably on ornamentation.

I would suggest a good powerwashing to uncover the lighter grays that closely resemble the hue used in the popular Cleveland Trust Rotunda adjacent to the Tower. A little creative intervention could adapt the building to a more satisfying image for the County.

Progammable Floor Area. The County suggests that the floor areas of each level make organizing departments in the Tower difficult and inefficient. Fortunately, to the County's advantage, they own much property to the north of the Tower (at the 1010 Euclid tower) and to the south of the Tower (the low-rise office building at the corner of Ninth and Prospect) and have been inquiring into other surrounding parcels. There is no shortage of buildable land area to either expand the floor plates of the existing Tower or add another office structure. In fact, architect Marcel Breuer originally planned a northeast addition to the Tower in his original plans. There is an opportunity to build the planned addition, instead designed in contemporary concept and material. The complex could be the home to architectural landmarks of the Neoclassical era, the Modern era, and the New era.

Urban Renewal. The County chose the site at East Ninth Street and Euclid Avenue largely because of its potential impact in investing in Cleveland's commercial center and to the under-construction Euclid Avenue Corridor. The County hopes to bring new life to the corner of Euclid and Ninth, but it needs not to be through the widespread demolition of its property's buildings. In a complete change of use on a Downtown property there has been a requirement for demolition and reprogramming (such as the stadium and arena at Gateway), however, the County has acquired a pre-existing office complex. The danger of slash-and-burn renewal can be seen from the County's most recent built Downtown complex, the Justice Center. The construction of the complex and resultant demolition of a majority of the Historic Warehouse District to provide an immediate demand of parking for the Justice Center (with a promise of future construction) has provided the worst example of urban reinvestment. The Justice Center continues to be a city-block fortress at the pedestrian level and the parking lots have still not been filled with new construction.

Below is an incomplete list of discussion and imagery from the last several months regarding the Cleveland Trust Tower:

When "Ugly" Distracts - The Cleveland Trust Tower - The Design Rag
Art museum values style that County wants to junk - The Plain Dealer
A Public Forum on the Breuer Tower - CSU College of Urban Affairs
Breuer Building Forum; Bias Abounds - Improvised Schema
Historic Breuer Photographs - The Design Rag
SAVE - The Design Rag
Ugly is Only Skin Deep - The Design Rag
One man's stand against an army - TOI Studio
Dignification - The Design Rag
The Breuer - Speak Up If You Want To Save It - Improvised Schema
Breuer's Cleveland Building - Save or Demolish - Improvised Schema
Cleveland Trust Tower - UrbanOhio.com
Save the Cleveland Trust Tower - Blog on the City
When should we preserve old buidings? - TOI Studio
I can't go one day without the Breuer Tower shoved in my face? - TOI Studio
Irony. This is an example of irony. - TOI Studio
At least reuse some of the dang thing! - Cleveland Trust Tower part 538 - TOI Studio
Raze or Renovate? - GreenCityBlueLake
Cleveland Trust Tower - ClevelandSkyscrapers.com
Proposal to demolish Breuer-designed county office building stirs debate - The Plain Dealer
County considers razing Breuer-designed Ameritrust Tower - The Plain Dealer
Steven Litt says County is going wrong way - realneo

To Be or Not To Be - angle


If you feel impassioned for saving the Cleveland Trust Tower, write the Commissioners, County Planning Commission by email or post mail. Improvised Schema has listed the contact information here. Write the local newspaper or contact national design publications. (Please notify The Design Rag if there is important discussion about the Tower that has been missed in the above list)

5 Comments:

Anonymous Susan said...

Check out GCBL today for a posting that mentions and links to an article in Metropolis Magazine.
Do you know what's up with the Save the Breuer Tower site? There seems to be no content there. It would be good to get this issue linked more places and spread virally with polling and more blogging. Steve needs our help. Most of the letters that go to the PD apparently go into a black hole. Certainly the county commissioners are not sharing what they are receiving.
The idea of razing this piece of art is blasphemy when they just pushed through an arts tax.
Also link to the discussion at realneo.us (search Breuer)

10:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please, the buidling is more a piece of %&$^ than a piece of art. The benefits of a new landmark building in that area far outweigh the saving of a building that only of a very, very small minority of people like. It's ugly and impracticle...if it's such a great building there's no reason it should have been sitting vacant all these years.

10:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This building, along with nearly all of it's brutalist brethren are eyesores on the contemporary landscape. The sooner they are demolished, the better.

Not all things that are old are worth saving, a lesson people like you need to learn sooner rather than later.

Keep the UCSD Library, blow the remaining pieces of crap buildings of this area to bits and recycle the concrete and rebar into something useful

1:55 AM  
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5:29 AM  
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5:22 AM  

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