Lesko Associates, Architects
1988 CLEVELAND ARTS PRIZE FOR DESIGN
Lesko Associates designed factories, houses, offices, churches, medical buildings, swimming pools, ice arenas, a post office, a party bus and a charming chalet for Santa Claus. But the firm made its most important contributions in the field of educational architecture. By the time Nicholas and Edward Lesko retired in 2004, they had completed over 400 school projects and won more than 70 awards. “Clear in plan, restrained in form and elegant in execution,” wrote the jury that selected the firm’s design of Olmsted Falls Middle School for an Ohio School Facilities Commission/AIA Ohio 2001 honor award.
The Leskos earned high marks not only for design, however, but also for their ability to finish projects on time and on budget without sacrificing quality and for their skill in nurturing trusting relationships with school boards, administrators, teachers, parents and communities. “Lesko Associates provided a very sincere personal touch to the project,” wrote Alexander Paris, superintendent of Massillon City Schools. “It was not just bricks and cement, or dollars and cents, but a genuine concern about the project itself, the people within the community.”
Lifelong residents of Cleveland’s west side suburbs, the Lesko brothers grew up in an industrious Slovak immigrant family. Their father made his living as a factory worker and high school custodian. Their mother stayed home to raise six children.
Nick, born in Lakewood on June 10, 1924, served in the army during World War II and went to college on the GI bill. He studied liberal arts for two years at Western Reserve University in Cleveland and then switched to architecture at the University of Michigan, where he completed a bachelor’s degree. He later received a Certificate in the Management of Design Firms from the Harvard Graduate School of Design. In 1981, he was elected a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects (FAIA).
Like many young architects working in downtown Cleveland in the 1950s, Nick initially struggled to gain a foothold in his profession. Still, he had a good time during his self-described “bohemian” period when he shared space on the top floor of the historic Arcade with colleagues who played guitar and sent paper airplanes zooming down on passing motorists. Shortly after founding Lesko Associates in 1953, Nick got involved in the moving of St. Haralambos Greek Orthodox Church four miles through downtown Canton to its present site, where the original 1919 structure was restored and two bays were added. “There was an amazing celebration and the church has been on the move ever since,” wrote the parish historian on the church’s website.
Ed Lesko, born in Lakewood on June 7, 1932, attended Syracuse University on a swimming scholarship and began practicing architecture with his teachers after completing a bachelor’s degree. In 1957 he joined his brother’s firm and became director of design, and the Leskos began winning awards for industrial projects such as the Water Control Center in Parma and Gray Tool & Die Company in Cleveland. Firmly rooted in Bauhaus principles, Ed designed modern buildings characterized by clean lines, generous natural light, careful detailing and sensitivity to site. He chose not to develop a signature style, however, because he, like famed Finnish-born architect Eero Saarinen, believed that every project is different.
One of Ed’s favorites, the multi-award-winning Lakewood High School Natatorium, is skillfully shoehorned between two older school buildings in a residential neighborhood. Among the firm’s numerous educational projects, Ed considers Wooster High School the flagship. Completed in 1994, it was designed to incorporate state-of-the-art technology and to serve the needs of students and the community. During the Lesko brothers’ last years in practice, they created a master plan that resulted in the demolishing of 23 old schools and the building of 16 new ones for Springfield City Schools. The high school, designed to accommodate 2,447 students, exemplifies the “schools within a school” concept by placing four separate academies within a single building. “It was a nice project to end on a high note,” Ed said.
The firm, recently renamed Lesko Architecture, continues to specialize in educational facilities under the leadership of Robert W.Blatchford Jr., president, and Seyed Moh Ayat, lead designer. “Nick and Ed had a great run,” said Blatchford. ”We respect them. We want to continue the tradition.”
For more information and photos, visit lesko-associates.com
Cleveland Arts Prize
P.O. Box 21126 • Cleveland, OH 44121 • 440-523-9889 • firstname.lastname@example.org
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