An eco-convention center?

There are lots of questions to be asked about the proposal to build a new convention center in Cleveland, including whether it's really the most pressing civic need. (Would it really improve our quality of life as much as implementing the county greenspace plan or creating a great lakefront?) But if a convention center is to be built, at the very least it should be green. Here are some guidelines.

As a major public building, Cleveland's new convention center should embody the highest civic aspirations and design standards. It offers an opportunity to stretch the imagination about what a building is and how it can perform.

Specifically, the new convention center should:

  • Respect place: The center should respect the ecology, climate, human culture and history of its site. It should integrate the needs of human society within the balance of nature.
  • Build on existing assets: A new convention center should build on the historic investments made in buildings and infrastructure in downtown Cleveland, the heart of the region. If a site other than the present convention center site on the Mall is selected for a new center, then an acceptable plan for the reuse of  Public Auditorium and other historic buildings must be found.
  • Minimize energy use: The goal should be a center that produces as much energy as it consumes by including the best designs and technologies for energy conservation, daylighting, natural cooling, solar water heating and photovoltaic energy production. This will reduce operating costs and will prevent the center from adding to global warming. Smart energy systems and daylighting can also improve user comfort.
  • Optimize material use: The center should be designed to make the most efficient use of building materials. The materials used should be as durable as possible and should have the lowest possible life-cycle costs. Renewable, locally available materials should be given priority.
  • Be a closed-loop system: In all respects, the center should emulate nature's rule that "waste equals food." Building materials (steel, stone, cement, wood, etc.) should come from recycled sources to the extent possible, and the center should be designed so that it can be easily adapted for re-use or dismantled and recycled after it has come to the end of its life. The design and operation of the center should make it easy for occupants to recycle waste.
  • Eliminate toxic substances: For the health of the building's occupants and the health of the environment, the convention center should not use building materials, coatings, or furnishings that contain persistent toxic substances.
  • Restore landscapes: Landscaping around the center should emphasize the restoration of native ecosystems and treatment of stormwater.
  • Enhance the public realm of the city: Instead of turning enormous blank walls to the street as so many convention centers do, the Cleveland facility should contribute to the street life of the city. It should fit into the urban street grid, and the structure should be "wrapped" with uses that enliven the street (e.g., retail shops, offices, hotels). The convention center should be a community meeting place for Cleveland residents as well as visitors from out of town. It should promote inclusiveness and celebrate diversity.
  • Orient toward transit and walking: Instead of the typical, closed box, the Cleveland Center should be connected to the rest of the city in multiple ways, especially by transit and pedestrian links. People should be drawn out of the center to explore the city streets.
  • Create pedagogical opportunities: The ecological features of the center should be transparent so the center can be a place of teaching. The center should demonstrate the relationships between the built environment and the natural environment.

In sum, the new convention center should be a delightful place for residents and visitors, and it should not place an unfair burden on the rest of the biosphere. To paraphrase David Orr of Oberlin College, we must design a building so carefully that it does not cast a long ecological shadow on future generations.


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EcoCity Cleveland
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Cuyahoga Bioregion
(216) 961-5020
Copyright 2002-2005



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Pittsburgh's new riverfront convention center designed by Rafael Vinoly Architects will be the first certified "green" convention center in the U.S., with features such as natural ventilation, natural daylighting, water conservation, and energy efficiency.


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