Stephen J. Bucchieri, Architect

1991 CLEVELAND ARTS PRIZE FOR ARCHITECTURE

You might say Stephen Bucchieri had buildings in his blood. His father, Salvatore Bucchieri, was a successful Cleveland building contractor and developer. Salvatore’s father and grandfather had both been skilled cabinetmakers. By the age of 13, young Stephen was already learning the building trade firsthand, working as a carpenter for his dad.

He quickly grew restless with the repetitiveness of measuring, sawing and nailing. Design fascinated him, especially the principles that undergird classical and enduring architecture. By 1964 he had armed himself with a degree in architecture from Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie-Mellon University) and begun honing his craft with the first of two large Cleveland firms. Bucchieri soon found himself growing restless again—he wanted to be on his own and control the design process from concept through construction, right down to the furnishings and the lighting.

In fact, a special sensitivity to—and ingenious use of—natural light has become one of the hallmarks of Bucchieri’s work. Like most architects, he builds models of his buildings; but then he takes them outdoors to see how natural light can be used to enhance the design and define interior spaces. Bucchieri’s award-winning Gerson House in Hunting Valley (2001) was organized as a cluster of building modules—bedrooms, dining room, music room, living area—that were reconfigured as a result of this process to allow these living spaces, each with as many as four windows, to take maximum advantage of the sun’s movement while providing multiple views of the surrounding terrain. The building units were also set back in a staggered pattern that shields the interior from visitors approaching by the access drive. Meanwhile, the classic principles of geometry and proportion, which have over many centuries proven inherently satisfying to human beings, lend coherence to the Gerson design, which also invokes late modern religious architecture.

Imagine a grid divided into nine squares, then make it three dimensional by extending it through space to form a cube composed of 27 equal sectors. This was the organizing principle of another award-winning Bucchieri home. Created in 1997 for then chief curator of the Cleveland Museum of Art, Henry Hawley, this structure had to serve both as a home and as a space to display an extensive collection of paintings, sculpture and 18th- and 19th-century furniture. The cubed grid suggested three levels linked by central atrium, the top level housing a master bedroom and study that look down into the living area on the second level and the gallery on the ground floor, where the guest suite opens onto a garden.

Espousing what he describes as “a minimalist philosophy,” Bucchieri likes to keep things clean and simple, blending in with (and using) the natural contours of the landscape and employing indigenous materials like wood shingles, Douglas fir beams and roof decking or rift-cut red oak for flooring and custom-designed furniture and cabinets. The Miller House in Chagrin Falls (1981), among others, was designed with an eye to preserving the mature trees and uses the breeze off an adjacent stream to cool the house naturally in the summer months.

Though Bucchieri may be best known for his many award-winning homes, he has also brought his gifts to larger projects such as the Gunning Park Recreation Center (1995) at West 168th Street and Puritas Avenue in Cleveland; his striking conversion of the old Murray Hill School in Clevelan’s “Little Italy” into galleries, offices and residences (1987), which has been called “the closest thing Cleveland has to a Soho” (Fine Arts in Cleveland: An Illustrated History, Indiana University Press, 1994); and the airy, welcoming HealthSpace Cleveland (2003). The museum’s exhibits teased and beckoned passers by through huge floor-to-ceiling windows, which flood the interior with natural light and are a dramatic departure from the windowless facade of its predecessor, the old Cleveland Health Museum built in the wake of the Hough riots of 1966.  

The site presented a double challenge: Directly across the street stood a handsome new building with a sensuously curving facade of pink granite and pale green glass, designed by Cesar Pelli, while just to the east was the restored White Mansion, a Romanesque sandstone structure built in the late 1890s. Bucchieri’s building quietly affirms its presence with its bold windows and classy fašade of green Brazilian slate, which at the same time complements Pelli’s pink granite. A charming garden with shallow pool and waterfall (a pastoral gesture to the japonisme of the late 19th century?), announces the building’s main entrance, which is to be approached thoughtfully, in the manner of Japanese gardens, by crossing a little bridge. (When the museum subsequently announced it was closing its doors due to insufficent funds, the building was taken over by the Cleveland Clinic.)

Bucchieri’s design for the Cleveland Public Library’s 1990 Addison Branch integrated classical design principles and elemental forms (rectangle, cylinder, cone) with contemporary materials such as manganese iron-spot exterior brick and weathering terne-coated stainless steel. Just as these materials pay tribute to Cleveland’s proud industrial past, a ceremonial entranceway leads to the main reading room, an uplifting, naturally lit refuge with a vaulted ceiling that warmly recalls the city’s strong cultural heritage.

Inland Architect pronounced Bucchieri’s Addison Branch “a sleek, hard little gem of a library . . . that cheerfully condenses and miniaturizes the grand spirit of Cleveland’s 1916 art museum and [the city’s] other monumental buildings” to evoke “a spirit of grandeur.” The Plain Dealer called it “a strong statement of faith in a badly blighted neighborhood [that] returns to the concept of the library as temple [and] a feeling of sacred space.”

Both the Addison library and Hawley House were included in Ohio Perspectives: Architectural, Graphic and Industrial Design, an exhibition mounted at the Akron Art Museum and Riffe Gallery in Columbus in 1991, the year Bucchieri received the Cleveland Arts Prize. It is his “willingness to continually experiment,” wrote then assistant curator of exhibitions Wendy Kendall-Hess in the show’s catalog, that makes Bucchieri’s buildings “such treasures as well as leading him to new breakthroughs.”

—Dennis Dooley

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

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