Great? TOH design isn't even good

CH officials have repeatedly said that citizen input into the Top of the Hill (TOH) design is a matter of personal opinions and not worthy of serious consideration. They say design decisions should be left to credentialed architects and city planners who understand principles of good design. At the suggestion of a city official, I’ve read some key city planning texts. I found not only that the principles are easy to understand, but that the current TOH design violates at least four major principles of good design.

The primary design principle is space. Structures should be built to focus on space; space is not merely something to be filled in with buildings. Once CH officials decided that the four-acre TOH land would be a high-density housing project, it became impossible to use space as a basic and crucial design element. What remains of space in the complex are three small green spaces located on the periphery of the buildings. This lack of space is directly responsible for the claustrophobic feeling of the design. It is also no small matter that the space once enjoyed by the residents of the Buckingham will be obliterated.

The next design principle is to incorporate wandering paths that provide a sense of calmness and personal harmony with the area. There are no dedicated roaming paths in TOH. The paths that will naturally develop for residents and visitors will be to and from the parking garage. Cedar Fairmount is one of the most walkable neighborhoods in the city. This complex is essentially a fortress discouraging casual entry and spoiling the pleasure of wandering.

The next design principle is scale, meaning buildings should be proportional to one another and the surrounding neighborhoods. The 10-story building at the apex of the project is radically out of scale with the neighborhood, if not the entire city. Developers have tried to substitute graduated buildings from the eastern end of the complex to the apex building. However, anyone coming up Cedar Hill will be confronted by 10-stories of massive structure which show no sign of being graduated from any surrounding buildings. In addition, the Cedar Road buildings at the east end of the complex dwarf the adjacent buildings on a horizontal scale. Their flat fronts contribute to the fortress-like impression.

The final design element is harmony, meaning that buildings should have a unifying theme to tie them to one another and to the neighborhood. When CH City Council decided against replicating the Tudor and Georgian architecture of the area, they precluded a design that would easily blend in. Most egregious is that each of the TOH buildings is totally different from the others in design and building materials. There is not a single design element that is carried throughout the complex. The result is visual chaos. One urban planning text stated that one of the major mistakes developers make is to cluster buildings with significant design differences together and pass the design off as an example of modern architecture.

There is currently a dispute about the adequacy of the TOH design between city officials and the group Citizens for Great Design. City officials assure us that they are dedicated to a great design and that the final plans will be great. 

However, unless there are major changes with the next plan submission in July, I believe I have demonstrated that the design not only is not great, it isn’t even good.

M. Joan Mallick

M. Joan Mallick is a 47-year resident of Cleveland Heights who has lived for the past 40 years on South Overlook Road.

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Volume 12, Issue 7, Posted 12:24 PM, 06.27.2019