Institutional Architecture: Granite fountain creates focal point in University plaza

April 3, 2006
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A fountain built from Verde Fontaine granite is the centerpiece of the recently redesigned Rhodes Tower Plaza at Cleveland State University in Ohio. The structure was designed to resemble a ziggurat, which is a Mayan term meaning “step pyramid.”


Set in the center of downtown Cleveland, OH, and occupying 85 acres, Cleveland State University is an integral part of the city. It boasts more than 100 student organizations and 17 NCAA Division I men's and women's varsity sports. Its architecture is a blend of old and new design styles - including historic landmark buildings as well as more contemporary facilities. To further enhance the aesthetics of the campus and improve the student community, a $179 million campus master plan project has recently been implemented. Among the construction and renovation projects was the redesign of Rhodes Tower Plaza - featuring a unique fountain fabricated from Verde Fontaine granite.

“Rhodes Tower Plaza really is the main center to the whole campus,” said Marc Bittinger, AIA, principal of CBLH Design, Inc. in Cleveland. “The plaza had become overgrown with trees and vegetation. We ripped them all out and started a new design.”

The architect, who was part of the team that was hired to redesign Rhodes Tower Plaza, explained that careful planning went into the new design. “We thought about how the students would use it - where they would walk, where they would sit and where to put green spaces to play,” he said. “We were going to make one area of the plaza a ziggurat - a Mayan term for 'step pyramid.'”

The design team at CBLH Design Inc. worked along with University Architect Ed Schmittgen on the project. “The President of the University had asked for a fountain on campus, and the ziggurat offered the location I was looking for,” said Schmittgen. “When we presented it to the president of the university, he said, 'That would make a great fountain.'”



Complementing the granite is bronze lettering, which prominently bears the name “Cleveland State University” as well as the institution's emblem. Additionally, the seven schools within the university are displayed on the lower tiers of the fountain.
While the design team found the university president's idea intriguing, it also posed a challenge, according to Bittinger. “We never thought of that - the shape wasn't conducive. We thought about how we could turn the ziggurat into a fountain. It suddenly became a much more important piece. Originally, we were doing the ziggurat in concrete. Now we wanted a material that was more permanent and elegant.”

After some deliberation, it was decided that the fountain would be constructed of Verde Fontaine granite, which was quarried about 40 kilometers northwest of Pretoria, South Africa. The 312 pieces of polished stone forming the structure were fabricated at the stone-processing facility of Barattini Marmi and Graniti in Carrara, Italy. On average, the size of the pieces ranged from 1 foot square and 16 pounds to 5 foot square and as heavy as 300 pounds. Thickness varied from 1 ¼ to 2 ½ inches.

“None of the pieces were alike,” said the architect. “When they arrived though, it fit together pretty well. We had been worried about that.”

Complementing the granite is bronze lettering, which prominently bears the name “Cleveland State University” as well as the institution's emblem. Additionally, the seven schools within the university are displayed on the lower tiers of the fountain. “It is nice that students can see their school with the water running over it,” said Bittinger. “The idea was that as the water cascades on the bronze letters, it will turn to a green patina.”



On average, the size of the polished stone pieces ranged from 1 foot square and 16 pounds to 5 foot square and as heavy as 300 pounds. Thickness varied from 1 ¼ to 2 ½ inches. In order for the water to flow properly, precision and accuracy were crucial during the installation process.

Building the structure

Installation of the fountain was handled by SPS & Associates of Hudson, OH. It took approximately four weeks for a crew of three stone setters and two laborers to complete the work.

“It's like a big boomerang,” said Paul Shand of SPS & Associates. “We did the shop drawings and tickets, and then gave the drawings to the general contractor. They built the back-up substrate.”

The installer went on to explain that the fountain was a very precise design. “The tolerances had to be within 1/8 inch,” he said, adding that the entire fountain had to be waterproofed before the stone was installed. Additionally, the fountain was caulked with underwater caulking that was colored to match the stone.

“We started on the top course and worked our way down because of the assembly,” said Jason Van Niel, also of SPS & Associates. “Everything was pre-cut and pre-determined by drawings. I had to match those, and put together the jigsaw puzzle.”



Careful planning went into the new design for the plaza on campus. “We thought about how the students would use it - where they would walk and where to put green spaces,” said architect Mark Bittinger of CBLH Design, Inc.
Photo by Robert Heine / Robert Heine Photographic Illustration
According to Van Niel, many of the horizontal pieces were set in a mortar bed. Others were set on shim packs, allowing the water inflow to come in below the stone and up through the open joints - creating a pool and then cascading down to the lower level of the fountain.

“When we put the vertical pieces in, we kicked out 1/8 inch, so it comes out as even sheets of water,” said Shand. “It looks nice. The pieces look really polished. We are glad to have been a part of [this project].”

In the end, all those involved expressed how pleased they were with the outcome of the fountain. The project even won SPS & Associates a craftsmanship award.

“The mason who did the stonework did a wonderful job,” said the architect, adding that Commercial Aquatics in Minnesota also provided tremendous assistance. “[The university] really wanted to upgrade this fountain. Stone was the only choice.”



Precise drawings were critical to the successful design and installation of the fountain.

Rhodes Tower Plaza Fountain
Cleveland State University
Cleveland, OH

Architect: CBLH Design, Inc., Cleveland, OH

Lead Consultant: Barber & Hoffman, Inc., Cleveland, OH

General Contractor: Cold Harbor Building Co., Chardon, OH

Stone Installer: SPS & Associates, Hudson, OH

Stone Supplier/Fabricator: Barattini Marmi and Graniti, Carrara, Italy

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