Cleveland’s civic center is one of the most completely realized examples of the City Beautiful movement in US city planning that flourished during the late 1800s. In 1903, architect/planner Daniel Burnham designed what became known as the Cleveland Mall or Burnham Mall—a large public park flanked by major civic and government buildings on a bluff above Lake Erie. One hundred years later, the new convention center complex restores and reinvigorates Burnham’s original vision while reimagining it for the 21st Century, weaving together two public assembly facilities with civic green space to catalyze a dramatic revitalization of the downtown core.
Site and Program
Lined with neoclassical buildings from the early 20th Century, the 600,000-sf Mall overlooks the Lake Erie waterfront, adjacent to cultural resources such as the Cleveland Browns Stadium and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Burnham’s site plan links to a system of parks and green spaces extending beyond the bounds of the city, and functions as a connecting zone between multiple urban districts.
The new Cleveland Convention Center reuses the excavated footprint of the existing below-grade convention center beneath the Mall, but the facility is completely reconfigured, expanded to 767,000 sf with raised ceilings and abundant daylighting reaching into the below-grade meeting and exhibition spaces. A flexible new “City Room” ballroom space looks out to the waterfront.
Above grade, the new 5-story, 235,000-sf Global Center for Health Innovation along the west edge of the Mall interfaces with the convention center through a below-grade connection. The first facility of its kind to be integrated with a convention center, the Global Center for Health Innovation provides a permanent showroom for Cleveland’s thriving medical research industry and a year-round anchor tenant for the convention center, adding new possibilities for convention planning and driving economic growth for the Northeast Ohio region.
Redesigning a major piece of Cleveland’s urban core meant integrating multiple dimensions of place and experience, in close collaboration with civic leaders, consultants, and landscape architect. Building on extensive research of the ideals and aspirations of Burnham’s vision, the design continues the Mall’s presence as a grand organizing space for the city’s civic life, while finding new ways to activate the space with an ecosystem of user communities. The formal, heavily paved promenades of the 1903 landscape design are replaced by lush vegetation and recreational lawns, with a singular architectural gesture in the form of the “Lakeside Lift” – a subtle but powerful move that creates a raised entrance to the convention center along Lakeside Avenue. The lift functions on several levels: it is a block-sized light well for the below-grade exhibition hall; a strongly defined street presence for the convention center; and a new vantage point for park goers, offering views of Lake Erie and events on the lawns below.
The interior design of the convention center emphasizes white, clean, bright, and reflective elements, scattering daylight from clerestory windows and light wells to suffuse the below-grade spaces. Daylight, graphics, and color create a wayfinding rhythm throughout the facility. In the ballroom, a floor-to-ceiling window looks out to Lake Erie and the texture of Cleveland's waterfront, forming a living tableau and a privileged experience at the center of the city. Programmable lighting interacts with custom-designed undulating ceiling elements to generate a mood of excitement that changes in character depending on the nature of the event.
At the bustling intersection of St. Clair Avenue and Ontario Street, the Global Center for Health Innovation is expressed as a floating solid that hovers above the street, with transparent connections at the ground level interfacing directly with the life of the street and the park. The upper three floors form a unified block of medical showrooms, surrounding a full-height atrium that forms a vast carved opening along the east, park-facing elevation. As a new addition to Burnham’s original plan to frame the Mall with neo-classical civic buildings, the building negotiates vast differences in time as well as scale to unite the Beaux Arts aesthetic sensibility and monumentality of the existing architectural language with the informality and flexibility of the new Mall and smaller scaled surrounding streets. The molded pre-cast concrete materiality of the façade achieves both a sense of permanence and lightness, with increasing levels of textural detail at various proximities.