Renowned architect Carl Stein explains "rampant environmental recklessness" of plans for Breuer

Submitted by Norm Roulet on Mon, 12/03/2007 - 08:31.

Marcel Breuer Cleveland Trust Tower at night

November 28, 2007, renowned architect Carl Stein, FAIA, Principal of elemental architecture, llc, of New York City, shared his valuable understanding about the environment in Northeast Ohio and the world, focusing on the energy of buildings and a specific analysis of the Breuer Cleveland Trust Tower, in downtown Cleveland. This is the only high-rise by revolutionary architect Marcel Breuer, and it is globally appreciated as a masterpiece of modern design and construction... yet it is planned for demolition by Cuyahoga County Commissioners Dimora and Hagan.  Stein worked with Breuer for many years, including when Breuer built the Cleveland Trust Tower, and Stein's conclusion is there is no rational excuse for demolishing the Breuer. As Stein states, "just that Breuer and this building are so important is enough reason to preserve the Breuer"... although Stein gives many other reasons!

Stein stressed, "issues of preserving buildings that are part of what we are should not be taken lightly".Stein placed the Breuer demolition plan in historical perspectives, as there have been many times when communities demolished buildings to later regret the decision. An example Stein offered was Penn Station, in NYNY.

We may envision Euclid Avenue as "Millionaires Row", to put this in local context. More recently, consider, former Cleveland Planning Director Hunter Morrison regretfully signed demolition permits for Playhouse Square, and other community leaders developed very advanced plans to build the Clark/Lee Freeway through the Shaker Lakes and some of Cleveland's most important historic neighborhoods. Now, community leaders' plans are to destroy the Breuer.

In each case, it has only been the activism of higher powers - independent citizens like Stein and planner of this event Susan Miller - that has blocked such poor plans. Stein pointed out, "in cases of real estate, $100s of millions may be at stake and real issues buried beneath misleading issues". "When there are pressures to demolish, very often the distracting argument is that the building is ugly... the "I don't know much about art but I know what I like" approach". We have seen this strategy in play here, with the Breuer, but, Stein points out, "using aesthetic judgment in determining what buildings should be torn down is not wise". Stein makes an undeniable case for the Breuer's architectural importance, regardless of the personal tastes of any individual or collective community leaders - we can conclude that the taste of our leaders should not be a factor in decisions on architecture in the public space, for obvious reasons including and going far beyond the Breuer fiasco.

Regarding the aesthetics of the Breuer, Stein leaves no doubt the building is world-class in design and construction, and he knows. He points out the building has probably never been cleaned, after many, many years of irresponsible ownership by Cuyahoga County and Dick Jacobs. Well cared for and properly renovated, the building will be stunning.

Breuer designed the building skin to include HVAC, electrical, and other smart building technologies. Stein knows "the building has natural abilities to be "reeducated" as a 21st Century smart building... it is a great candidate for a high performance state-of-art renovation".

Which is an important reason not to demolish the Breuer: what Stein calls the "rampant environmental recklessness" of the County Commissioners plans. Reusing existing buildings, even with extensive remodeling, will inevitable be more environmentally intelligent and may be more energy efficient than building new. In a total gut rehab, 53% of the embodied energy can be saved, in which case the building will perform as "new" - renovated buildings can be as energy efficient as new construction. 

It is important to note that Carl Stein is one of the world's experts on the energy of buildings and construction. He explained, based on globally-accepted calculations, new construction uses the equivalent of up to 12 gallons of oil per square foot of building area. At 11 gallons per square foot, the 280,000 square foot Breuer building has the "embodied energy" of 3.2 million gallons of oil.

Demolishing the Breuer would waste most of that 3.2 million gallons of oil, not to mention millions of gallons of oil required to actually demolish the Breuer, and to replace it with a new building.

Stein explained, renovation and reuse of existing buildings can save 50-60% versus the energy required for new construction, and renovation has more embodied energy from labor as percentage of total energy versus new construction, and renovation labor tends to be more local than with new construction. That fact completely discredits one argument made by community leaders to demolish the Breuer, that it would create more jobs than renovation. The employment value of renovation is greater, especially at the local level.

Considering building and infrastructure construction accounts for approximately 12% of energy use in America, and we are in a global energy crisis that will only worsen, it is unacceptable for a community attempting to position itself as a "Green City By A Blue Lake" to allow leaders to so thoroughly violate the interests of all their constituents.

At a most sophisticated level of analysis, Stein points out efforts to educate people about advanced building technologies are very important, but maybe the most important lesson is that you don't need advanced technologies like solar and wind turbines on buildings to be green, but rather good basic design. Stein believes that realization offers communities regional design distinctions, where a high rise in Cleveland does not look like a high rise in Dallas. The Breuer has world-class basic design, and is entirely unique to NEO, and is at risk of demolition. What is wrong with that picture?

