Experiencing Great Architecture and Creative Built Environments

– Pritzker Prize Winner

Contemporary Arts Center (2003)

Zaha Hadid Architect

44 East 6th Street, Cincinnati, OH

Aerial View and Directions

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Last visited March 19 2012

I have visited the CAC many times while in Cincinnati visiting friends. I cannot believe it has been open almost 10 years. It seems at though I never get great photos for some reason. There are the odd large spherical streetlights seemingly in the way of all exterior shots, not to mention the traffic and trucks stopped on the street. I have posted these from my recent trip hoping they give some impression of the building and space inside.

Zaha’s first building built in the US I think has held up pretty well. It almost seems a little timid now, but that could be that I am so used to it. (I recently visited the now under construction Broad Museum of Art on the Michigan State University campus in East Lansing by Zaha. That building looks like it will be a bold jarring presence on campus, the same feeling I remember of the CAC when I first saw it. I will post some progress photos soon) The CAC really fits into the Cincinnati streetscape well.

Inside the museum offers a variety of gallery experiences. Even if you have just a few minutes, you can experience the first floor for free and get a feel for Zaha’s complex angular composition with the floor turning up the wall on the north side.

I stop in every time I am in Cincy, and it still is an exciting experience. I cannot wait to see the completed museum in East Lansing, and experience Zaha’s more mature/developed style in comparison.

Vontz Center for Molecular Studies (1999)

Frank Gehry, Architect

University of Cncinnati

3125 Eden Avenue, Cincinnati OH 45267

Aerial View and Map

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Visited August 27, 2011

Gehry’s first “all brick” building stands as a sculpture on the University of Cincinnati’s campus. It is an interesting assembly of  forms with windows applied in various shapes floating or rotated out from the brick skin. From a fountain and lawn on the west side of the building, there is a grand brick stair as wide as the facade leading up to the building. At the top of the stairway, where you would expect a grand entrance,  is a brick wall with a wide window above the top landing with no door. You have to contunue around the building wing to get to a doorway. The grand stairway forms more of a pedestal for a sculpture, not a grand entry for a building. It is an interseting work of art.

Vontz Center Webpage

Allen Memorial Art Museum Addition (1977)

Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates, Architects

87 North Main Street Oberlin, OH 44074

on the campus of Oberlin College & Conservatory

Map and Aerial View

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Visited June 2, 2011

A “Decorated Shed”, using Venturi’s own terminology, is his description of the Allen Art Museum addition. It  is one of the milestone Post-Modern projects of the period. Again showing my age, this project was widely discussed in my college architecture classes.

The addition is set far back from the original Cass Gilbert building on the south (right) side. Venturi’s facade references the original facade by using stone of similar color as the original museum, but it is implemented in a contemporary basketweave pattern. Although the addition respects the original building with its setback and the “matching” of facade materials, the actual attachment to the building is a surgical crash. The addition slices right through the middle of a blue terracotta medallion, and cuts the building frame panels in half. The window fenestration, stone banding, base, roofline and fascia do not align with any of the original building organizational lines. This is not to imply that I think it is “wrong”, or that I do not like the addition (which I do in some respects), it is just an analysis of what Venturi felt was appropriate and important to him in creating a new, current architectural diologue and statement.

I revisited this addition the day after my visit to the Akron Museum of Art Addition. I wanted to refresh my memory to compare how the two architect’s attached the additions to the original building. I found the differences to be interesting.

The Venturi addition’s use of the similar exterior materials and the setback from the original building shows how he respects the original building, but the chainsaw-like slicing of the Gilbert building decorative elements and the ignoring of any reference to the original fenestration banding seems purposefully implimented to show it is a new and independent statement.

Coop Himmelb(l)au’s Akron Museum of Art Addition shows an almost diametrically opposed approach. The metal and glass building materials and angular jutting forms have nothing to do with the original building’s materials, and it is crystal clear what is addition and what is original building. The addition is also set back from the original building (mostly due to the site constraints), but Coop Himmalb(l)au must have felt that they had to affect the front view of the original building by hovering a large metal “cloud” over the building, almost patting the original building on it’s hip-roofed head. What Coop Himmelb(l)au did pay very close attention to was the actual attachment to the original building. The main attachment is a glass and steel first floor connection that carefully intersects the existing facade just below the horizontal stone band in the center of the original building’s rear facade. The two story glass and metal addition actually jogs around the existing roof overhang to not disrupt the eve and overhang, and allows the second floor window band to continue intact all the way around the original building. The hovering “cloud” over the original building also has a structural attachment through the original roof, but it is carefully placed to be as invisible as possible. They were very careful not to disrupt the original building’s details with the physical connection of the addition.

