Love letters for the Breuer Tower

Submitted by Susan Miller on Tue, 07/17/2007 - 05:09.

Here in Cuyahoga County we do have some arts leaders who are not holding their cards. Al Albano like others sent a letter when the news of this Breuer business came out. Didn't see it? It wasn't published -- here it is. Thanks Al! Attached are letters from the Museum of Modern Art and The National Building Museum as well.

____________________________________________________________________

Dear County Commissioners:

 

As I will not be able to attend tomorrow’s important meeting which may decide the fate of Marcel Breuer’s  tower, I am writing this letter to voice my informed position on this issue, which I know to be shared by many of my equally informed and respected colleagues in the  field of art & architecture conservation/preservation.

 

It is obviously unnecessary at this juncture to elucidate the international, art historic and architectural stature of Marcel Breuer, and I will thus address the more ruthlessly pragmatic issues which I assume are driving your collective decision making process in considering  the  building’s future. I should add that I have had a complete tour of the building’s interior by a county architect, and am thoroughly aware of its generally fine condition, and excellent state of preservation.

 

Because of its conception, expensive materials, and fine craftsmanship, given our county’s current resources, the tower like the Rotunda, would be nearly impossible to duplicate in today economic climate. But can the tower be saved and be economical and functional at the same time?

 

For a building to be economical it is critical to have the right percentage of square footage used for utilities core, to useable office space. Breuer’s tower as built includes the utilities core that was also to be used by the second phase, or addition to the tower along Euclid Avenue.  Should a tower be built in this location embracing the Rotunda on two sides, the useable office space per floor would be approximately 80 percent, which is highly efficient.

 

An additional tower offers all the custom opportunities of a new design, and eliminates the vast amount of demolition rubble and asbestos mitigation necessary from the existing tower if demolished.    In addition, 50 percent of the imbedded cost of a new building is in its structure and shell. Why throw this existing structure away when new mechanicals could be added to the tower allowing for a substantial savings of our collective tax dollars?

 

Most importantly, Breuer’s tower is an icon of its time.  How many good buildings do we have from this late 1960s early 1970s period in Cleveland? The answer is very few. If this prestigious building is torn down, future generations are likely to ask why, as many now ask about so many other important buildings lost to Cleveland because of a short sighted view of our cultural history.

 

There are few worse legacies in history to carry on, than that of being a destroyer of culture. Cleveland is already a recipient of numerous “black eyes” for many parochial decisions, often predicated on vested self interest rather than the community’s well being.  The Cuyahoga County Commissioners have the responsibility of stewardship of an important piece of our collective, modern architectural heritage.  Given the county’s economic resources appropriately available for its county office building, it is highly unlikely that a building of the quality and historic stature comparable to Breuer’s tower would be achieved again.

 

Respectfully submitted,

Albert Albano

Albert Albano, Executive Director
Intermuseum Conservation Association
2915 Detroit Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44113

Now click on the attachments to see letters from the National Building Museum and the Museum of Modern Art. They echo the strong case for retaining the building.

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AIA Cleveland weighs in

   

June 8, 2007

Anthony Coyne, Chair
City of Cleveland Planning Commission
Cleveland City Hall
601 Lakeside Avenue, Room 501
Cleveland, Ohio 44115

RE: Cuyahoga County Administration Building - Cleveland Trust Tower

Dear Commissioner Coyne,

AIA Cleveland, a Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, urges the City of
Cleveland Planning Commission to deny the demolition of the Cleveland Trust
(Ameritrust) Tower.

Designed by the pioneering modernist architect Marcel Breuer in 1971, the tower’s
prominent location, noteworthy design and contribution to downtown Cleveland’s
skyline, make the building potentially eligible for listing in the National Register of
Historic Places. As stewards of the built environment, it is our community’s
responsibility to ensure that significant examples of modern architecture like the
Cleveland Trust Tower endure for future generations.

Furthermore, AIA Cleveland encourages the Planning Commission to urge the
County Commissioners to undertake a comprehensive and objective feasibility
study of adaptively reusing the Breuer Tower for the new County Administration
Center. This study must thoroughly analyze the overall project development costs
to the tax payers of Cuyahoga County and definitively justify the decisions made
by the Commissioners. In addition, the impact of demolishing the twenty-nine
story structure must be carefully considered from an economic, environmental and
sustainability perspective. This study, coupled with a creative and transparent
design process, will determine if and how the existing building can best meet the
County’s needs.

