20 November 2007

Lessons from Cincinnati

A friend of mine alerted me to this Boston Globe article the other day, and I thought it was worth mentioning. In it, the author, Robert Campbell, muses about the new campus Harvard is planning on building in Allston, across the river from Cambridge. Campbell cites the building boom at the University of Cincinnati (ahem, my alma mater) in the last 15 years and wonders if Harvard can learn from the signature architecture program that UC developed in the 1980's. In fact, architecture fans will find a lot to look at on UC's campus, and the list of designers reads like a "Who's Who" in architecture:
"There's a superb music building by Henry Cobb, the architect of our Hancock Tower and Moakley Courthouse. A fine administration building by Leers, Weinzapfel, the Boston firm that won the national "firm of the year" award from the American Institute of Architects for 2007. A utility plant by Cambridge Seven. A frat symbol in the form of a 65-foot tower that looks like a Cubist totem pole, by Bostonians Machado & Silvetti.

There are major buildings by two winners of the Pritzker Prize, architecture's equivalent of the Nobel, Frank Gehry and Thom Mayne. Architecture buffs will recognize other names, like Michael Graves, Peter Eisenman, Charles Gwathmey, Bernhard Tschumi, George Hargreaves, Buzz Yudell, Wes Jones, Laurie Olin . . . The list seems endless."

Maintenance costs for some of these quasi-experimental buildings will be high, yes. Mr. Campbell and I agree on that point. I even agree with him when he says that perhaps Harvard should seek the urban energy that UC's campus has without necessarily making it into a "world's fair of self-expression by individual architects."

Where I take issue with the author, however, is in a postscript tacked unceremoniously on to the end of the article regarding Zaha Hadid's 5-year old Contemporary Arts Center building in downtown Cincinnati, which he says is "a bomb". Now, is that really necessary? I found it very odd especially because the article itself wasn't really about critiquing one particular building or another, but about lessons learned from the urban planning scheme of the University. And then he took a random jab at what I consider to be one of the best new buildings in the city....peculiar considering the CAC was designed to contribute to the city fabric by drawing people in on its "urban carpet". Perhaps there are lessons to be learned about urbanism in corners of the Queen City a little less obvious than architectural playgrounds such as UC's campus.

the CAC's urban carpet: image courtesy of Chris Daniel

Cincinnati's CAC: image courtesy of Chris Daniel

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