You’ve not likely ever heard of Materials Park, home to the US materials research clearinghouse, ASM International. It is the masterpiece of Cleveland architect John Terence Kelly and located near Cleveland, Ohio. Kelly, who studied with Walter Gropius and brought Buckminster Fuller onto the Park project in 1959, married Mid-Century Modernism and the geodesic dome. The resulting math art qualities evoke images of Italian Futurist Umberto Boccioni’s Unique Forms of Continuity in Space.
When I first saw the project, listed on America’s National Register of Historic Places in 2011, I wondered, “Why a 250-foot-diameter dome? Was it a gimmick to lend Kelly credibility?” Then I looked more closely at the steely lace of hexagons arching ethereally over the campus. It most certainly has a purpose— in fact it serves at least two purposes.
One: Kelly didn’t simply create a pretty garden and building and slap a geodesic dome atop it. The dome brings harmony to the composition. Instead of enveloping the composition’s elements within itself, it implicitly reveals Kelly’s composition, his loosely yet deliberately and sensitively shaped campus.
Two: The dome harnesses sunlight. Architects so rarely expose their ability to do this. Sunlight passes through the dome’s transparency. It grabs the geometrical shapes and sprinkles them on the ground, creating patterns that look like chemical compounds. Therefore, reiterating the purpose of this building, or, put another way, exemplifies the concept of “form meets function”.
The dome then subtly guides the viewer’s eye to the building. Kelly’s adeptness at this is akin to that of traditional Japanese painters. The building contrasts the dome’s dense geometry with a graceful, curvilinear rhythm. It also possesses transparency. It’s an exceptional method of blurring the boundaries between indoors and out. From one side of the building you see into and through it to the verdant other side.
The garden, meanwhile, further softens the physical structures. It’s complete with walking paths, plant beds, and the minerals used to produce steel, aluminum, and other metals.
Cleveland-based Chesler Group and Dimit Architects preserved original materials such as copper fin-tube radiators, large, single-pane plate-glass windows, and open-tread, stainless-steel stairways. The dome was not part of the preservation itself. They completed the $7 million restoration work in summer 2011.
Perspective originally published this post.