Finding Inspiration From Seoul For Cincinnati’s Public Staircases

ArtWorks has become well-known for its mural program. Over the past eight years, the program has created 90 murals that have added to the vibrancy of 36 city neighborhoods.

This year, however, ArtWorks started to branch out a bit more. In addition to 10 mural projects, they also installed more than 50 public art pieces throughout the city. Some were poetic, while others charming. Regardless of the project, they have always worked to actively engage young people in the city with the artist community.

The program’s impact on the visual appearance of the city cannot be overlooked. Public spaces have been dressed up and walls have been decorated in truly Cincinnati fashion. When considering one of Cincinnati’s most defining features – its hillsides – another opportunity seems to be sitting in waiting for future ArtWorks programs.

Over the years The Hillside Trust has worked to promote and preserve the city’s hillsides and the view sheds that they offer. At the same time, many of the city’s public staircases, which long served as a critical component of the sidewalk network, have fallen into disrepair. In many cases, due to either lack of maintenance or neighborhood distrust, public staircases have been closed off altogether.

This should not be the case.

One potential way to address this would be to focus an ArtWorks program on the city’s public staircases. Artists could be engaged to come up with creative mural designs for the stairs themselves, or perhaps suggest other installations. These could then be complimented by lighting installations that would not on

ly add an artistic touch after dusk, but also make the corridors safer for their users and the neighborhoods around them.

Seoul’s Ihwa neighborhood has done exactly this.

Set on the side of a steep hill leading to Seoul’s historic fortification wall, the neighborhood has seen many of its staircases painted, along with surrounding building walls, to create a truly unique environment. A variety of art installations were also undertaken in order to create an even more dynamic experience.

Today visitors flock to the area to view the murals and experience the other installations some 60 artists created in 2006 as part of Naksan Project. Due to this influx of people, small cafes, galleries and restaurants are now prevalent throughout the neighborhood.

While Cincinnati’s hillsides and surrounding neighborhoods present a different challenge than what exists in Ihwa, there are equal, yet different, opportunities that also exist.

Right now Cincinnati’s hillsides and their public staircases are mostly viewed as barriers and have been constrained to afterthoughts in the city’s public psyche. ArtWorks has changed the way we viewed vacant walls and barren streetscapes. Here’s hoping they can work similar magic on the city’s long-forgotten staircases.

Crossroads To Undertake $12M Restoration of Old Saint George in Clifton Heights

Old Saint George has sat vacant in Clifton Heights for many years, but will soon come back to life when Crossroads opens its newest church there.

The announcement was made earlier this year, but follows a string of news signaling that the urban regeneration of Cincinnati is more than skin deep. In addition to tens of millions of dollars in private investment flowing into the city, both jobs and population are growing. This has resulted in budget surpluses, growing enrollment at Cincinnati Public Schools, and a need for a new permitting center.

Crossroads will fill a space long occupied, and originally built, for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Cincinnati in 1874. It stayed there until St. George parish was merged with St. Monica parish down the street in 1989, and continues to carry on there to this day.

Since that time the building has sat vacant with a variety of proposals coming forward that would have restored the church for alternative uses.

Crossroads leadership say that their $12 million plan, which is celebrated by the Archdiocese, will not only restore the historic place of worship, but also bring it up to modern standards so that it boasts wifi and the audio and video displays that have become synonymous with Crossroads’ services.

“We’ll hold weekend services in this space, which will become the permanent location for our Crossroads Uptown site that currently meets at Bogart’s,” Jennifer Sperry, Crossroads Client Services Manager, told UrbanCincy.

“In addition, we hope for people to use our building as a community center, as it’ll be open throughout the week. We envision it as a space where students and locals can hold meetings, meet with project groups, pray, read, etc.”

The multitude of uses and variety of technology are all attempts to make inroads with younger individuals that have largely strayed away from religion throughout the United States.

At the University of Cincinnati, for example, Crossroads says that some 99% of students are not part of a church on campus. While they may attend churches elsewhere, such a huge gap also presents an opportunity for Crossroads.

Once complete, the restored Old Saint George will feature an 800-seat auditorium, a worship and community center, lecture venues, a coworking space with free coffee and wifi, and will see the structure’s grand steeples restored to their former glory before being burned down following a freak lightning strike.

Sperry says that they expect some 2,000 people to visit the facility on a weekly basis, which will be open seven days each week.

Unlike Crossroads massive facility in Oakley, Old Saint George is in a dense urban environment and is not surrounded by a sea of parking. As a result, church officials are expecting many of its visitors to arrive by walking, biking – a Red Bike station is located one-block away – or public transportation. But they also say that they are working with owners of nearby parking garages to determine if those spaces can be used during services.

The project is being funded mostly through private donations, but also through New Market Tax Credits. Project leaders say that several million more dollars need to be raised in order to complete financing, but also say that they are moving forward full speed ahead.

