Located at the heart of the Cleveland State University campus, this new raised plaza creates a space for large social functions and spots for small student gatherings, and allows traffic and parking directly below.

The University became concerned about the structural integrity of the previous 38-year-old concrete deck when it had deteriorated to the point where sections had fallen on parked cars and endangered students and staff. When CSU considered the restoration of the structural frame holding up the pedestrian plaza, it also decided to replace the entire waterproofing membrane beneath the plaza. This created the opportunity to reshape the center of campus.

During the investigation phase, the project team observed the movement of students and staff through the space and the frequency of use of each route. The new plaza design reflects these paths via direct concrete walks. The design team used random curvilinear forms to define seating, lounging, lawn, and green space. Various concrete colors differentiate one rounded arrangement from another. A light sandblasting of each cast-in-place concrete wall unifies the individual pours. Groves of birch, yellowwood, linden, and lilac reinforce the plaza's major shapes and lines, while shrubs and perennials welcome people to individual seating areas.

The mechanical design for this project provides drainage of the plaza and a snow melting system below all of the walkways. The lighting around the site was improved with an eye on vandal resistance. An LED color changing lighting element beneath the curved concrete seating area can be programmed to match the CSU green logo atop Rhodes Plaza or can be programmed for special events and holidays.

To complete the design, 32-inch precast concrete balls were installed for both functional and whimsical reasons. Functionally, these objects were placed to deter unwanted vehicular traffic on the pedestrian-friendly plaza. But the team found them to be interesting as objects to further define areas and allow users of the plaza to sit, stand, and enjoy these oversized marbles.

The final enhancement was conceived as a seating area in the shape of a ziggurat. The president of the university requested a fountain with flowing water over the ziggurat instead—a feat difficult to accomplish because it was not designed as such and it spanned over 80 feet in length. In addition, the owner decided that this fountain would be clad in green—“Verde Fontaine” granite from India. To create this, the team had to design a cast-in-place concrete substructure that would hold the 2-inch granite panels but allow for all the necessary piping and valves to distribute an even flow of water to cascade over a bronze raised letter of each of the seven colleges that make up the university.

The design time for this unique space was just over 3 months, and it took 12 months to construct. The results have given Cleveland State University a new center to the campus and a space that students and staff can be proud of and enjoy year-round.


  • Owner: Cleveland State University
  • Designers: CBLH Design, Inc. (Architectural)
  • Behnke Associates, Inc. (Landscape)
  • Concrete Suppliers:
  • Cuyahoga Concrete Company; Pompili Precast Concrete; Euclid Chemical Company
  • Lead Consultant: Barber & Hoffman, Inc. (Structural Engineers)
  • Systems Engineer: Karpinski Engineering