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Blackstone Pipe Organ, architectural development, & building

Pipe Organ Architecture


Although in the original architectural drawings, all divisions of the organ were well established, the visual appearance of the pipe organ was not. How could we harmonize the house structure of steel, concrete, and glass with a striking sculptural appearance of the organ? The process began in an intense 2-day design meeting with architect Richard Fleischman and two creative organ designers, John Nolte and Shawn Keith. See text accompanying each picture for a description of these initial design ideas.


The end result is not just an aurally stunning masterpiece, but a visually stunning sculpture at the north and south end of the hall. From the center of the space, one sees not only a north-south sculpture, but also an outdoors sculpture by Richard Fleischman to the west and sculptural stairs leading to the gallery entryway.

Residence Architecture


The residence architect was Richard Fleischman, who had been the architect for 70 churches. This prepared him for the acoustical challenges of a large pipe organ installation.


The house occupies two lots on Breezy Bluff on the shores of Lake Erie. Conceptually, it follows the classic design of a basilica: 30-40% as wide as long. In this case, 34' wide, 96' long with 4 20' "modules" plus 8' apses at both ends to house the organ. Porticos serve as locations of kitchen, den, office, and kitchen. Construction was with exposed steel, as shown, all concrete floors on which was laid Italian porcelain, 1" commercial glass, and double thick walls. Numerous curves prevent the echoes heard with parallel walls, but rather they help disperse sound. "F-hoes" in the floor serve the same function as they do in a violin. Triangular-shaped orifices at both ends also serve to allow sound to circulate upward, thus taking multiple paths. Special paint disperses high-frequency sounds. All this achieves approximately 2.75 seconds of smooth reverberation without echo.

From the Architect


Bratenahl is a distinctive residential village, founded in 1905 with a current population of 1,350 and located along the shores of Lake Erie ten minutes northeast of downtown Cleveland.  The surrounding residences, built over a century ago, were progressively eclectic in their day, when their classic European grandeur helped create a lifestyle for Cleveland’s cultural and political leaders.  Dr. Blackstone, a prominent physician-scientist at Cleveland Clinic, selected two parcels in the Breezy Bluff Development.  This decision was the result of the need to recognize the size of space required to build a house to accommodate two separated divisions of a large pipe organ, each of different character, but blending as one.


Music (sound) was a major design determinant.  Space was designed to incorporate interior shapes and surface to resolve the issue of echo and reverberation of playing instruments at both ends of the structure.


The proportion and size of the space created resulted in dimensions appropriate for a music, living, and dining environment.  The residence is 9,000 square feet on three levels with undulating wall surfaces and open floors.  The major space for is 80-feet long by 34-feet wide and a height of 43’ and the two pipe organ spaces, each occupy an additional 8'. The pipe organ requires the house to remain “firm and solid”, zero tolerance, and no drifting from reverberation or wind gusts, and no prominent standing waves.


With two portions of the organ dictating the size and proportion, the villa continues to reflect the same quality as its old classic counterparts.  Because of sound, the spacious living areas are open to each other.  This encourages flow from room-to-room. “The spaces are deceptively simple,” describes Dr. Blackstone, “There is great beauty in the apparent emptiness and magnificent sound.”  He informed us that they covet their space and the agreement between architect and owner was based on design compatibility.  They believe their home is poetic and they have a responsibility to be the curator of their space. The villa is oriented towards the lake, affording expansive views with floor-to-ceiling glass.


The steel frame with 5” pipe columns and 10” wide flange beams were selected to meet the space expectations of the Blackstone's requirements.  The diagonal bracing further acts as a design factor to defuse the sound and reverberation.  The rigid frame with moment connections creates the volume for proper sound required for the zero tolerance.  The central airshaft provides tempered air and proper levels of humidity.  It also controls the sound factor associated with mechanical systems.  The entire house is pressurized and air is distributed at the pinnacle with return air following the open grilles at the ground level.

The house is a mosaic, created by the Owner and Architect.

Richard Fleischman, FAIA, architect



These are pictures by son-in-law Chris Loney at periodic intervals.


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