A celebration of the genius of Frank Gehry, the vision of Peter Lewis, and the transformative impact their work has brought to North East Ohio by building the ultimate portal for awareness of the unique value of industrial innovation.

Revolution in Our Midst – Frank Gehry’s building transformed the way area builders do their job

As Cleveland architect Richard Fleischman sees it, we have just witnessed a revolution in the relationship between architectural design and the engineering and construction industries. “And it’s incredibly thrilling that it has happened right here, in our city,” he says.

The drama played out during the creation of the futuristic Peter B. Lewis Building, Cleveland’s newest landmark in University Circle. Architect Frank Gehry went to Northeast Ohio’s traditional industries and asked them to manipulate materials to achieve extraordinary ends. The companies responded with creative and ingenious solutions.

The procedure for erecting a building has been radically updated by Gehry. The building’s famously intricate curves of roof and wall required precise placement of structural elements. Error tolerances were reduced from the traditional half-inch to a mere millimeter. Zaranec surveyors, a Chagrin Falls company, was onsite daily for more than two years to ensure this accuracy. Starting with Gehry Studio’s computer models, the surveyors added software not normally used in the construction industry, to set up laser-guided reference points over, under and around the complexities of the structure.

Precision was not the only skill required of the onsite workers. They were also asked to work in new ways, and to make new demands on familiar materials. Ed Sellers of GQ Contracting of Wickliffe, was responsible for converting drywall into the elegant and swooping curves that transform the interior spaces into light-caressed canyons flowing upward from ethereally austere open areas. This work, he says, was different from any that GQ employees had done before. The innovations they devised led to patent applications and international publications.

Wood, steel, brick, concrete and glass were also subject to Gehry’s imaginative experimentation. As consulting engineers Derrick Roorda and Vincent DeSimone have noted, “The surfaces of the Lewis building undulate to a much greater extent than in any of Gehry’s previous designs.” A new steel framing system was invented that not only provided structural support, but also defined the surface. This was a significant advance over Gehry’s famous buildings in Bilbao and Seattle.

The wavy surfaces posed a particular challenge to Donley’s of Cleveland. The workers were asked to construct concrete walls that lean back on themselves and curve at the same time. They resolved the problem by creating a completely new forming system.

The R.E.Krug Corporation of Oakwood specializes in architectural glass. It faced the challenge of producing asymmetrically curved windows as perfectly fitting elements of a curved brick wall. “We had draftsmen on the job for a year, instead of the usual two months,” says company president Dick Krug. The sophistication they developed is now much in demand as they work on projects in other cities.

Experiences like these were common to many of the 18 local companies who contributed expertise to the building. While they created their own novel solutions, they also learned from, and contributed other ideas to, the experimentation going on around them. “‘Gee, how did you do that?’ was something you heard a lot on the site,” says Sellers, whose interior framing system so impressed steel roofing-plate contractors Crown Corr of Gary, Indiana, that the two companies are now planning a joint venture.

For Fleischman, “This extraordinary creation, which shows us the way to accomplish successful projects in the future, happened because Frank Gehry has developed an aggressively interactive and fluid approach, treating everyone involved as members of his artistic team, and welcoming their input at every stage.”

Lean manufacturing consultant, Jim Triner, of Triner Technology Inc. in Gates Mills, agrees. “The building is an example of what can happen in a project when inventive sparks fly between participants,” says Triner, whose work takes him to cities in the U.S. and Asia. “What a great example of interdependent teamwork to showcase around the world.”

By Sarah Taylor – Northern Ohio Live, April 2003