Cleveland to See Art Institute Expansion

Aiming for an iconic new building that will grab international attention, the Cleveland Institute of Art has hired MVRDV, a highly regarded Dutch architecture firm known for edgy, humorous and provocative buildings, to design a major expansion of its campus on upper Euclid Avenue.

The project, which could cost $40 million and take three to four years, will be a major component of the University Arts and Retail District planned by Case Western Reserve University and local developers in University Circle.

"Finally we got here," said David Deming, president of the art institute, Thursday, pounding his fists joyously on the round wooden conference table in his office. "This has been my dream since the day I arrived here" nine years ago.

"We're going to be seen as creating a buzz in a whole neighborhood."

Innovative contemporary art and architecture are emerging as primary themes of the Case development, also known as the Triangle. The MVRDV building, which will be the firm's first in North America, will anchor the east end of the development near East 117th Street and the elevated rapid-transit line that separates University Circle from Little Italy.

A new building for the Museum of Contemporary Art, to be designed by Foreign Office Architects of London, will anchor the project's west end at Mayfield Road and Euclid Avenue.

The institute already has raised $9.5 million for the 80,000-square-foot building, for which construction will begin after a yearlong design process. An area south of the institute's McCullough Center, known as "lot 45," a key parcel controlled by University Circle Inc., the area's nonprofit service agency, will be used for a parking garage and a new rapid station for the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority, Deming said.

In a selection process led by distinguished Cleveland architect Peter van Dijk, a native of the Netherlands, the institute sifted through 40 architecture firms before narrowing the field to four finalists, including Studios Architecture of San Francisco; Mack Scoggin Merrill Elam Architects of Atlanta; and Krueck and Sexton of Chicago.

The Cleveland office of the Philadelphia firm Burt Hill Architects will collaborate on the project with MVRDV.

Deming said the art institute faculty immediately responded to the creative spirit of MVRDV partner Winy Maas, who thinks "the way our faculty [members] think and teach our students."

Based in Rotterdam, the firm is known in Holland and across Europe for designing apartment slabs and towers with colorful and eccentric window patterns, giant rectangular holes cut into their middles, and highly pronounced staircases that zigzag across their facades.

Deming said he is prepared for criticism from area architects because a local firm wasn't chosen for the job.

"I felt it was important for the institution to make a bang with this and bring in a piece of architecture by a firm that had not designed in the area," he said.

"We're ready to make a splash."

Deming also said he wanted to give the institute an international dimension as a way to broaden horizons and create a sense of creative possibility.

The college, which offers four-year-degree programs in fine arts, industrial design, crafts, animation, graphics and related disciplines, will use the construction project to consolidate its two-part campus.

In addition to the McCullough Center, a former automobile factory off Euclid Avenue at East 115th Street, the college has a large studio, gallery and office building about three quarters of a mile west at 11141 East Blvd., opposite the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Deming said that in a year and a half, the institute would like to entertain proposals from developers about razing the East Boulevard building and replacing it with a luxury condominium tower. The goal is to generate revenue from the sale or lease of the land under the tower and the air rights above to add a new operating fund to the institute's $30 million endowment, which consists mainly of funds restricted to scholarships and education. Deming said the institute has had conversations with developers about the East Boulevard proposal, but the response was tepid because the college can't vacate the property for at least three years.

The goal for the addition to the McCullough Center is to create rugged, flexible studio spaces in an environment that can be quickly reconfigured as artistic practices and technologies change in the 21st century and to encourage interdisciplinary thinking.

"We're not asking the architect to give us an identity," Deming said. "We want to work with an architect who can respond to our identity."