After his presentation, which was not attended by any of the community leaders planning to demolish the Breuer, I thanked Stein for coming to Cleveland to help us enlighten this community about the Breuer and the environment. Stein said he is very appreciative of Marcel Breuer and is enthusiastic to do anything he may to help save one of Breuer's most important designs, and help our community avoid making the mistake of demolishing one of our most important landmark buildings. I certainly appreciate this strong voice, from New York, New York, for this community that has such difficulty speaking up for itself.

During questions and answers, an audience member pointed out that "the local preservation community has not stepped up in defense of the Breuer". I conclude a new preservation community has formed for NEO and we are very active in Cleveland... currently preserving the Breuer. We live in real NEO, and we are very real.

BreuerNightLights650.JPG108.24 KB

saving our buildings, our stories, our energy

Thanks Norm for such a succinct rendition of Stein's talk.

Since the series began Marc Lefkowitz and David Ellison and I have been researching and imagining a modcom for NEO. Here's Marc's report on that idea. Write in here if you are interested in this idea or send me a private email via the mailbox on the site.


But just as I knew he would, Stein went beyond "modernism and green building -- are they antithetical?" to building in general. 

Interestingly, Stein's work for many years has been on Shepard Hall at City College in NY, designed by George B. Post who also designed the original building of the Cleveland Trust, what we refer to as the "Rotunda".

In the above linked article I found this interesting quote," "Thomas Jefferson believed strongly that the architecture of a university, by its very nature, could teach," says Richard P. Dober of Dober, Lidsky, Craig and Associates, an internationally known campus and facility planning firm in Belmont, Mass. A Brooklyn College graduate who praised the historic preservation and modernization of that campus's library as well as its future building plans, he adds, "The commitment of a public institution like City University to engage in this activity is an important part of education. Students leave with some regard for their heritage, and that may have some spillover onto the lives they lead.""

Wow, what an idea -- in fact, Bruce Chechefsky at CIA told me he intones these same ideas to his students about being in the CIA Gund building on East Boulevard-- now imagined by the CIA trustees as a bankroll for future education and building endowments. Save the Gund building, please -- it is as Bruce says where student being trained in the Bauhaus tradition can live in a Bauhaus inspired building -- live it -- breathe it. And it looks so nice in red!

Oh yes and what about CSU and their commitment to cultural legacies and history?


Tonight on the way to the Levin College forum where we met Carl Pope and involved ourselves in "the mind of Cleveland", Jeff and I passed the Corlett Building on Euclid Avenue just in front of the Law School and the Music and Communications Buildings on the CSU Campus. This building has recently been added to the National Register of Historic Places by the U.S. Department of the Interior. Litt writes about the new plan by Westlake Reed Leskosky here, and Cleveland vs. the World provides the graphics. This building is also on the chopping block, but I remembered Carl's speaking about terra cotta and the fabulous building he is renovating at City College. Here's another (Corlett) that should/could/would be saved if somehow our restoration folk had teeth.

Corlett Building 1935 Euclid Avenue

By 1914, when the four-story Corlett Building replaced the Victorian-era home of Dr. William Corlett, Euclid Avenue’s heyday as a residential showplace had passed, but a Euclid Avenue address still held cachet for local retailers. Cleveland’s first zoning code would not be introduced until 1929; with nothing to prevent mixing residential and commercial, many of the old mansions were converted to commercial use or replaced by new blocks like the Corlett Building. One of a small number of buildings with terra-cotta facades by the local architectural firm of Knox & Elliott, the Corlett Building was built for the Cleveland Cadillac dealership. Other early auto showrooms including Packard, Pierce-Arrow, Hudson, Essex, Studebaker, Lincoln, and Buick were built nearby; six are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Corlett Building housed Downtown Chevrolet from 1925-65. The property is now owned by Cleveland State University. (Nomination prepared by Robert Keiser of the Cleveland Landmarks Commission) (Knox & Eliot also designed the Rockefeller Building 614 Superior with its stunning baroque iron façade and the now long gone Hippodrome.)

What if we had a visionary architectural voice like Stein's to help us see the benefit in saving these buildings, repairing and restoring their stories, styles and legacies -- saving the millions of gallons of oil and providing thousands of jobs and the passing on of crafts like the wonderful work of stonemasons, bricklayers, plasterers and old world masters?

One word that came to Carl’s  mind immediately to describe Cleveland as we sat in Gypsy Beans coffee shop less than an hour after he deplaned was "authentic". He said NY has lots of stuff, but Cleveland's feel is authentic. Yes, I said, chefs extol the virtues of the old world cuisines that are still hand crafted, homemade here in Cleveland -- those traditions have endured even if only in small ways, but we are also famous for paving paradise to provide more surface parking lots. Let us stop this madness. We have a wonderfully diverse and rich cultural heritage in our built environment. So much has been lost, let's stop throwing out the baby with the bath water and embrace the baby while we drain the tub. What our leaders need to recognize is what part of the mix is the baby and what is the dirty, cold bathwater. Oh yes and nonprofits must follow their missions despite what funders say -- that is their charge. It doesn't take donning one's thinking cap to figure this stuff out -- it's horse sense.

