SO-IL + Kurtz wins competition to design Martin Luther King Jr. branch for Cleveland Public Library
CLEVELAND, Ohio - The Cleveland Public Library’s board of trustees voted Friday to rank the design team of New York-based SO-IL with rising star Jonathan Kurtz of Cleveland as top among three contenders to design the new $10 million Martin Luther King Jr. Branch in University Circle.
The vote authorized the board to negotiate fees and additional development of a design with SO-Il and Kurtz.
If negotiations fail, the library would then negotiate with the second-ranked team, Bialosky Architects of Cleveland with Vines Architecture of Raleigh, North Carolina, and if that failed, with the third-ranked team, MASS Design Group of Boston, with LDA Architects, of Cleveland.
Kurtz, reached by phone after the vote, said he was thrilled his team was selected. The vote is a special coup for him because he left a partner-level position in 2016 at the nationally prominent Cleveland firm of Westlake Reed Leskosky, now part of DLR, to start a small independent office.
“It’s huge,” Kurtz said. “It’s a project in the cultural arts. A library as a community space, a social space, a public space, is at the heart of what I want to be doing. It’s a tremendous start.”
However, the vote left members of the public and the design team of MASS-LDA, who spoke at the meeting, sounding miffed. The three finalists were chosen by the library from 31 teams that entered the design competition last fall. The library chose nine firms for interviews, and from those, three were selected to receive $20,000 to develop designs. Funding came from the Cleveland Foundation.
Library officials shared a presentation with trustees showing that the MASS design was most popular with the public, according to comment cards collected after a May 10 meeting in which all three teams presented their ideas.
The MASS design called for a two-story building wrapped in a pleated glass skin patterned to resemble coded geometric symbols on quilts that were used to guide escaping slaves to freedom on the Underground Railroad before the Civil War according to the design team.
Despite the design’s popularity, a majority of library trustees felt that the MASS design disregarded a key component of the competition, which is that the new library would have to be built underneath a future apartment building as part of the upcoming Circle Square project.
Midwest Development Partners, the developers of the $300 million, four-block project, agreed to build the new branch between East 105th Street and Stokes Boulevard on the north side of Euclid Avenue before demolishing the existing MLK Library, built around the corner in 1970 at 1962 Stokes Blvd.
Joyce Dodrill, the library’s chief legal officers, said at Friday’s meeting that the library agreed to sell air rights for the space over the new library to the developers for $1.2 million. In all, the developers are contributing $5.2 million to the library project, she said.
Library Trustee Thomas Corrigan said he thought it was “cavalier” of the MASS team to disregard the requirement of the design competition that the library should be set beneath a 5- to 10-story apartment building.
“Just ignoring a $5 million contribution to the cost of this is not something I’m prepared to be cavalier about,” he said.
Christopher Maurer, principal of Redhouse Studio and a member of the MASS-LDA design team, said the group had provided the library’s design advisory and selection committees with alternatives showing how their design could be integrated with the
The SO-IL - Kurtz design prevailed in part because the library’s advisory and selection committees agreed it hued most closely to criteria established for the competition.
Then too, an independent cost estimator ranked it the cheapest of the three designs, coming in at $9.6 million rather than more than $12 million for the other two designs.
Trustee Alesha Washington expressed concern over the SO-IL - Kurtz design, which calls for an expansive open space with library functions arrayed on a raised deck that would conceal storage and airhandling equipment below.
The team likened the platform to the “table of brotherhood” inspired by imagery in King’s famous “I have a dream speech.” Yet comments from the May 10 meeting, which Washington asked to have read by Dodrill during the meeting, expressed concerns that the wide-open SO-IL space would be noisy.
“There is a gap between what the public likes and where we ended up,” said Washington, who abstained from the majority vote for SO-IL.
Felton Thomas Jr., the library’s executive director, said the winning design would be a starting point for refinements that would address such concerns.
Kurtz also said after the meeting that he’d be happy to develop the design further. “I think it’s going to be a much richer version of the library, and we’re excited to involve as many constituents as possible,” he said.