Convention Center

Spring, 2001

In most American cities, the paradigm of the urban environment as the material index of social collectives has lost its validity. Today, it has become cliché to note that communities are more convincingly defined around one’s prime-time television habits than any architecturally conceived sense of place or belonging. Even the notion that the city is the center for economic exchange and trade has quickly lost ground to technologically enabled exchanges. Beyond the glaring urban exceptions within the United States, like New York and Chicago, if American cities are to remain intact, they are in need of new strategies for enabling social interaction within a material environment.

This building is a lakefront convention center for Cleveland, Ohio – a city whose surrounding populace is more accustomed to identifying through the image of the city in the nightly news than its material counterpart. Throughout the 1990’s, Cleveland experienced a highly publicized ‘renaissance.’ A flood of literature intended for tourist, and recurrent plugs in the local media constantly reminded the viewer that the days of lighting the Cuyahoga River on fire and receiving the worst effects of the rust-belt depression were in Cleveland’s past. It might have been surprising, however, for any scholar of urbanism to learn that most of the city’s highly touted renaissance consisted of the construction of isolated attractions on the lakefront. The new Cleveland Browns stadium and I.M. Pei’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame are perfect examples. While these buildings did very little to effect the culture of urbanism in the city, they did become prominent new icons in mediated urban representations Cleveland. The lakefront, in fact, became the mediated image of the city around which loose collectives identified.

Rather than lamenting the loss of the primacy of the physical city as the locale for social exchanges and collectives, this project engages aspects of the cultural conditions responsible for urban ephemeralization in yield of a reconfigured material urbanism. Through a series of architectural procedures, the building embraces and subverts the image-culture of Cleveland to create a viable form of civic interaction within a material urban environment. The propensity of the local culture to passively receive the image of the city is exploited to create an environment in which urban image is collectively, and actively, figured by the urban citizen.

Main Convention Level Plan: A re-mix of typical convention center exhibition halls, retail space, public programs, athletic facilities, parking and entertainment.

Model: The form of the building is a generic programmatic box, anamorphically projected to read with an exaggerated perspective, as an image in space, from key surrounding vantages that are prevalent in media coverage of Cleveland’s lakefront.

The elevations of the project were conceived as a “thickened surfaces,” and were made to host a combination of occupant circulation, embedded video screens, projection surfaces, picture windows, and textual advertisements. Events in an around the conventions center are projected or screened alongside exhibition-specific programming and picture window views of the interior circulation. Hence, direct intersubjective behavior is formatted by, and made analogous to, a media model – prompting a conscious re-evaluation of the nature of civic interaction and creating an active machine for a populist manipulation of urban image.