Most importantly, we urge the Planning Commission and County Commissioners
to further engage the community during the decision making process so that all
voices are heard on this major expenditure of public resources. AIA Cleveland
stands ready to provide assistance and counsel in this most important matter and
we look forward to continuing constructive community dialogue on this issue.
Sincerely,

Anthony W. Hiti, AIA
Chair, Committee on Historic Resources, AIA Cleveland

1001 Huron Road, #101
Cleveland, OH 44115
216/575-1AIA (1242)
216/575-1244 fax

Did the press know? Yes, because here is the media release:

AIACLEVELAND
A Chapter of The American Institute of Architects
1001 Huron Road, #101, Cleveland, OH 44115
www.aiacleveland.com

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Mary Helen Hammer, Executive Director, AIA Cleveland (216) 575-1242

Architects Advocate Preservation of Cleveland Trust Tower Cleveland, Ohio, January 30, 2007 - AIA Cleveland, a Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, urges The Cuyahoga County Board of Commissioners to preserve and renovate the Cleveland Trust (Ameritrust) Tower.

Designed by the pioneering modernist architect Marcel Breuer in 1971, the tower’s prominent location, noteworthy design and contribution to downtown Cleveland’s skyline, make the building potentially eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. As stewards of the built environment, it is our community’s responsibility to ensure that significant examples of modern architecture like the Cleveland Trust Tower endure for future generations.

Furthermore, AIA Cleveland encourages the Commissioners to undertake a comprehensive feasibility study of adaptively reusing the Breuer Tower for the new County Administration Center. This study must thoroughly analyze the overall project development costs to the tax payers of Cuyahoga County and definitively justify the decisions made by the Commissioners. In addition, the impact of demolishing the twenty-nine story structure must be carefully considered from an economic, environmental and sustainability perspective. This study, coupled with a creative and transparent design process, will determine if and how the existing building can best meet the County’s needs.

Most importantly, we urge the County to engage the community during the decision making process so that all voices are heard on this major expenditure of public resources. AIA Cleveland stands ready to provide the Cuyahoga County Board of Commissioners with assistance and counsel in this most important matter and we look forward to a constructive community dialogue on this issue.

...it is inconceivable...

I especially like the MOMA letter. If they sent this, then I'm sure Aggie is watching this. The Battle for the Breuer is being won by the people of the world against old crony politics - perhaps we can leverage this global attention to drive more fresh blood, insight and investment into town... sort of a sympathy love thing. In any case, we can thank the commissioners for creating the only imaginable situation where the really sophisticated people of the world - the type who collect architecture and build museums - would know Cleveland even exists... we are tearing down one of their collectables.

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RAFAEL VINOLY ARCHITECTS LOVE BREUER

June 28, 2007

Robert N. Brown, Director
    City Planning Commission
    601 Lakeside Ave. Room 501
    Cleveland, Ohio 44114

Mr. Brown,

As the architects that recently led the renovation of Marcel Breuer’s 1970 Cleveland Museum of Art addition, we would like to add our voices and opinions to the growing opposition to the proposed demolition of Breuer’s Cleveland Trust tower.

Many well reasoned arguments have been proffered in protest of the demolition, so many in fact that we are shocked by the continued push for demolition by what seems to be a small and shrinking number of people. To date we have heard no reasonable arguments in favor of the demolition of the tower, which as you know is an important piece of not only
Cleveland’s architectural heritage, but the world’s. In fact, the news of the tower’s potential demolition has been widely reported and has been universally condemned as a shortsighted, ill-conceived decision.

Given the national scope of attention recently focused on the demolition, one wonders if the Cuyahoga County Commissioners, and in turn the citizens of county, truly want their legacy to be defined by the destruction of important cultural treasures - especially when there are so many other positive outcomes for both the tower and the proposed new administration center. It was only a generation ago when governments, developers and the design professions were more than happy to destroy our history, our art, in the rush for newness, giving birth to historic preservation movement. But that was during an era of relative prosperity for Cleveland, but now the city is shrinking at an alarming rate, the local economy is stagnant and downtown is pockmarked by vacant land in high profile areas. It doesn’t make sense to demolish a perfectly solid building, especially one of historic and artistic significance, when so many vacant lots or parking lots could have been had for millions less than the cost of the Breuer tower site.

We are disappointed that alternative design solutions for the administration center have not been presented to the public. What about resurrecting Breuer’s original idea of wrapping the historic Cleveland Trust rotunda with another tower? The present tower was designed and built with just that possibility in mind – with a blank north façade set back from Euclid Ave. The concept of a new tower connected to the Breuer and fronting Euclid Avenue would have so much creative potential, what an exciting challenge for any architect. What about the northwest quadrant of Public Square, which has been vacant for years? A truly beautiful stand alone facility could be built on what is now a civic embarrassment, a surface parking lot at the city’s most significant public space.

