Architect Robert-Pascal Barone is a University of Cincinnati graduate and resident of Hyde Park.
A design competition got me to thinking about Cincinnati’s most notable designs. But before I share my favorites, let me correct some vernacular nomenclature. The Great American Tower crown, designed by the hairy arm firm HOK, is not a tiara. A tiara is one-sided and faces the front.
That tall box on the Western & Southern-owned tower has no front, and the top is a completely closed form. It’s time the self-aggrandizement and the fantasy should end and we call a spade a spade. It’s a hairnet, plain and simple.
I can’t comment on The Banks because by doing so would dignify its existence. Rather, I want to draw attention to the poor urban planning that put two stadiums, a World War II bunker, a formal disaster and some future slums on one of the city’s two natural amenities. Not to mention that transportation planners redid the Fort Washington Way “distributor” in much the same configuration as was done in 1965, with the exception of removing two Downtown exits, and making Interstate 75 southbound traffic exit in the north lane and the north I-75 traffic exit in the south lane. Same goes with the other end; north I-71 traffic exits in the south lane.
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But it fits a city that’s backward and invariably wrong with just about everything they do.
OK, let’s take the Contemporary Arts Center. What we have is a sophomore architectural model enlarged and made permanent. It’s loaded with kitsch ideas that all architectural students have when they are young, including a monumental staircase. Architect Zaha Hadid’s CAC staircase leads to a couple of small rooms and yet it occupies about 50 percent of the interior space. Fifty percent of the building is circulation.
The CAC is almost as ridiculous as Peter Eisenman’s staircase in the DAAP building, which leads to some vending machines. The salient question here is how do these “signature” architects maintain a sadistic relationship with their clients?
Taxpayer-funded projects are not immune to bad taste. Let’s take Cesar Pelli’s Aronoff Center, which exceeds boring inside and out, not to mention the dreadful acoustics, or the Metro Station in Government Square, where the last thing on the architect’s mind was protection from the elements, or the Kroger parking garage that is devoid of a grocery store.
And finally, there’s the post-apocalyptic horror of Ye Olde City Centre with its statue of The Woman with the Sweaty Palms and everything else they can think of to stuff in that postage stamp-sized space called Fountain Square. Speaking of vapid space, walk inside the Westin Atrium if you want to know what nothing looks like. (Well, maybe the exterior gives it a good run.)
The new Horseshoe Casino looks like a temporary colonoscopy supply center with mall entrance. Kudos to the iron fist that built the Regency Apartments and Highland Towers, an homage to 50 years of Soviet-style people storage bins.
In my humble opinion, Cincinnati had so much to work with in 1950 but through concerted effort and dogged determination decision-makers have managed to ruin it all and save the very worst examples from bad periods. It’s a city that’s crying out for the wrecking ball.