Blunden Barclay,  Architects


The firm known as Blunden Barclay made architecture for hospitals, homeowners, universities, school districts, library systems, municipal governments and religious organizations. Although many of their clients represented large institutions, much of their work exemplifies what Cleveland architecture critic James M. Wood called “a commendable ability to think small.”

From 1974 until 2006, principals William A. Blunden and Robert A.  Barclay worked together in a harmonious partnership and established lasting relationships with numerous clients. After building a $4,000 staircase for Allen Memorial Medical Library at Case Western Reserve University in the 1970s, the firm spent the next 20 years completing various renovations within the historic building designed in 1926 by Cleveland’s premiere Beaux Arts architects, Walker and Weeks. Blunden Barclay also completed multiple projects for John Carroll University, Laurel School, Cleveland Public Library, University Hospitals and the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.

The partners met while working for 1970 Cleveland Arts Prize winner Don Hisaka. Blunden, the team’s principal designer (born in 1934), who would in time be named a fellow of the American Institute of Architects (FAIA), earned an undergraduate degree in architecture at Ohio State University. After military service in Amy Intelligence, he completed graduate studies at Cornell University and began his career in New York City with renowned modern architect Edward Durrell Stone. A position with the engineering firm, Dalton Dalton, brought him to Cleveland.

Barclay, the firm’s construction/technical director and business partner (born in 1936), did his undergraduate work at Case Western Reserve University. He served in the Navy, then returned home to work as a draftsman for Outcalt-Guenther, Architects.

Modernists who valued lightness, openness, clarity and attention to detail, the architects achieved exceptional purity in their design of Z Contemporary Cuisine. Located on the ground floor of the Shaker Heights office tower designed by Bauhaus master Walter Gropius, the restaurant created a serene environment that chef Zachary Bruell found “almost Zen.”

The firm’s award-winning renovation of the Cleveland Public Library’s Jefferson Branch also created a clean, contemporary space within a previously dark and cluttered 1918 Carnegie library. The uplifting interior, painted white and flooded with natural light from skylights that had previously been blacked out, typifies Blunden Barclay’s signature style.

The strikingly modern Blunden Barclay fire station in Oberlin led to commissions for the award-winning Oberlin City Hall, a bridge over Plum Creek and the renovation of Finney Chapel, the 1908 Cass Gilbert landmark at Oberlin College. The firm received dozens of additional awards, and its work was featured in many publications.

Although the partners preferred to design contemporary buildings, they showed deep respect for historic styles in renovation projects and also in commissions from traditional Western Reserve communities. The Village Hall and Hunt Club in Hunting Valley and a civic/commercial complex in Gates Mills stayed true to principles of Greek revival architecture. In 2005, the firm received a national AIA award for the liturgical/interior design of Unity Spiritual Center in Westlake, Ohio. The architects’ thoughtful transformation of a plain rectangular room into a glowing, intimate sanctuary was completed on a modest $68,000 budget, published in Faith & Form magazine and featured in Michael J. Crosbie’s book, Houses of God: Religious Architecture for a New Millennium.

“Size and budget have nothing to do with what you make as an architect,” William Blunden said. “It’s how you use what you have.”

Wilma Salisbury

Cleveland Arts Prize
P.O. Box 21126 • Cleveland, OH 44121 • 440-523-9889 •