The Arcade Building in Cleveland, Ohio changed my life. That’s what good architecture can do, in many ways. I was on a trip to Cleveland just after finishing my business degree and had stopped in to sightsee. It was amazing. Old and historic, glass-roofed with a lace-like iron structure, the Arcade Building sang to me.
Opened in 1890, the locals nicknamed the building the Crystal Palace. John M. Eisenmann and George H. Smith designed it as a big-city mercantile center and modeled it after the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan, Italy. Back then, it cost $875,000 to build; in 2001, it got a $60M renovation.
That’s because they don’t make them like that anymore. The building is a result of loving labor by men long gone. The ornate balconies have such detail, wrought by human hands because it was before machine production. Those artisans left their thumbprints on that work and on the tenants and the visitors ever since. It was their legacy.
On the day of my visit, light coming through the roof structure created such shadows on the walls, the refraction – even the dust in the air – revealed rays of light that hit those balconies, the steel, the terrazzo floors. How did someone design all this? I wondered. Was it intentional or a divine spark, like Handel writing Messiah?
Later, I found this quote, now my favorite, by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, “Architecture is frozen music.” But that was after I left that building and went and enrolled in architecture school, because the handiwork of those artisans touched my life in a more than passing way.
Today, I like to believe that we as architects touch others’ lives, too, because I’ve personally experienced that that’s what good architecture can do. “Architecture with heart” is what I say of my specializations – senior living, aging in place, medical buildings, design for special needs. All of these reflect compassion and a passion – helping those who help others.
When I think of the Arcade Building imprinting its lacy pattern on my life, one hopes that even something as simple as a home retrofitted for aging in place will allow parents to stay in their home longer, enjoy that space, and enjoy their family and neighborhood. Knowing that we have this effect on others is why I am an architect.