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Photo © Kevin G. Reeves
The dance studio, both visible from the street entrance and lobby, introduce the idea of a "back stage" the moment a visitor arrives.


Idea Center

Westlake Reed Leskosky
Cleveland, Ohio

Cultural Evolution: The benefits of revitalizing a downtown historic building in Cleveland ripple throughout the community.

By Nadav Malin
January 2012

Idea Center at Playhouse Square is green in all the little ways that are common to projects today: energy-efficient equipment and lighting serves the occupants, low-VOC and recycled content finishes adorn the spaces, and high ventilation levels keep the indoor air fresh. Although these measures save money while reducing environmental impact, they pale in comparison to the two big moves that define the project. The first was to renovate the historic Playhouse Square complex at the heart of downtown Cleveland, spurring a revitalization of the neglected urban center; the second was to share space between two like-minded organizations, reducing overall floor area by 38 percent.

Data Idea Center


Location Cleveland, Ohio

Gross area 246,000 ft2 (22,854 m2)

Cost $17 million

Completed September 2005

Program Broadcast and performance space, offices


Curtainwall Kawneer, South Shore Metal Cladding

Skylights SuperSky Products

Interior walls USG Gypsum Board

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The two organizations are ideastream, owner of Cleveland's WCPN public radio station and WVIZ/PBS television station, and PlayhouseSquare Arts and Culture Education. Together they occupy the 90,000 square-foot Idea Center Tenant Suite, which comprises the lower floors of the six-story Idea Center complex. Ten other tenants, including project architects URS, fill out the upper floors, giving the complex a total occupancy of about 500. Within the Idea Center Tenant Suite each organization has its own office space, while sharing meeting rooms, performance spaces, studios, and circulation zones.

Sharing the space saved the two budget-constrained not-for-profits a lot of money during tenant fit-out, but coordinating the use of those shared spaces was challenging, according to ideastream's CFO, Robert Calsin. About two years ago, the organizations jointly hired a facilities coordinator to manage the constant flux of internal gatherings and use of the facilities by community groups. Before hiring the coordinator, shared use of the facilities "worked, but was much more difficult," Calsin says. Now it runs much smoother.

Despite its complexities, the Idea Center project has been a resounding success on many fronts. Completed in 2005, the project pioneered many technologies and services that have since become mainstream. Construction waste diversion, for example, was unfamiliar to contractors and challenging at the time. But on recent projects the design team is now finding a 95 percent diversion rate achievable.

Taking advantage of the historic building's daylighting potential, lighting controls and other energy saving technologies result in actual energy use of 123 thousand Btus per square foot—an impressive number for such a heavily used facility with performance and broadcasting spaces. Had they not chosen to share the space, the energy use intensity might have been lower, but overall performance would likely have been higher.

Perhaps most significantly, the urban renewal catalyzed by this project is ongoing. "Since the project has been completed, the whole Euclid corridor project has been done, promoting the use of alternative transportation," says Monica Green, principal at Westlake Reed Leskosky and sustainability consultant on the project. The cultural value of historic preservation has led to environmental benefits that extend well beyond the resource benefits of saving the original structure.


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