January 23, 2018
Project takes the design firm's work to new realm
By Evelyn Theiss
The Children’s Museum of Cleveland has moved up in the world in a most dramatic fashion.
After being housed for decades in a converted Howard Johnson’s, in November it reopened in the four-story Stager-Beckwith mansion, built in 1866 on what was then Millionaire’s Row.
Outside, the French Second Empire-style building with teal trim offers charm. But what counts most is engaging the audience inside. That’s where Scott Richardson ’91 came in.
Richardson is founder of Richardson Design in Cleveland, best known for commercial designs for Greater Cleveland restaurants, including Michael Symon’s Mabel’s BBQ and B-Spot. The challenge of a children’s museum invited and excited Richardson.
“As a piece of architecture, it is geared to the parents,” he said. “We had to preserve the integrity of the old building, do it at the right scale and with the right color patterns. It’s really a huge dollhouse.”
The team wanted the interior spaces to attract and engage kids in unexpected ways. Wall colors that include lemony chartreuse, purplish blue and poppy red, set off by the vintage white trim, create wayfinding. Even a 5-year-old will remember “the purple room,” and can find it again.
“We also created high-low spaces, such as a multi-level treehouse in Adventure City that’s a wood climbing structure,” Richardson said. “Some kids like loud and active play, others want to have an escape and be quiet, so this also has a room that serves as a cocoon.”
The main play areas include the Wonder Lab, a world of water and air where children use tubes to shoot scarves, and the Arts & Parts arts studio, where getting paint on the walls is encouraged. “It’s experience with intention,” says Richardson.
Not everything has to be a “big” experience: there also are pockets replicating a farmer’s market, a doctor’s office, a garage and a water tower. He knows personally that inspiration for children and teens can come from many places.
For him, it was a trip to South America with his family. (This was long before you could access Macchu Pichu any way but hiking up, which is how they did it.) And in his senior year at CIA, he won the President’s Traveling Scholarship, and used the money to study Mayan culture in Mexico, where he spent time at the ruins of Chichen Itza, Tulum and Mazatlán.
The Children’s Museum of Cleveland has taken the Richardson firm’s work to a vastly different realm.
“It’s a place larger than life, and takes advantage of the light, the height, the history,” he says of the museum’s new home. “There’s a feeling of wonder here, of 'I can’t do this anywhere else.'"
Parents should be prepared for their children to want to visit again and again.
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