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Thread: Marcel Breuer Tower in Cleveland Faces Demolition

  1. #1
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    Default Marcel Breuer Tower in Cleveland Faces Demolition

    New Focus on a Forlorn Cleveland Tower

    By CHRISTOPHER MAAG
    Published: June 19, 2007

    CLEVELAND, June 17 — Marcel Breuer, one of the fathers of modern architecture, built only one skyscraper, the 29-story Cleveland Trust Tower, which today stands abandoned on a forlorn block downtown.


    Marcel Breuer’s 1971 Cleveland Trust Tower was abandoned in the late 1980s. A development plan proposes an office building on the site.


    But a plan to demolish the tower, and replace it with a midrise government office building, has caused an outcry among architectural preservationists, who call the building an overlooked landmark.

    “It’s like saying it would be O.K. to lose some of the paintings that Picasso did that weren’t his best work,” said Louis R. Pounders, a Memphis architect and member of the design committee for the American Institute of Architects. “Anything that’s done by someone of Breuer’s stature has merit on its own.”

    Some people, though, just call Breuer’s building ugly.

    “That thing looks like a collector’s case for Matchbox cars,” said Julie Baker, a commercial banker, as she sat on a patio opposite the tower. “If I could get a wrecking ball, I’d tear it down myself.”

    Few people know that Breuer designed the Cleveland Trust Tower, which was built in 1971, a year after he offered his plan to build a large skyscraper directly atop Grand Central Terminal in Midtown Manhattan. That proposal galvanized the historic-preservation movement in New York, which, helped by the support of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and others, scored a major victory by defeating the project.

    Except for their vastly different scales, Breuer’s designs for the Cleveland and Grand Central towers were quite similar. Their facades, honeycombs of rough concrete that make no effort to conceal their girth, were undiluted expressions of modern design principles. With deeply inset windows, both buildings were examples of the dark, sculptured aesthetic of Breuer’s later work, which found its most popular expression in his design of the Whitney Museum.

    The fact that preservationists here are defending the Cleveland tower provides a paradoxical footnote to the most humiliating defeat for Breuer, who died in 1981.

    “It is quite amazing how things have come full circle,” said Anthony Hiti, a Cleveland architect fighting to save the tower. “This building represents his vision for Grand Central on a smaller scale, which gives it more historical significance.”

    The National Building Museum in Washington is planning a major exhibition on Breuer’s architecture and design, to open in November. The curator, Susan Piedmont-Palladino, wrote a letter recently to the Board of Commissioners in Cuyahoga County, which includes Cleveland, comparing the possible destruction of the tower to the razing in the 1950s of Victorian masterpieces and several major buildings by Frank Lloyd Wright.

    “These are irreparable tears in the fabric of our built patrimony,” Ms. Piedmont-Palladino wrote, “and surely everyone involved came to regret those decisions.”

    Designed as an imposing symbol of the strength of its namesake, the Cleveland Trust Tower instead became a monument to the company’s failure. The original plan called for a wing that would wrap around the bank’s glass-domed rotunda building at the corner of East Ninth Street and Euclid Avenue, the historic heart of Cleveland’s financial district. The company never grew to the point that it needed the space so the wing was never built.

    Cleveland Trust changed its name to Ameritrust, and in the late 1980s merged with what is now KeyBank. The old bank forfeited its name and its corporate headquarters, and the Breuer tower has been empty ever since. In September 2005, Cuyahoga County bought the tower and five adjacent buildings for $21.7 million. Two of the county’s three commissioners voted in March to demolish the skyscraper.

    County leaders and preservationists agree on the tower’s shortcomings. By modern standards, its layout and ceiling heights are cramped. Its mechanical systems, designed for a building twice its size, are outdated and overly large. Its porthole windows provide terrible insulation.

    Some government officials have grown tired of pointing all this out.

    “We represent the philistine position, those people who are too stupid to realize the architectural significance of this building,” David Lambert, assistant Cuyahoga County prosecutor, said dryly at a recent meeting of the Cleveland Planning Commission.

    The commissioners who voted to demolish the tower, Jimmy Dimora and Timothy F. Hagan, did not return calls seeking comment.