I'm working on the Gund... first, a question for you

It seems there is a group of us who want to save the current CIA Gund building - I'll post my proposal shortly. In the mean time, can you tell me who is the architect of the Gund?

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Ed Flynn

According to Joe McCullough, the principal architect was Ed Flynn of Garfield Harris Robinson. Franny Taft said that he was the son in law of Alec Robinson of the firm. I am doing a little more research and will let you know what I discover.

lights on nobody home -- yet

Just a note to say how nice it is to see light emanating from the Breuer Tower. It occured to me that one day I might see the Tower with lights on -- not work lights as these are, but that warm glow of human activity, tourists and business travelers, residents or office workers. Wouldn't that be nice?

So much of the ugly discussion also included the descriptor "darK". Yes this theater has been dark for 2 decades. I am excited at the prospect of there being light there once again.

Stay tuned for the county's request for proposals for the sale of the site, due out this month...

From blighted to lighted

Carl Stein pointed out that the Breuer Tower probably hasn't been cleaned and caulked since it was built, 30 years ago... in polluted Cleveland that is like applying a coat of gray paint. And, the disign is certainly one that will take on different life, with life inside. That Jacobs and then the County have withheld public use of this building for so long has blighted it. Even with the few lights on in this photo, I see an image emerging of an IBM computer punch card, like would influence Breuer, and I like the look very much. Can't wait to see it in full glory again.

BTW, there needs to be a hard press right now with the FBI to stop all work at the Breuer until it can be determined if the abatement and other work inside is harming the structural or architectural character of the building. Considering every aspect of the leadership and planning on this project has been incompetent, if not criminal, it is safe to say all work at the Breuer happening now is wrong and costing taxpayers money we should not spend. How do we get this job shut down and the commissioners investigated for destroying an international treasure (like if they bulldozed "The Thinker". I believe the city should at least pull the permit to demolish based on the clear proof the county does not have a plan to build, as that was a condition for the permit. It would also be appropriate for the city to send the county and Madison a stronger message saying don't lie to the people again. Stand up, ladies and gentleman - you are appointed as planners to do a job, not rubber stamp stupidity..

City Council and the mayor and law department should investigate how and why this permit was approved by planning... it is election time and two commissioners appear to be out anyways, so time to build some new loyalties, to your voters!

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Chicago marina header

  Cool header mash-up today.  Where did you get the image?  Is Jeff Buster in Chee-cago?

Another great Buster header!

Yes - excellent mashup. Jeff is everywhere

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marina city goldberg bauhaus chicago

In the opening of the Film Bauhaus in America we see Bertrand Goldberg telling a story about the day the Nazi's came to oust him from Germany where he was studying.

The header is indeed Goldberg's famous Marina City. The building has been likened to corn cobs and appropriately so as it is in Chicago where corn is king either as it sits in train cars to be shipped far and wide or as it resides in the flesh of animals headed for slaughter. Jeff was indeed in Chicago, having lunch, snapping up shots of this architectural giant and investigating sleek one of a kind train cars and Union Station and then riding back to Cleveland in a sleeping berth on Amtrak.

Jeff and I had a conversation about the various industries of Chicago and Cleveland. It is interesting to note that Chicago's major industries were grain moving and slaughter houses - the meat packing industry where as Cleveland focused on refineries, steel, and coatings -- paint. There is a difference in toxicity here. Then there is this interesting discovery for this morning. Maybe you knew it, but I did not. Check this out:

Chicago Climate Exchange (CCX) is the world’s first and North America’s only voluntary, legally binding greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction and trading system for emission sources and offset projects in North America and Brazil. CCX employs independent verification, includes all six greenhouse gases, and has been trading greenhouse gas emission allowances since 2003. CCX was launched prior to the commencement of trading in the European Union through the ETS system. To date, more than 120 CCX Members range from corporations like Ford and Motorola, to state and municipalities such as Oakland and Chicago, to educational institutions such as Tufts University and University of Minnesota, to farmers and the Iowa Farm Bureau. CCX has an aggregate baseline of 226 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent, which is equal to the United Kingdom’s annual allocation under the EU ETS. This would make CCX one of the largest “countries” in the EU CO2 market, or 4% of U.S. annual GHG emissions.

No wonder Chicago took our Sadhu Johnston to be Mayor Daley's sustainability czar. Now why can't Cleveland get on the train to a future sustainable city. Did we breathe too many particulates, did we ingest too many heavy metals to be able to see the benefit of being a green city on a blue lake? If Chicago is the windy city because of the ling windedness of its politicians, we certainly can compete, but if it is because of the lake breezes, then we have Chicago beat. City of architecture? Well, if we had saved some of ours we might be on par. It's something to aspire to, eh?