The Inventive Headquarters of the American Society for Metals
Just 20 miles east of Cleveland, in Novelty, Ohio, a massive architectural marvel sits, enveloping an office building. An immense open-lattice geodesic dome covers the headquarters of ASM International. ASM, which stands for the American Society of Metals (originally known as the Steel Treaters’ Club), was founded in 1913 in Detroit, Michigan. The Society would subsequently grow into one of the largest scientific societies in the world, with over 50,000 members internationally. Known as ASM International today, the headquarters are situated on a campus called Materials Park that sits on land originally belonging to one of the founding members of the American Society of Metals, William Hunt Eisenman.
The dome and grounds are the culmination of the work of four men: the aforementioned Eisenman, John Terence Kelly, Thomas C. Howard, and R. Buckminster Fuller. Eisenman was not only a founding member of ASM but served as its National Secretary and first Managing Director; Fuller, a futurist and creator of the geodesic dome; Kelly, a modernist architect; and Howard, an engineer. Each was skilled in their respective crafts.
R. Buckminster Fuller was born in Milton, Massachusetts, in 1895. He began his studies at Harvard University in 1913 but was ultimately expelled for excessive socializing and missing his midterm exams. He then moved to Canada to work at a mill, where he showed an aptitude for working with machinery. During the course of his lifetime, he went on to hold 28 patents, author 28 books, and receive 47 honorary degrees.
The geodesic dome became Fuller's focus in 1947. The geodesic dome, which Fuller patented in 1954, uses tension to hold its shape; the structures need no support internally and are some of the strongest and lightest made of metal. ASM's dome, also called a space lattice, is 103 feet high and 274 feet in diameter. It weighs 80 tons and has 65,000 parts. Fuller's ASM dome anticipated the internationally famous geodesic sphere, Spaceship Earth at Disney's Epcot Center in Florida by more than two decades. This attraction not only built upon Fuller's innovation but even its name owes a debt to him. Indeed, Fuller argued in the 1960s, "We are all astronauts on a little spaceship called Earth," and he believed that by being better able to visualize the entire planet, humans might better address the global challenges of life on this “Spaceship Earth.”
Cleveland architect John Terence Kelly, born in 1922, grew up in Elyria, Ohio. He received a B.A. in Architecture from the Carnegie Institute of Technology and an M.A. in Landscape Architecture from Harvard University. Kelly was inspired by Fuller’s geodesic dome and used Fuller’s model in his design. He enlisted the help of Fuller to design the dome. Thomas C. Howard, born in 1931, had worked with Fuller and others at Synergetics, a firm founded in Raleigh, NC's Research Triangle Park in 1955. After his work on the ASM dome, Howard designed the Climatron at the Missouri Botanical Garden (1960) and Churchill Pavilion at the New York World's Fair (1964), now the Queens Zoo Aviary.
Completed in 1959, ASM’s headquarters design was regarded not only as modern but state of the art. ASM International is known for its innovation in science and engineering. This is extremely evident not only in ASM’s mission and achievements, but also in its physical office building. The design of the office building echoes the very nature of ASM International’s vision: “We are dedicated to informing, educating, and connecting the materials community to solve problems and stimulate innovation around the world.” The building showcases various types of metals in many aspects of its design. The three-level office building houses 90 staff members in its 50,000 square feet. The building uses an emphasis on metal in many aspects of its design. As noted by ASM, “Every door on the lobby level is stainless steel; the ‘floating’ main stairway is also of stainless steel, hung dramatically by the use of steel rods running the height of the three levels. Copper sheeting frames the elevator.”
The designers and builders of ASM’s headquarters were ahead of their time in terms of sustainability and green building practices. Many of the features the architects incorporated into the project would be recognized today within the “green” (environmentally sound) design field. The focus on environmental impact truly shaped the way ASM International designed and built its office building. While environmentally conscious and sustainable design may be at the forefront of today’s architectural achievements, this was not necessarily true at the time of the campus’s construction.
Incorporating sustainable building materials like those made from recycled resources, creating indoor environments by reducing air pollution and lowering emissions, and featuring landscaping options that reduce water usage by using plants that can survive with limited watering are all features that may be commonplace now. Environmental awareness in the 1950s and 1960s, while just barely starting to blossom in the minds of the public, was not what it is today. There wasn’t as much knowledge, and there certainly wasn’t as much data.
These facets of ecologically and environmentally conscious design can be seen in many features in ASM International’s office building and Materials Park. The office building is heated during the winter months using hot water carried through metal tubes near the windows and it is kept cool during the summer using aluminum screens. The building also features a roof covered in grass.
The building was registered as a historic landmark in the state of Ohio and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2009. It went through a major renovation project, completed in 2011, but “because of the Historic Landmark designation, the building had to be returned as closely as possible to its original design.” Original features, “including 32 original Steelcase chairs, brass metal screens, a conference room table with stainless steel ASM medallion inlays, and door handles and hinges designed by Kelly,” as well as light fixtures also designed by Kelly, had to be refurbished. Updates in regard to sustainability were also considered, with lighting fixtures being retrofitted with LED lightbulbs.
The designers and architects behind the Materials Park, office building, and the land surrounding ASM International’s headquarters knew exactly how to embody the vision of the Society in their construction. The four men responsible for creating such a marvel established a legacy that has truly made its mark east of Cleveland. The use of green building practices was not typical of the time period, but that didn’t stop the creators from utilizing things like water-based heating, sunshields for cooling, and arranging for protection of the land around the building.
More than fifty years on, with a National Register of Historic Places accreditation in its possession, and a recent renovation of the office building, ASM International’s headquarters is set to continue its legacy far into the future. A hidden gem, only 20 miles east of Cleveland, the Materials Park of ASM International’s novel headquarters is a wonderful example of the geodesic dome and its connections to the greater world surrounding it.