    Replacing the tower with an office building would cost $223 million, said Barbara Shergalis, the project’s director. The design is not complete, but officials envision a highly efficient 15-story building with a large footprint that would allow the public easy access to all departments.

    “I’m incredibly excited about this because it’s an opportunity to invigorate what was once the most vital core of downtown Cleveland,” Ms. Shergalis said.

    The planning commission will discuss the issue again on June 29.

    The county commissioner who voted against tearing down the Cleveland Trust Tower, Peter Lawson Jones, said that retrofitting it would cost $185 million to $200 million, a significant saving for taxpayers over the cost of a new structure. Mr. Jones also said that he had become a fan of the old tower’s design.

    “To my eye, the rotunda is more attractive,” he said, “but the two of them can make a very interesting contrast.”

    Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

  2. #2

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    The thinking behind this kind of modern architecture gives me goose bumps.

    Ok granted, it breaks the street wall, is probably a chinese wall at street level but looook at the skin of this thing and look at the wall facing the old bank building.

    It is the perfect height, the perfect color. How he divides up the wall creating creases like those seen in the bank building's cornices. Even keeping the building's top part blank, reflects the smooth blank dome. Note how the windows are inset... paying homage to the windows on the bank.

    THAT is contextual.... created by a genius.

    I love that the whole thing is solemn and a bit foreboding. No fooling around. You've got to be smart to catch the crumbs he throws.

  3. #3
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    There's plenty of empty lots in Cleveland to build on. This seems short-sighted.

  4. #4

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    A new endangered species: Modern architecture

    The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library is at the center of a debate on whether such buildings are worth saving.

    By Zoe Tillman | Contributor to The Christian Science Monitor


    The sleek exterior of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, a behemoth of black steel and tinted glass, belies an interior plagued with leaky ceilings, broken elevators, and "wasted" space.

    The building, a victim of years of disrepair, is situated on prime real estate in downtown Washington, D.C. Preservationists worry that if the [Mies-designed] building is sold to a private developer, it may face demolition. A proposal to sell the library and build a new one elsewhere failed last year by a single vote in the city council.

    Now three historic preservation advocacy groups have come together to protect the library from the wrecking ball. With support from local officials and architects around the country, they nominated the 35-year-old building for historic landmark status, saying it is an icon of the Modern style of design.

    "We will go in with a united front" to push for landmark status, says Ginnie Cooper, executive director of the D.C. public library system. The D.C. Historic Preservation Review Board will make its decision June 28.

    The King library's situation is not unique. Nearly 50 years after the peak of Modern influence in the United States, historic preservationists and architects say Modern architecture is too frequently torn down or renovated beyond recognition without consideration of its place in architectural history. A report released this month by advocacy group World Monuments Fund (WMF) lists Modern architecture as an "endangered" species.

    No exact numbers exist, but WMF program manager Marty Hylton estimates that nearly 60 percent of US buildings built in the mid-20th century were influenced by the Modern style. A Modern building facing "inappropriate" renovation or demolition can be found today in almost every city in the United States, Mr. Hylton says.

    Part of the social and political movement of the same name, Modernism emphasizes transparency (big windows are a key component), practicality, and a break with the past, most visibly through the rejection of ornamentation and an embrace of technology and materials considered innovative in the mid-20th century – steel, aluminum, and plastics.

    The WMF report lists Riverview High School in Sarasota, Fla., designed by Paul Rudolph in 1957, and Grosse Pointe Public Library in Grosse Pointe Farms, Mich., designed by Marcel Breuer in 1953, as significant examples. Boston's City Hall, designed by Gerhard Kallmann, Noel McKinnell, and Edward Knowles in 1962, is another controversial case, and a decision on historic landmark status is pending.

    Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, considered one of the premier architects of the Modern style, designed the MLK library in 1968.

    'You love it, or you hate it'

    Modernism has always been controversial and has faced intense criticism for what many in the design community see as a promotion of a sterile and boxy aesthetic. "Either you love it, or you hate it," says Joan Brierton, a historic preservation expert for the US General Services Administration's Center for Historic Buildings.

    MLK library archivist Ryan Semmes says that he finds the building "drab looking" and uninviting. On the other hand, David Fixler, a Modernism preservationist and a architect based in Boston, says the MLK library is "well built" and "adds to the city.... Every effort should be made to bring that building back."

