Richard Fleischmann, FAIA, Architect 


Early in his long and illustrious career, Richard Fleischman was described as Cleveland’s “space man.” The catchy label headlined a 1956 Cleveland Press profile of the young visionary who had  returned home, after completing graduate studies, to pursue his profession. Fleischman’s philosophy of architecture as “sculpted space” had evolved through research for his master’s thesis, a definition of space in European architecture. “Beauty in architecture and cities is largely dependent upon their harmonious and artful relationship to space,” he later wrote in the preface to Maurizio Vitta’s 1996 book, Richard Fleischman: Spaces to be Shared.

Born in Cleveland on November 27, 1928, Fleischman was encouraged to study architecture by an uncle who noticed his avid interest in drawing and building models. During his senior year at East Tech High School, Fleischman won a scholastic scholarship to Carnegie Tech (now part of Carnegie-Mellon University). After finishing a five-year program, he spent two years at Columbia University followed by a one-year traveling fellowship that allowed him to visit historic sites in Italy, Spain, Greece, Germany and Scandinavia.

Fleischman worked with Cleveland architect William Conrad for a few years before founding his own firm in 1961. Since then, Richard Fleischman Associates + Partners has completed more than 400 projects and won over 100 awards. Fleischman was elected to the College of Fellows of the American Institute of Architects in 1974, and he received the AIA’s individual Gold Medal in 2001. His firm was awarded the Gold Medal in 1988. Fleischman’s signature style is characterized by clean geometric lines, vast expanses of glass and light-filled open spaces. The timelessness of his designs has been affirmed by four 25-year awards from the AIA, Ohio.

Fleischman first made his mark as an enlightened architect of non-traditional sacred spaces. Standing tall among the 70 contemporary churches he designed is St. Paschal Baylon in Highland Heights, Ohio, a mirror-glass structure soaring over a fan-shaped sanctuary that brings all worshippers close to the central altar. In the 1970s, Fleischman pioneered the idea of open-plan school architecture. His design for Villa Angela Academy, a Catholic girls’ school on the banks of Lake Erie, set out to “stimulate teaching and learning in an unorthodox space.” The sparkling concrete-and-glass building was later successfully recycled into a multipurpose branch of the Cleveland Public Library.

While consistently maintaining high quality, Fleischman also aroused controversy. He withdrew from a contract for a United States Post Office in Chagrin Falls after refusing to bow to demands of village traditionalists, and he had to win a court battle to proceed with the Kent State University Gymnasium, a plan described by Plain Dealer architecture critic James M. Wood as “a marvelous physical education complex . . . that should never be built.” The project offended many citizens because it intruded on hallowed ground where four students were killed by the Ohio National Guard during the infamous May 4th massacre of 1970.

Fleischman’s sleek forms are ideally suited for expressing the cutting-edge function of high-tech science buildings. The distinctive profile of the glass-and-steel Polymer Science Building at the University of Akron makes a strong statement on the skyline of a city that Newsweek named as one of America’s “high-tech havens.” The Ohio Aerospace Institute, a gleaming glass-skinned research facility near Cleveland Hopkins Airport, symbolizes the spirit of flight. Winner of a 1994 MDO Award as one of the top 50 buildings in the world, the unique structure was praised by New York architect Peter Pran as “a masterpiece . . . full of movement and life, superb detailing and poetic and exuberant spaces throughout.” 

While Fleischman has focused mostly on public buildings, he showed his skill at creating contemporary residential architecture with the multi-level modern house he designed for his family in South Euclid and the Breezy Bluff development of transparent lakeside homes surrounding a beautifully restored 1905 mansion in Bratenahl. His most significant 21st-century achievements include the Cleveland Job Corps Center, a campus of nine pristine glass-and-tile buildings on a 25-acre site that once housed a sprawling manufacturing complex, and the Akron-Summit County Library, a collaboration with Gwathmey Siegel Associates of New York that transformed a 1969 Brutalist box into a spacious modern civic landmark. Though known as an innovator rather than a preservationist, Fleischman has brought new life to old buildings, such as a dumpy downtown camera store that became his elegant glass-fronted studio and a second-story space in a former Sears department store that was converted into the vibrant home of the Cleveland Center for Contemporary Art (now the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland).

In addition to designing and recycling buildings, Fleischman created sophisticated office furniture for Saporiti Italia and an abstract outdoor sculpture for the Putnam Collection at Case Western Reserve University. Passionate about improving the built environment in Cleveland, he drafted numerous unbuilt projects, ranging from a grand proposal for lakefront development to a fanciful Ferris wheel containing 24 revolving restaurants in the Flats. As Fleischman advances toward his firm’s 50th anniversary, he continues to work on major commissions and to pursue his life-long goals of providing vision, inspiring innovation, developing concepts and creating change.

—Wilma Salisbury

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Cleveland Arts Prize
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