“The fundraising effort will be completed as part of a campaign that we’re launching this fall,” Sperry said. “We will use some of the initial money given in the campaign to finish the Crossroads Uptown project.”

Sperry says that the goal is to move into the restored structure by August 2016. Until then, she encourages those interested in learning more about Crossroads to attend their services currently being held at Bogart’s on Short Vine every Sunday at 7pm.

Red Bike Firmly Establishes Itself As Tri-State’s Largest Bike-Share Program

Red Bike recorded its 100,000th ride early last week when Keith Piercy checked out a bike at the Port Bellevue Station in Northern Kentucky.

According to Jason Barron, Executive Director of Red Bike, Piercy rode the bike across the river and docked it at the Freedom Center Station at The Banks. Piercy explained that he was out running some errands and was even on his way to go buy a new bike helmet.

“This is awesome. It [Red Bike] has been working out great for me,” Piercy said. “It is really helping out our one-car family.”

The moment comes as data from the American Community Survey found that Cincinnati has one of the fastest growing bicycling communities in the nation, and the biggest in Ohio. It also comes just after the one-year anniversary of Red Bike’s launch, which also took place in front of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.

According to Barron, ridership has far exceeded initial expectations, with more than 17,000 people using Red Bike in its first year. This growth also fueled the quicker than anticipated expansion of the system. With 50 stations located on both sides of the Ohio River, Red Bike is the largest bike share system in Ohio, and the first public bike share system in Kentucky.

While it is expected that ridership and system growth will level off over the second year of operations, Red Bike leadership is looking to iron out finances and expand upon programs, like the one recently launched with CityLink, to make the system more accessible to people at all income levels.

Annual memberships can be purchased for $80, while day passes can be purchased for $8. Semester passes, which are good for 120 days and are marketed toward university students, can be purchased for $30.

PHOTOS: An Inside Look At The Brand New Nippert Stadium

Since launching the Signature Architecture Program nearly 20 years ago, the University of Cincinnati has become a campus brimming with notable projects by talented firms such as Morphosis, Moore Ruble Yudell, Gwathmey Seigel Kaufman, and STUDIOS Architecture. Rather than merely creating an architectural petting zoo of disparate buildings designed by celebrity architects, though, the university has sought to use architecture to create a cohesive sense of place that outweighs the sum of its individual buildings.

The latest addition to this effort is the new West Pavilion at Nippert Stadium, designed by New York-based Architecture Research Office in close collaboration with Heery International. ARO served as the design architect, while Heery served as the sports consultant and executive architect. Cincinnati-based THP Limited provided structural engineering services.

In a recent article in Architect magazine, the journal for the American Institute of Architects, ARO described the project as follows:

The new West Pavilion at Nippert Stadium enhances the visitor experience and strengthens the quality of the campus as a whole. The facility provides outstanding spectator facilities in a 450-foot-long dramatic and structurally expressive building. With space for premium seating and press facilities, the new building provides a strong counterpoint to the Thom Mayne–designed recreation center that also rings the stadium. The West Pavilion is entered through a new footbridge that passes through the campus student center (Tangeman University Center) from McMicken Commons, one of the main public spaces of the University. Food service, catering, and kitchen facilities are located on every floor. All of these goals were achieved within a very constrained site that included maintaining an active fire-lane and loading dock, avoiding major campus utilities that run beneath the building, challenging construction logistics, and accelerated schedule.

The West Pavilion sits less than 10 feet from the Gwathmey building on campus, 30 feet from the Morphosis building and very close to buildings by Harry Cobb and Michael Graves.“Given the tradition of great architecture at the University of Cincinnati,” says Stephen Cassell, principal of Architecture Research Office, “having the chance to work on that campus is, in itself, an enormous honor and responsibility. This is a university that greatly values the role of design in their students’ educational experience.”

A couple hours before the Bearcats season opener on September 5, UrbanCincy was treated to an exclusive tour of the newly expanded and renovated Nippert Stadium, led by Stephen Cassell, Adam Yarinsky, and Kim Yao of ARO.

At the beginning of the tour, Stephen Cassell joked that after years of working in the confined spaces of New York City, they were looking forward to designing something for a wide-open Midwestern college campus. However, as they got involved with the project, they quickly discovered that the site was as constricted and challenging as anything in Manhattan.

In addition to the fire lane and loading dock noted above, underground vaults and utilities limited where foundations could be built; the bridge from Tangeman University Center to the West Pavilion is supported by a single, elegant V-shaped steel assembly that rests on a single footing. The footing is located where it is because there was literally nowhere else it could go.

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As anybody who has ever gotten an obstructed-view seat at Wrigley Field can attest, adequate sightlines to the playing field are a critical part of any sports facility, and Nippert Stadium is no exception. However, Nippert presented the additional challenge of maintaining views into the stadium from the campus itself.

Once described as the Wrigley Field of college football because of its history and intimacy, Nippert Stadium forms a massive Roman-style amphitheater at the center of the campus, and is tightly woven into the fabric of the campus like no other college football stadium.

