Cleveland's Peter B. Lewis Building

The Peter B. Lewis Building
The Peter B. Lewis Building

In 2002, the campus of Case Western Reserve University became home to another of architect Frank Gehry’s distinctive undulating metal roofs — in this case, one that appears to be cascading over, and consuming, the remaining brick portion of the structure.

This is the Peter B. Lewis Building, a facility housing classrooms and offices of Case’s Weatherhead School of Management. Named for the Chairman of Cleveland-area-based Progressive Insurance Companies, the building was constructed at a cost of a cool $61.7 million (of which total Lewis paid 60%). That total secured a building containing 150,00 square feet of floor area, distributed among eleven classrooms, five seminar rooms, four meeting rooms, a lounge, and faculty offices spread across six levels.

The buildings free-form roof, clad in over 20,000 stainless steel roof shingles, waves and warps over what was once a rectilinear brick box with taut windows; the brick volume occasionally bends and waves in response. Within, there are no rectilinear corners to be had. Whenever walls are not curved, cusped, concave or convex, they are canted and cut at unexpected angles. Linear air slots mimic the linear fluorescents that illuminate the interior. The monochromatic white interiors take on only the tints of ever-changing daylighting and shadowing on warped forms.

An unfortunate aspect of the building is its siting. Cramped as it is within a fairly densely populated area of the Case campus, its sculptural qualities are for the most part concealed, or encountered only by surprise, in tightly constrained framed views. Odd that the University would pay such a premium for a world-class sculpture/building, yet tuck it away so completely. A second flaw is that the building’s undulating forms put winter passersby at risk from falling ice and snow — so much so that the building must often be cordoned and caution-taped.

The Weatherhead School claims that the unique and innovative structure (which is not so unique and innovative, however, that it might not at first glance be taken for Bilbao or Disney), is indicative of the unique and innovative business education within. At over $410 per square foot, however, some feel the building is not much more than a pricey bauble that gives Case Western Reserve University, and Cleveland, bragging rights in having a building by a celebrity architect. For even more of visual interest, see rickzworld.

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