CLEVELAND, Ohio — The residential upswing that has swept parts of the city over the past decade has pushed developers to go from converting existing buildings into apartments to erecting ones that are filling some of the surface parking lots that have scarred Cleveland for decades.
New residents drawn to these buildings are part of a national back-to-the-city demographic shift. They have begun pumping fresh life and economic energy into a half dozen neighborhoods and will likely continue to do so when the pandemic lifts. That’s important for a city that has lost 58 percent of its population since 1950.
The architectural news, however, is less than captivating, at least so far. Many, if not most of the new low-, middle-, and high-rise apartment buildings built since the last recession have been aesthetically disappointing.
That’s also part of a national pattern. Pressed by high costs and thin margins, apartment developers across the U.S. are putting up bland, boxy buildings with thin-looking facades made of colored panels and flat windows.
A new standout
But there’s a strong new exception to the dull vernacular in Cleveland: Church and State, the 158-unit apartment complex completed recently between Detroit and Church avenues in the block between West 28th and West 29th Street, which used to be called State Street.
Built by developers and husband-and-wife duo Graham Veysey and Marika Shiori-Clark, with partner Michael Panzica, and designed by LDA Architects of Cleveland, the nearly $70 million project provides a jolt of fresh thinking about what an apartment building in Cleveland could be.
Comprised of two separate, L-shaped buildings, the six–story Church Building and the 11-story State Building, the complex frames a central plaza that cuts diagonally northeast to southwest between Detroit and Church avenues, about a quarter mile west of the Detroit Superior Bridge at West 25th Street.
Church and State’s hallmark is that it appears to have been built out of stacks of white and dark gray blocks. The blocks are piled irregularly, pushing forward and back from one another in ways that create a rich display of sculptural depth, and light and shadow.
Church and State isn’t the only new apartment building in Cleveland with an innovative edge. The 29-story Beacon, finished downtown last winter at 515 Euclid Ave., and designed by the Boston-based architecture firm of NADAAA, has facades of metal panels in six shades from cream and tan to brown, which create a vibrant Op Art pattern on the skyline.
Texture and touch
But in contrast to apartment buildings sheathed in metal panels or taut surfaces of glass, Church and State’s buildings have texture. They appeal to the sense of touch.
The buildings’ primary surfaces are cladded in charcoal gray shingles of Spanish slate, producing a fine-grained surface that looks dark in shadow but which carries a brilliant sheen when the sun hits at the right angle.
The rectangular blocks that project from the core structure are sheathed in white-painted aluminum panels with ribs, or standing seams, which make them resemble shipping containers poking out from a dark-gray box.
Recesses carved between the stacked blocks provide outdoor terraces for residents, and create a third layer of depth.
While some new apartment buildings in Cleveland have thin, cardboardy facades that appear inches thick, the surfaces of Church and State push forward and back as much as five to seven feet, said Dominick Durante, Jr., founder and president of LDA.
Panzica estimated that the design added more than 5% to the cost of Church and State, but Durante said: “Our feeling is that good design will pay for itself” through higher demand for apartments.
“Having a building that’s leased more, with less vacancy — that adds value,” he said. “That’s the payback.”
The concept driving Church and State resonates on many levels from highbrow to commonplace.
It might make some think of children’s blocks, Lego blocks, a Jenga tower, or a pileup of shipping containers. Architectural aficionados might recall Moshe Safdie’s Habitat, built for Expo 67 in Montreal, a mountain of prefabbed stacked units.
Church and State’s push-pull facades have a sense of potential movement, as if the pieces could slide in and out, or slip from one position to another like one of those plastic puzzles in which you put a series of numbers in order by sliding one piece at a time.
The white and gray blocks could have been arranged like a checkerboard, but that would have been heavy-handed and boring. Instead, the different blocks have an asymmetrical arrangement that gives the buildings dynamism and movement.
There’s also a gradual reduction in the number of projecting white blocks proceeding from the Detroit and Church Avenue sides of the buildings to the interior courtyard, which is dominated by slate, and by windows framed with thin borders of white aluminum.
The overall composition has a pleasing chunkiness that looks good in Ohio City’s Hingetown, a once moribund district of 19th- and early 20th-century warehouses and commercial buildings that has seen a sudden wave of investment over the past decade.
A modern fit
Stylistically modern, Church and State contrasts with its surroundings in a friendly way that accentuates its newness, while bringing fresh attention to the burnished age of the older buildings around it.
At 11 stories, the State Building is the biggest thing in its immediate neighborhood, yet it fits comfortably. The six-story Church Building mediates between the height of its taller neighbor and those of lower surrounding structures. The plaza between the two buildings makes the complex feel open and welcoming, not overbearing or stand-offish.
It also matters a great deal that Detroit Avenue flares in width between West 28th and West 29th Streets because that part of the avenue once accommodated a trench for streetcars descending to the lower level of the Detroit Superior Bridge. The width of the avenue makes the height of the State Building feel appropriate.
Church and State’s originality stems not just from LDA’s contributions, but also from those of its clients, particularly Shioiri-Clark, who earned a master’s degree in architecture at Harvard University in 2011 and who co-founded MASS Design Group, an innovative, nationally-respected firm in Boston.
Shioiri-Clark collaborated with MASS Design and LDA on the No. 2 ranked proposal for the Cleveland Public Library’s new Martin Luther King, Jr., Branch library in University Circle in a recent competition.
Church and State’s visual energy creates a highly visible centerpiece for the transformation of the Hingetown portion of Ohio City as a burgeoning cultural and residential hub on the city’s near West Side.
Veysey and Shioiri-Clark helped set that trend in motion in 2011 when they turned the 19th-century Ohio City Firehouse at 1455 W. 29th St., into a co-working facility that now features a Rising Star coffee bar and Larder Delicatessen, just around the corner from Church and State.
Also in 2011, art collectors Fred and Laura Bidwell acquired the former streetcar transformer building at 1460 W. 29th Street, opposite the firehouse. In 2013, they turned it into the nonprofit Transformer Station gallery, in collaboration with the Cleveland Museum of Art.
Spaces gallery followed in 2017, when it moved from the West Bank of the Flats to a new, ground-floor space in the 1895 Van Roy Building at 2900 Detroit Ave., which the Bidwells had purchased in 2015.
Veysey and Shiori-Clark, meanwhile, added to their portfolio by acquiring and renovating the Striebinger Block, a two-story brick building on the southwest corner of Detroit Avenue and West 29th Street, plus the parking lots that provided the site for Church and State.
Now about 30 percent leased, Church and State features numerous apartment floor plans, with rents from $1,345 a month for studios and one-bedrooms, to as high as $4,650 for a three-bedroom.
It also includes amenities that are becoming standard in such buildings, including a rooftop social area and terrace with a dipping pool, and a ground-level bike storage area, both in the Church Building.
The various types of apartments are named for philosophers, from Aristotle to David Hume, Simone de Beauvoir and Hannah Arendt, which might strike some as hokey. Then again, if it encourages residents to tackle some ambitious reading, no harm done.
Now that Church and State is finished, Veysey, Shiori-Clark and Panzica said they’re hoping to close soon on an option to acquire two acres from Cuyahoga County at the northeast corner of Detroit Avenue and West 25th Street, at the foot of the Detroit-Superior Bridge.
There, they hope to build a new apartment project they’re calling Bridgeworks, to be designed by LDA and MASS Design.
Having already created something distinctive at Church and State nearby, they can’t create a click-and-drag copy without diluting the impact of the buildings they just finished, and they know it.
Having set a higher standard for a new generation of apartment buildings in Cleveland with Church and State, it will be interesting to see what they come up with next.