Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Gwathmey's Debacle at Cleveland State

BOTC is crunched for time, but had to write about Charles Gwathmey's design for a new student center at Cleveland State and Steve Litt's rather warm critical embrace of the proposed building. We are cringing at both the building and the review.

The proposed building reflects Gwathmey's formal stagnation that has plagued his work since the early 1990's. There is nothing new in the formal amalgam--Gwathmey has been regurgitating these "modernist forms" for a life time and had not advanced the investigation. The grouping of shapes, forms, and space is not adequately raw, like Gehry's 1980's architectural assemblies in Los Angeles, or adequately refined and assertive, like John Hejduk's many theoretical paper projects, such as the Wall Houses. The proposed Gwathmey scheme is adequately luke-warm and acceptable for a campus that is plagued with many bad recent buildings, like the Levin College of Urban Affairs.

As much as BOTC is concerned about the office park-like building for an urban campus, we are more concerned with Steve Litt's unequivocal embrace of the design. We fail to understand Litt's acceptance of the cliched design within a city also plagued with cliched architecture. Litt asserts that not every new "iconic" building needs possess the ego and virility of a Gehry, Koolhass, or Libeskind building--and we agree. However, a major campus building, situated on a major urban corridor, replacing an assertive and potent modern structure, should possess an individual, site-specific and situated integrity and a campus enhancing authenticity that is lacking in the proposed scheme. That integrity and authenticity does not need to translate into aggressive formalism--intergrity and authencity can reside within the calm, serene, and sublime.

Although many dislike the modernist core campus of the University, one has to admire the intentions of that ensemble as a paradigm-changing notion. Those designers accepted Cleveland State as an urban institution, sustained by commuter students, and engaged in the new era of the American city. Within the brutalist concrete was hope, idealism, and the groping for the new American college campus, divorced form the historicism of Jefferson and the East Coast. The core campus possessed an intellectual endeavor, which cannot be said of the student center.

There is one last of note of concern pertaining to Litt + the Gwathmey proposal. In a recent posting on his blog, Litt asserts that Gwathmey is no enemy of Brutalism, pointing-out that the architect is currently designing an addition to the brutalist Yale Art + Architecture building. We must assert that Gwathmey is designing an abomination next to Paul Rudolph's masterpiece. The new structure appears utterly devoid of the spatial, formal, and articulated lessons and tactics so prevalent within the original Rudolph building. If Gwathmey is perpetrating this architectural crime against his alma mater, what can we expect the architect to unleash upon Cleveland State?


greyrat said...

What a hideous looking building. Should fit in well at CSU. Can the county commissioners' raise the tax another 25 cents and pay forest city to redo the Library now? That would be awesome!

Anonymous said...

An insanely mediocre prominent project should be no surprise for this city; especially the general acceptance by those in-the-know, including Litt with his total lack of well-founded criticism. Mr. Litt oscillates between bland reporting, uninsiteful travel journaling, and constant fellatio-ing of the entrenched local design community.

It's unfortunate that this has become so commonplace and so egregious that it's practically a running joke.