Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Frank Gehry’s Bilbao in Cleveland

From the Peter B. Lewis Building Web site.

Driving through the Case Western Reserve University campus in Cleveland the day after Christmas, we pass manicured lawns, bare trees and traditional brick and stone buildings. Sure signs that we have entered a serious place of higher learning. Then it appears. Twisted metal formed in a weave-like basket pattern that both rise out of the building and fall all around it in layers. Red brick walls and windows bend and curve as they fold into the building’s metallic shell. The structural elements move in ways that seem impossible, or at least eerie, as if the building has a life of its own. It is the architectural equivalent of a searing electric guitar solo in the middle of a chamber concert recital.

This is the work of Frank Gehry, the famed architect whose style is among the most recognizable in the world today. The Peter B. Lewis Building is the headquarters of Case Western’s Weatherhead School of Management. The five-story, 150,000-square-foot building is a smaller version of his most acclaimed works, the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.

Since we happened upon the building during the holidays it was closed and we couldn’t get inside. But based on photographs from the school’s Web site, the theme of the curved elements are also in use inside, only with the use of softer materials, such as wood.

On its Web site, Weatherhead describes the $61.7 million building as reflecting the “spirit” of its “innovative approach” to business education. “It redefines the way a business school should look, just as Weatherhead redefines the way management education should be taught.”