ARO sited the West Pavilion and raised it above the ground plane in order to preserve views into the stadium from MainStreet — the central pedestrian corridor on campus — on the north end of the site and the plaza adjacent to the College – Conservatory of Music at the south end. The dramatic cantilevers are made possible by a system of diagonal steel columns, which form a visual motif that appears throughout the facility. Ancillary functions such as restrooms and concession stands were tucked partially underground, taking advantage of the campus topography to maintain Nippert’s famed sense of openness. Visibility from the West Pavilion onto the playing field was also meticulously studied: the shape and depth of the window mullions were carefully considered and the front edges of the press box counters were notched to achieve the required sightlines.

Another distinguishing characteristic of Nippert Stadium is its flexibility of uses. When not being used for a game or other event, the stands and playing field are open to students for frisbee, informal pickup football games, jogging, studying, and other uses. Unlike most football venues, it doesn’t sit empty for 350-plus days a year, and ARO worked to ensure the West Pavilion would also have the flexibility to be used for year-round events such as receptions, meetings, and social gatherings. In this sense, the West Pavilion becomes an extension of the adjacent Tangeman University Center rather than a mere press box for a football stadium.

The West Pavilion’s material palette is tastefully restrained and relates to the other adjacent buildings, each with its own impressive architectural pedigree. The pattern of the cast concrete evokes the Campus Recreation Center by Morphosis, and the gray steel structural members relate to the zinc cladding of the Tangeman University Center by Gwathmey Siegel Kaufman, and the Steger Student Life Center by Moore Ruble Yudell.

A few finishing touches were still in the works at the time of this writing, including caps on the window mullions and a series of diagonal fins on the west facade that will provide visual depth to the cladding and cast shadows that change throughout the day.

In addition to the West Pavilion itself, ARO also designed enhancements throughout the rest of the stadium. Visitors to the stands on the east side of the stadium will enjoy improved access to the stands via a new second-level walkway cantilevered from the existing structure, as well as improved restrooms and concession facilities.

ARO has had a close relationship with the University of Cincinnati over the years; Stephen Cassell and Adam Yarinsky are frequent guest jurors at the university’s renown College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning, and a number of DAAP students have received co-op placements at ARO in New York.

EDITORIAL NOTE: All 34 photographs were taken by John Yung on September 5, 2015.

New Corryville Store Design Reveals That Kroger Continues to Struggle With Urban Format

Located next to the University of Cincinnati and surrounded by some of the region’s largest employers, University Plaza has long sat as one of the most underutilized pieces of commercial real estate in the city.

With demolition work well underway, a new University Plaza will soon be realized, but will it be any better than what was has occupied the site since the early 1980s?

The public got the first idea of what that answer will be when the Business Courier published designs of what the new 92,000-square-foot Corryville Kroger will look like.

While no site plan has been released, the drawings show a two-level store that will face west toward Jefferson Avenue. The front façade will include numerous windows, while the other three sides would not. A drive-thru pharmacy will be located along Corry Street, and a surface parking lot will sit in front of the building, separating it from the street.

The front façade treatments and two-level store design are departures from Kroger’s previous urban store designs elsewhere in Cincinnati. The large surface parking lot, however, stays true to their typical development model and represents a departure from the earlier visions for the site that included a rooftop or structured parking facility.

In fact, the final arrangement for the redeveloped University Plaza site will most likely appear nothing like the original concepts first produced a decade ago. Over that time, dozens of concept plans have been developed for the site from the Niehoff Studio and three different professional design firms.

The Niehoff Studio has actually be researching the topic of urban grocery stores since 2002, and has published its findings on everything from the economic performance to the social impact and design of such stores.

“I applaud the initiative and risk taking involved to make this a two story format,” said Frank Russell, Director of the Niehoff Studio and Community Design Center. “This is a sensible solution to putting a sprawling large scale program on a valuable site in a dense urban setting. It relates better to the surrounding context which is multi-story, but it is very difficult to do from a functionality point of view.”

While the two-story structure is in line with the original recommendations, Russell says that the large surface parking lot is not ideal.

“That undoes some of the progressive intent of the two-story building design, especially at the important gateway corner of Jefferson and Taft,” Russell told UrbanCincy. “The best thing that I could say about that is that it is a land-bank for future structured parking and mixed-use development, notwithstanding a landscaped corner.”

While notably different than the original design concepts developed in the early aughts, the designs released yesterday appear to have not changed much from what was developed by CR Architects in 2008.

Kroger representatives say that the store will also feature an outdoor seating area, similar to what the company recently developed in Lexington. They also say that while the store will have two levels, customers will not actually use the second floor since it will be used for food preparation functions only.

Project officials say that the current store will close on September 12 so that it can be demolished. It is estimated that construction of the new store will take 12 to 14 months and open at the end of 2016.