    Perception and renovation problems

    Advocates of Modern architecture say such buildings must wrestle with the public's perception of what deserves preservation.

    "We're so ingrained in the idea that Victorian is 'historic,' " Ms. Brierton says. "It's very hard to move people away from that era and convince them that ... you move forward and apply those same principles to midcentury."

    But the actual threat to Modern architecture stems mostly from real-world concerns. "These buildings are not necessarily energy efficient," Hylton admits, making them costly to maintain and, subsequently, even more costly to retrofit with green technology.

    Mr. Semmes says that the MLK library's black steel and glass turn it into "a giant pressure cooker" in the summer, destroying rare documents and photographs and making it uncomfortable for patrons and staff.

    Many Modern buildings were designed for a specific purpose – Modern architects value function over form – making renovation for another use even more expensive. The Office of the Chief Financial Officer in Washington, D.C., estimates that the cost to renovate the MLK library would be $274.9 million, while building a new library would cost $274.5 million.

    Modern buildings face "the same kinds of pressure that are on all buildings that sit on valuable land," says Anthony Alofsin, an architectural historian at the University of Texas at Austin.

    Preservation criteria

    The US Department of the Interior (DOI) requires that any building up for historic landmark status must be at least 50 years old. There is a special nomination process for buildings that are younger, but the standards are higher. A building not only has to meet at least one of the DOI's four criteria for historic landmark status – location of a historic event, association with a historically important person, architectural significance, or the potential to provide historical information – but also must be of "exceptional importance."
    Beyond being the only Mies building in Washington, there are other reasons to consider saving the MLK library, says Rebecca Miller, executive director of the D.C. Preservation League. Its central location makes it an ideal spot for a library, she says, and it works well with the rest of the area's streetscape. Still, its being a "very good Mies building" is a good enough reason to fight, Ms. Miller says.

    If historic landmark status is granted, it is unclear whether the library will continue to function as a library. Ms. Cooper of the D.C. public library system says that much of the space is underutilized, since the library's needs have changed since the 1960s. The building could be converted into office space, Cooper says, adding that she's even had informal conversations with Smithsonian representatives about the possibility of turning it into a museum.
    Semmes says that he would like to see a new library built. "I understand the need for preserving works by certain architects, but sometimes I'm afraid [the preservationists] don't see the overall plan of Mies van der Rohe that ... things can change."



    What, oh what, will they do in Columbus, Indiana? Almost all its public buildings are modernist monuments.

  5. #5
    Senior Member Bob's Avatar
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    If "modern" refers to junk such as the Yale Art & Architecture building, or similar "modernist" or "brutalist" structures, then I say, scrap the genre. These buildings are typically atrocious, and are cold and uninviting. Not good architecture. No wonder people are thinking of tearing down this hulk from the early 1970s...it is a 29 story pile, of something.

    One other thing: there is no comparison between Breuer and Wright. The former was an architect. The latter was a genius.
    Last edited by Bob; July 2nd, 2007 at 07:47 PM. Reason: Added comment

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    ^ You'd be surprised at the unkind things people said about Penn Station.

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    update: the building has been saved from the wrecking ball.

    for fun - here is a render of breuer's original plans for twin towers:



    i wont even show you the models of the winning submission of the cuyahoga county offices building that almost took it's place -- it was cheapskate outer-loop office park junk. better a polarizing breuer than a less than middling modern structure. for now it sits like the 2001 space odyssey monolith -- cuyahoga county is trying to sell it off -- hopefully it will become a hotel or apt conversion someday.

    if you like you can follow along on the cle trust/breuer tower redevelopment progress...or lack of it...here:
    http://www.urbanohio.com/forum2/inde...20128.690.html

  8. #8

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    I cannot but recognize the historical accuracy of Ablarc's comment about the fact that 40-70 years down the line ALL architectural fads are consdiered embarrassing, only for people to later bemoan widespread demolition.

    However, the insanity, inhumanity and scale of most "modernism" are such that a a judicious program of removal would benefit most cities.

    I do think that every city should carefully preserve one (or a few) of the most egregious examples as mementi dementia of that period.

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    I'd like to read the unkind things he wrote people said about the original Penn Station, I've never seen any.

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