John Williams likes to say his award-winning architecture and design firm has an intentional and explicit "creative lack of focus." And it's true: Process Creative Studios has tackled such a diverse array of projects in Cleveland — with designs ranging from the Dobama Theatre to the forthcoming Heinen's in the Ameritrust rotunda, and from the Transformer Station to the Terminal Tower's observation deck — that it's impossible to peg Williams as one particular type of architect.
"For my entire career, I've resisted being pigeonholed," he says. "I don't want to be focused in any one area. I would get bored."
And yet Williams and his five-person team do have a deliberate area of expertise: Respecting Cleveland's heritage, while working for Cleveland's future.
Those who frequented the former Century restaurant at the Ritz Carlton can attest to the room's modern layout and attention to historic detail: its subtle train theme, for example, and integration of artifacts from the Terminal Tower restoration, both of which Williams himself pitched to Ritz corporate. "I wanted to create a space that spoke to Cleveland and our roots," he says. "I wanted to make it comfortable for Clevelanders."
The recently refurbished Transformer Station offers another prime example. Completed in 2013, the building now serves as a satellite space for the Cleveland Museum of Art, boasting a healthy collection of contemporary art, as well as lecture series, live performances and even yoga. "It's thrilling that we were able to take a beautiful old building, restore it, respect it and repurpose it for contemporary art," Williams says of the new landmark that is yet another piece in the Ohio City-area portfolio. (Williams also hints at plans for property near the Transformer Station; possible new home for SPACES gallery.)
His current and, for many, most-anticipated project, the Ameritrust building restoration, will again challenge Williams to mediate that delicate space between historic preservation and contemporary demand, as he converts the first two floors of the rotunda into a Heinen's Fine Foods, the first centrally located grocery store in downtown Cleveland. "The response has been phenomenal," Williams says of the project, which is slated to be finished by the year's end.
"Clevelanders love Heinen's," and many are thrilled that this historic and very important building will be accessible to the public after a quarter of a century, he says. Though the project will be written off as an historic tax credit and, as such, requires its own set of preservation standards, Williams says his company plans to show off the space in its original form, complete with its iconic stained glass dome, Francis Millet murals, and more.
"People are entrusting us with this," he says. "We want to display this beautiful old building in the best possible light." If Williams' reputation is any indication, he undoubtedly will.