Page D1.2 . 26 April 2006                     
ArchitectureWeek - Design Department
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Recreational Morphing


Still, something was missing: a sense of connection, a pedestrian-oriented urban presence that would serve students and make the University of Cincinnati come alive as a vibrant place to learn.

Seeds of change were sown in 1989, when landscape architect George Hargreaves, principal of Hargreaves Associates, was commissioned to design a new master plan that would more closely unite the campus. Those seeds are now bearing their largest fruit. The $234 million MainStreet complex is an effort to create greater interconnectedness between buildings and unite the west portion of the campus with a pedestrian streetscape.

Paved in brick and free of automobiles, MainStreet consists of three projects and six buildings. The respective architects met collectively to agree on colors and exterior materials, even though the architecture of each project is distinctly its own.

Two of these projects were completed in 2004: the Steger Student Life Center, designed by Moore Ruble Yudell Architects with local firm Glaserworks, and the Tangeman University Center, by Gwathmey Siegel & Associates with Cincinnati's GBBN Architects.

Metamorphosed Campus

Recently added to the MainStreet complex is the Campus Recreation Center by Morphosis. The $113 million CRC is really five buildings in one, combining athletic facilities, classrooms, and student housing. Mayne calls it "... the most complicated building I have done in my life." This claim despite his experience with federal courthouses and many other cultural, healthcare, governmental, office, and educational facilities around the world.

The Morphosis style — muscular yet intricate — seems a good fit with this large-scale program, which may quell or render obsolete criticisms of Mayne's earlier work. The Los Angeles Times' Christopher Hawthorne, for example, has described Mayne as trying "to shoehorn the complexities of an entire city block into a single small house or restaurant interior." But the size of the CRC and Morphosis' other large public building commissions, such as LA's Cal Trans building, almost seem to indicate that Mayne was meant for work at this scale all along.

For all the talk of monumentality, however, the architectural success of the CRC comes in how Morphosis tames its proportions to a human scale. And for all its iconic form, this building successfully creates the sense that it is not one place, but several — even as those places collectively integrate into the larger "MainStreet."

Play in the End Zone

The building's signature image comes in the form of a curving roofscape that mimics the oval-shaped football stadium next door. The structure extending above the roof has functional purpose to go with its sculptural shape. Perforated metal sunscreens act as a massive shading device for the building, helping to reduce heat gain.

One side of the CRC houses grandstands, a restaurant, and locker rooms for Nippert Stadium on one end-zone side. Moreover, the new building's form seems either a continuation of Nippert or at least a good neighbor, helping to ease a big football stadium into the neighborhood scale. In fact, the integration of Nippert and the CRC also includes a pedestrian bridge above the seating that will provide pedestrian access through both facilities.

"For a long time, Nippert has served to block the natural lines of east-west traffic on campus," explains Dale Beeler, senior architect with KZF Design. "All the pathways that naturally led toward and past Nippert had to stop and dogleg around the facility. It was a 24/7 impediment to cross traffic. Not anymore."   >>>

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The Campus Recreation Center (top left), designed by Thom Mayne, forms part of "MainStreet" at the University of Cincinnati.
Image: Courtesy University of Cincinnati

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The CRC under construction.
Photo: Andrew Higley/UC

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Inside the CRC.
Photo: Lisa Ventre/UC

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Residential wing (left) and recreation center (right).
Photo: Lisa Ventre/UC

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A four-lane jogging track is suspended above a huge arena.
Photo: Lisa Ventre/UC

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Fitness room.
Photo: Lisa Ventre/UC

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Swimming pool.
Photo: Lisa Ventre/UC

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Climbing wall.
Photo: Lisa Ventre/UC


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