Architecture and Memory

Architecture and Memory

For nearly thirty years my home-away-from-home was Cleveland City Hall. During my time with the City Planning Commission, I spent tens of thousands of hours walking the hallways, climbing the staircases and working in the spaces of this historic building.

Last year, after I had made the decision to retire from this job, my walks through City Hall began to take on new meaning for me. I began to focus on the architectural details that I had been rushing by for years. I began to slow down and appreciate the beauty of the place.

Although Cleveland City Hall is not unusually ornate for its time, it was built in an era (1911-1916) when designers and craftsmen paid much greater attention to detail than is the case today. Every railing, every staircase, and even ventilation grills seem to have been designed with an eye to beauty and to permanence.

I realized that I would miss this place. And that got me thinking – would I miss the place or would I miss the people of this place? It seems, however, that I cannot separate the place from the people. They are etched together into my memories.

I began to wonder whether my attachment to this place would be as strong if I had spent these thirty years working in a modern office building, with, at best, the aesthetics of sleek lines and surfaces of glass and white. Even though the people would have been the same, the experiences I shared with them might not have “adhered” to the place as they have to this place of gracefully curving railings and intricately carved moldings.

I wonder whether the ornate architectural features of a building like Cleveland City Hall give memories places onto which to cling? Do I miss this building more because its architectural features have become the repositories for my memories of the colleagues and friends with whom I shared these spaces? I think the answer is “yes.”

As these thoughts and feelings came to me as I began my last full year in Cleveland City Hall, I decided to memorialize my reflections with a collection of photographs highlighting, in particular, the often overlooked and hidden beauty of this building. Click here to see that collection of photos.

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