Sketches from/of Cleveland

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I was in Cleveland this past weekend for Notacon and Blockparty two hand-in-hand conferences concerning Hacker, DIY Electronics, and early web cultures (in a cursory nutshell). I had an amazing time there, spending the long weekend with collaborators Mark Beasley, jonCates, Jake Elliott, and Tamas Kemenczy, sharing and celebrating several aspects of the Demoscene. I was delighted to have been a part of the celebration and activities, and to be able submit to the Demo Compo (which I think I got 7th place based on audience votes).

As exciting and wonderful as the conference is/was, I was immensely captivated by Cleveland as a city (which these brief videos above capture not so well). To observe the architecture of Cleveland—and other “middle sized” East Coast and Midwestern cities—is to glance at very distinct moments of growth and prosperity in the city’s history. The two main epochs for me occur through the manifestation of turn of the century ornamental Neo-Classical early skyscrapers and Brutalist architecture. The CSU building above is probably one of the better examples that I could capture on video, but the Police Headquarters/Justice Center (here is another view with the “Correctional Facility”) is also a great example of the oppressive, aggressively stark architecture of the latter surge of growth. Apparently I’m not the only one that sees the Brutalism in Cleveland, however, I’m fascinated with how these two distinct architectural histories collide into a city that is currently dealing with its slow decline due to industry shifts.

Jon, having been in Cleveland for Notacon last year, said that he noticed the city going through a process of consolidation and condensing. I noticed a distinctive presence in the city of (possibly) forced urban rejuvenation and vitality. There were re-done squares, massive public parks, as well as maintained fountains and lawns. Most importantly the architecture from the Industrial Revolution (of the slightly Neo-Classical variety) had been kept in remarkable shape; these buildings were not only occupied, but seemed in demanding use (it seemed as though the famous Cleveland Arcade was being remodeled slightly during our visit). Somehow, I want to draw a thread here between working-class/blue collar ethics for utility and the refurbishing of these old structures for new application. Although I believe America struggles with the notion of preservation and maintenance (certainly in Chicago), Cleveland seems a rare example of renovating out of necessity and habit rather than for the purpose of a gimmick or spectacle. I could certainly be stretching this point a bit far, but it could be said this restoration is Cleveland applying a kind of Hack to its urban infrastructure; in undoing the history of architecture, and re-fabricating its utility and purpose, the city mobilizes a strong statement calling upon sustainable practices as a digestive process for looking forward.


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