The Allen Memorial Art Museum Addition was closed both times I had visited. I searched the exterior of the building to see if I could see an architectural  element that was widely discussed in architectural circles when the building opened. Venturi is known for his references to architectural terms using humorous analagies such as “Decorated Sheds” and “Ducks”. At this museum he introduced us to the “Ironic” column. The “Ironic” column is a short, stubby column cover composed of vertical wood boards capped with a simplified exagerated cartoon-like  ionic capital. When the building was new, this generously published image always seemed to be a main feature of the building. It is usually photographed from within the gallery through a large square window.  In reality I discovered this column is religated to the back by the loading dock and the HVAC equipment. Because the galley has always been closed when I have visited, I have only been able to view this important architectural feature by walking to the back of the “Decorated Shed” and viewed it above the loading dock – not from within the art gallery carefully framed by the square window frame . I think that is ironic.

Peter B. Lewis Building (2002)

Frank Gehry, Architect

11119 Bellflower Road, Cleveland, OH 44106

On the Case Western Reserve University Campus

Map and Aerial View

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Visited June 1, 2011

Home of the Weatherhead School of Management

Toledo Museum of Art Glass Pavilion (2006)

Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa (SANAA) , Architects

2445 Monroe Street, Toledo OH 43620

Map and Aerial View

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Visited May 31, 2011

Designed by the Pritzker Prize winning architctural duo Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa (who’s firm is known as SANAA), this glass pavilion fittingly houses the Museum’s world renowned glass collection.

What initially appears as a “simple” glass box, square in plan with curved corners, is actually a very skillful study in minimalist aesthetics with a complex mechanical and structural design. The facade is a continuous  glass enclosure from the edge of the floor platform to the edge of the ceiling plane. The glazing is inset into the floor and ceiling plane with butt jointed side connections, providing a frameless and  nearly invisible joint instalation.

Contained within this glass box is a series of glass rooms, also with curved corners, arranged within the enclosure so that the room’s perimeter comes only as close as a couple feet of the exterior glazing.

Structurally there are very few slender columns and solid wall segments which emphasises the transparent glass box effect. The roof plane appears as a fairly slender white plane with only recessed lighting and recessed curtain tracks interrupting the ceiling. The mechanical system is mysteriously invisible. There are no rooftop units visible, and therefore no rooftop screens needed to “hide” them. On the interior the supply and return grilles are continuous slot diffusers in the floor, or a couple simple white rectangular boxes with circular diffusers. All of the HVAC system is delivered from a remote building and runs invisibly underground to the pavillion. Therefore the pristine glass pavilion does not have any of the ugly rooftop units or grilles/vents or operable windows in the facade.

Although I appreciate (and was amazed at) all of the obvious lengths they went through to accomplish this minimalist facade, standing back and looking at the Pavilion I thought it almost looks a little too “Simple”.

Center for the Visual Arts (1992)

Frank Gehry, Architect

Connected to the East End of the Toledo Museum of Art,

2445 Monroe Street, Toledo, OH 43620

Map and Aerial View

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Visited May 31, 2011

The University of Toledo Center for the Visual Arts is an early Frank Gehry design. The composition is an arrangement of geometric solid forms, clusted and stacked. Here Gehry is using lead covered copper panels to enclose volumes which define the space. Compare this to Gehry’s later designs where the metal panels are polished stainless steel and the surfaces are more flamboyantly curved and sculpted, flaring in and out in a free form composition.

The Center for the Visual Arts building is attached to the Toledo Museum of Art with a one story link. On the Monroe Street side the Center and Museum are seperated/screened by dense plantings and an earth berm, allowing the Center visually stands alone from the Museum as you drive west on Monroe Street.

On the South side of the Center, adjacent to the entry is a Japanese inspired rock garden. It includes with several large rocks carefully placed in a raked white gravel field. This garden is enclosed by an odd green tinted glass tall fence. I am curious to find out the story behind this garden and it’s fence. It just seems, well…odd.

I personally like the weathered lead panels and the volumetric composition of the North facade of the Center better than the glare, distortion and spectacle of some of Gehry’s later works.

Also visit the Toledo Museum of Art Glass Pavilion (2006) across the street by another Pritzker Prize winning architectural firm SANAA from Japan.