Friday, May 24, 1996
UC building is pretty, but pretty what?

BY CLIFF RADEL
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Cincinnati is such an agreeable city. Progressive, too.

People take one look at a goofy-looking new building and everybody says the same thing.

"Pretty . . . "

The occasion for this outpouring of praise is the unofficial sidewalk debut of the Aronoff Center for Design and Art.

The $36 million addition to the University of Cincinnati's College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning - a k a DAAP - has been in the works since 1994. Some construction fences have come down, unveiling parts of the latest addition to UC's architecturally challenged campus.

Welcome to the neighborhood, Aronoff Center II.

Yes, another center in honor of Cincinnati's departing rainmaker in Columbus, State Sen. Stanley Aronoff. But I have a hunch DAAP will be the operative name so locals can keep the two straight.

"Whatever you call it, it's pretty unique," says neighborhood postman Bob Burke. "There are no right angles to it. And, it smartly hugs the hillside."

Bob has delivered the mail on this route for 13 years. As he's watched the pastel-tinted stucco rectangles emerge from the hill, he's wondered: "Where's the main entrance? There's no spot that bids you to enter. It's more like some walls with windows than a building."

To business major Stephen Peet, this oddly shaped jumble of pink-and-blue boxes sneaking along the southeast corner of Clifton Avenue and Martin Luther King Drive is "a great expression of modern architecture. But I don't know what it's trying to say."

In art circles, the design by world-famous architect Peter Eisenman is talking big. Even though it won't open until the fall, the building has already won design awards, appeared on covers of tony trade magazines and made deep statements about modern architecture.

Sidewalk critics see it as a futuristic, off-kilter kind of statement.

"It's pretty ugly," opines political science major Mike Smullen. "It makes no sense."

Skewed view

"It's pretty unique," says Ken Chambers, a foreman at the site. "Just look at it." Pausing to lean on his shovel, he cocks his head first to the left and then to the right.

Any way you look at it, the thing tilts. The western end of the building bulges toward Clifton Avenue. The eastern end leans into a clump of trees. Or are the trees leaning and the building straight?

"The building's leaning," Ken says. "On purpose."

He jabs his shovel into a mound of dirt. "Nothing's square in the traditional sense. It wasn't easy to build.

"I'll bet anyone who calls it 'pretty ugly' will be over 30."

"Pretty unique is no compliment!" cries Josh Burton, a third-year engineering student. "That's like saying a blind date has a 'great personality.' "

"It's pretty ugly," chimes in Dave Copeland, a second-year health administration major.

Josh and Dave are fraternity brothers in Alpha Epsilon Pi. Their house sits kitty-corner to the Aronoff. They've watched it grow from their front porch.

"Its colors are god-awful," Dave adds. "Those light pinks, blues and greens. Yuck!"

Tight fit

Stephanie Stebbins, a musical theater major from Oxford, Mich., shoots the Aronoff a glare as she rushes to class. "Pretty ugly," she says racing along a crosswalk.

"I walk by that pink-and-blue thing 10 times a week. It's dull. It looks old, like it was built in the '60s."

Across the street, Julia Kolinski and Carla Schneider, physical therapists at Group Health Associates, take lunch with a view of the new Aronoff.

"The window in our gym looks right at it," says Carla. "Our patients say it doesn't fit into the neighborhood."

Julia agrees that it's "very odd-looking. But then, art students do some odd stuff."

At a curb around the corner, first-year college student Patrick Cline crams in his car for an exam. A book in his lap, Patrick's eyes are on the Aronoff.

"The building looks good," he says, following its odd shapes. "But I don't know if it fits in this setting."

Clearly, a new Cincinnati sight is born.