Cleveland Metroparks' Edgewater Beach House is the architectural hit of the summer (photos, video)

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The $4.5 million Edgewater Beach House, built by Cleveland Metroparks, is the architectural hit of the summer of 2017 -

CLEVELAND, Ohio - At the risk of stating the obvious, it's clear that the new Cleveland Metroparks Edgewater Beach House is the architectural hit of the summer. 

The $4.5 million structure, which opened in June, has already been enjoyed by scores of thousands of Clevelanders flocking to the beach and the Metroparks Edgewater Live Thursday concert series.

The beach house is the latest and most dramatic improvement to the largest of the city's five lakefront parks, all of which were leased to Metroparks in 2013 after decades in which the Ohio Department of Natural Resources did a sub-optimal job managing them.

At a gut level, it's easy to see why the beach house, designed by the Cleveland based architecture firm of Bialosky, with landscaping by Akron-based Environmental Design Group, has been embraced so quickly.

But architectural successes like this are relatively rare. It's important to understand what's working so well here, and why it should stand the test of time.

Stripped to essences

First, there's the matter of necessity and efficiency. The beach house, essentially a one-story masonry rectangle topped by an open-air second floor and a wing-like roof, is exactly what it needs to be and nothing more.

The new Edgewater Beach Pavilion

It's satisfying to see a structure stripped to functional essences that produce a powerful aesthetic charge by virtue of their minimal elegance.

The ground floor, wrapped in blocks of sandstone and blond bricks, neatly encloses restrooms, a restaurant-scale kitchen, plus serving windows, a safety office and a honking big cooler for beer.

The main attraction is the second floor, essentially a public living room with unobstructed views of the beach and the downtown skyline.

The breezy, wide open space features balconies perfect for people watching, plus a double-sided, propane-fueled fireplace flanked on both sides by comfortable wicker-style furniture and picnic benches.

Hearth and horizon

Designed to extend seasonal use of the second floor, the fireplace fuses the potent imagery of a community hearth with the blue horizon of Lake Erie.

There's also a nifty steel-framed bar that can easily be opened or closed in minutes without elaborate setting up.

But it's the sweeping roof of the beach house that captures the most attention. A tapered, curving wedge made of steel trusses wrapped in tongue-and-groove planks of cedar, the roof resembles both an airplane wing and a boat hull - two streamlined forms shaped by the elements they pass through.

The roof is both supported by the clustered, circular steel columns that hold it up, and held down by those very same columns against the powerful lakefront winds that could actually lift it up if it weren't anchored so firmly.

During a visit last week, architects Jack Bialosky and David Craun, along with Metroparks chief planner, Sean McDermott, told me last week that the roof is designed to withstand winds up to 100 mph.

Potent symbolism

Beyond its elegant strength and expression of physical forces, the roof has a certain poetic grace.

At a kinesthetic level, it brings to mind the first time you stuck your hand out of a car window as a child to feel the airfoil effect - the same principle that makes and airplane fly and a sailboat go.

The building's roof evokes that sense of uplift and joy and discovery, plus the emotional sensation that there are times in life when the worries get lifted away, and you can move with grace and elegance through the day.

The beach is the perfect place for that kind of symbolism, and the Bialosky design hits it right on the head.

It's also especially nice that the roof is tapered at its edges, both for structural reasons and to catch more direct light from above and reflected light bouncing up from the sandy areas below. The tapering adds luminosity to the roof, making it appear to glow with heightened significance.

The right location

Location is another critical factor in the success of the beach house.

The building replaced a dowdy, one-story beach house located about 200 feet to the north of the present site, where the older structure crazily blocked views of the beach from the main Edgewater parking lot.

The new building sits at the intersection of three major generators of foot traffic: the beach itself, the big parking lot, and trails from pedestrian tunnels south of the beach that pass under the West Shoreway and lakefront rail lines to connect to the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood.

The pair of tunnels at West 76th Street, specifically, spills you out into the light and air just south of the beach house, where an elevated walkway carries you right out to the second level of the new structure.

Fred May, 76, a retiree who lives in the St. Augustine Towers at 7821 Lake Ave. in Detroit Shoreway, used his walker to trek slowly through the tunnel to reach the beach last Tuesday.

"I feel at home, I feel comfortable," he said as he walked onto the elevated walkway at the beach house. "I like the way it's structured," he said of the beach house. It's better than the way it was."

He got that right, and from the designers' point of view, it was not by accident.

Bialosky, Craun and McDermott, said last week that they studied the precise walking distances from the outer edges of the three sources of traffic, and decided to locate the building at the point of maximum overlap.

The location gives the building a sense that it has captured the energies latent not just in the immediate landscape, but an extended radius that stretches north and west to the Lake Erie horizon, and east to the downtown skyline, also clearly visible from the building and the beach.

Grace notes

Apart from its other merits, the beach house project includes lovely grace notes including the trio of wood and metal swings suspended from the underside of its elevated walkway, plus ample landscaping, and a multi-purpose plaza that doubles as a stage for events.

Metroparks, which is celebrating its centennial this year, has done a superb job at Edgewater.

Bit by bit, the agency is bringing Cleveland closer to the long-sought goal of giving the city the waterfront parks it truly deserves. That's a great way to begin Metroparks' second century.

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Article Cleveland Metroparks' Edgewater Beach House is the architectural hit of the summer (photos, video) compiled by www.cleveland.com

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