The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum
James Corner Field Operations
Programming and Documentation:
Addition: 50,000 GSF
Renovation: 36,100 GSF
PAU has been selected in a yearlong invited global competition to design a significant expansion of Cleveland’s Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. The original lakefront icon, a heart of glass designed by I.M. Pei, is in need of new space to meet their ambitious agenda for the future and accommodate their growth as a one-of-a-kind, non-profit cultural institution. After three intensive rounds of narrowing down the list of contenders, which included a design competition among some of the foremost architecture firms in the world, PAU’s design and approach was deemed the most successful in terms of meeting both the poetic and prosaic needs of the Rock Hall, including creating an addition worthy of the original Pei building.
Rock & Roll asks us to come together in a world that seems ever more divided. As its unwavering arbiter, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame describes itself as “the foremost popular culture museum in the world,” unabashed in its self-defined role. However, the Hall is much more than a museum, an entity that punches well above its weight. From acting as a classroom for local students to providing a venue for people’s most cherished family events to being a locus for performances by the world’s greatest rock talents, the Hall is a pan-cultural blockbuster that enriches the lives of everyday people and reminds them of their potential as both individuals and collectives to create their “own path in music and in life.”
The design brief for the competition posed a puzzling question. Intrinsic to Rock and Roll is frustration with the status quo, the need to rage against the machine. Change is the jet fuel of non-conformism, particularly in our era of overdue racial reckoning, and yet museums are often reverential by necessity and static by definition. So how does one build a monument for a rolling stone? PAU’s design submission sought to answer this by considering a variety of dualisms: the personal and collective experiences of museumgoers, the relationship between the Hall and the City, and the attitude of the new addition to the iconic Pei structure. In considering this last point we asked “if confronted with this challenge, what would Pei do?”
Following his own examples in the East Wing addition to Washington’s National Gallery and the pyramid at the Louvre, PAU’s competition design for the addition—which may differ entirely from what ultimately gets built— is neither competitive icon nor silent partner. The result is a “both-and” architecture that is both reverent and irreverent. For us this yielded “the Clash” as Pei’s pyramid and the new addition both collide and harmonize in order to challenge the immutable, platonic qualities of the existing building while still paying it the homage it so richly deserves.
Unlike the original, a signature Pei edifice, our design needed to be less signature and more Cleveland. A pantheon for rock located in the birthplace of the genre, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is the heart of Cleveland culturally and socially, and yet physically speaking, the Hall is disconnected from the city that loves it. The triangular form of the Clash bridges this gap by pulling three forces together, the City, the Lake and the Pyramid.
The Clash is perhaps most visceral in the new entry sequence shaped by the point of the pyramid as it invades the addition. The entrance to a major cultural institution should be recognizable, express the organization’s mission and brand, and have an impact that will last forever in the mind of visitors. The position of the new entry at the point of impact between new and old means visitors feel the energy of the collision as they enter while simultaneously allowing a celebration—not a replacement—of the pyramid’s vibrant and public main hall. On either side of the entry, circulation is inspired by the non-linear flow of rock and roll, reinforcing experiences and journeys to the city, lake, and sky as well as encounters with the museum itself.
The unpretentious yet exuberant treatment of the circulation paths deploys a broader material strategy that aims to create a destination of grit and authenticity. The industrial landscape of America’s North Coast has been a fitting background for many significant moments in the history of Rock. In this spirit, the addition is proposed to be clad in galvanized steel, evoking Cleveland’s steely past of being “forged in flame.” The preliminary landscape proposal, designed by James Corner Field Operations, digs deeper still to the region’s ecological roots, inspired by the four distinct geographic areas that come together in Northeast Ohio: the Prairies, the Northern Hemlock Hardwood Forests, the Appalachians, and the Allegheny plateau, which is expressed on a potential new rooftop deck overlooking the lake. The lighting of the addition and the grounds, like the best stage lighting which enhances not upstages the performance, was conceived by L’Observatoire to be electrifying, warming Cleveland’s cold winters, cloudy skies, and early dusk with the glow of the beat. Together steel, concrete, and the ephemera of landscape and lighting, all embrace the existing glass icon, creating an experience as poetic and provocative as it is practical and place-based: of the Hall, of Cleveland and of the indefatigable spirit that is rock and roll.