As architects, we are not convinced the statements regarding floor plates, floor to floor
heights, hazardous materials abatement, etc., are anything other than excuse making by
those who should be seeking creative solutions to very common architectural challenges. In our renovation of Breuer’s Cleveland Museum of Art addition, we encountered many of the same challenges that face the architects of the new County administration center, challenges that restoration and preservation architects face on all of their projects. Leading the renovation of Breuer’s museum addition demonstrated that with careful planning these obstacles can be overcome. Additionally, firsthand experience with Breuer’s work has deepened our appreciation for the subtlety of his design and detailing methodologies, often unfairly derided by an over-simplification of the term ‘Brutalist’.

To listen to the arguments in support of the tower’s demolition, one might think that building renovation is impossibly complex, expensive, and time consuming. And this is to say nothing of the gross waste of the embodied energy housed in the building itself. If it were truly that difficult to fashion well designed, energy efficient buildings from older outmoded structures, how then would cities like London, New York, Chicago and others manage with so many older buildings, most of them renovated and many of them historically significant. But not only do these other cities manage with their aging building stock, they prosper. They also allow the reinvention of their unique urban fabrics to be the incubator of innovative design.

Please, let’s see Cleveland be itself and find hope and promise in its own heritage.

Sincerely,

Rafael Vinoly
    Daniel Gallagher
    Jacob Stollfuss
    Kathleen Sonnhalter
    Mark Benton

Commissioners-- Are you listening?

The renowned architect Rafael Vinoly, who will leave a lasting impression on Cleveland, speaks.  Are the commissioners listening? 

NO - ONLY TO THEIR SELECT CONSTITUENTS - NOT REASON NOR THE VOTE

The Cuyahoga County Commissioners make a decision to buy a classic building to tear it down at more cost to produce an empty lot.  Are they listening you ask?   Of course they are listening, but not to reason or to the needs of Cuyahoga residents and voters. 

There is corruption here - corruption is the only rational explaination.

Cleveland's architectural tours

Architecture students from all over the US and Europe will visit Newark, N.J. to see the  Mies Van der Rohe buildings there this August.  We are blind to the fact that people study US.  Once, I was wandering through Lakeview Cemetery (birdwatching) and came across a young  woman with a rucksack and a map.  She was visiting from Germany and was between her high school and college years and trekking by herself across America.  She had no family in Cleveland and was staying at a youth hostel in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.  I was amazed by her independence and her courage.  She was reading the headstones for the story of our city.  What a wise young girl.

We need a hostel in East Cleveland

You know I've been thinking for a long time we need a hostel in the downtown Cleveland area - they attract an international class of visitor that is great for a city's culture - I love to stay in hostels when I travel to meet the diverse people there and see places through very international eyes. Perhaps in East Cleveland? Hostels work very well in lower income transitional historic areas near (ideally walking distance) great attractions, with great public transportation access. That has Euclid Avenue in East Cleveland written all over it... like one of the old mansions now for sale for nearly nothing! I'm going to look into that.

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idyllic idea

Excellent thought - I do know Hostelling International does have the only Hostel, Stanford House, near Cleveland presently, and it's quite decent, up to HI standards.  However it might be intriguing to have something electric-eclectic, something like the Netherlands' noncomparable Flying Pig, which I had the particular pleasure of perusing while in Amsterdam on a 16-nation backpacker's bonanza bon-voyage across Europe. 

Interestingly and incidentally, Ingenuity Fest is going fantastically well - an end of festival report will likely be upcoming.

 

peace!

Stanford House

Standford House is the only youth hostel I know of in this area, and it was where the young girl stayed while in Cleveland.  As a result, I later rode my bike down and stayed there with a bunch of religious types in the Cleveland area for a revival. And then, later, I visited again with the Sierra Club, which for awhile brought inner city kids to the hostel to "rough it" for a night or two.  It was a little insane.  Although, I was miserable (the hostel had an infestation of yellow jackets), I do think the kids kind of enjoyed it, and it may have made a dent in their reality.   I vaguely remember walking on the towpath at night and running into a gang of turkeys.  Who says the city is scary?!

Did you see the bats?

Very cool place - did you see all the bats in the barn? They seem to do lots of kids programs... I know of one program to bring city kids out to ride bikes on the Towpath... a great natural resource, thanks to some dedicated volunteers.

I brought groups of artists from Canada there and they loved it... although the hostel has very limited hours. Very different than a 24X7 urban hostel. Evelyn saiid they were talking about making the Mather a Hostel - that would have been excellent, but I think a sweet old mansion a few blocks from the museum would be even better.

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