Architect's dream, neighborhood's novelty
Professor's offbeat office leaves some Hyde Park residents wondering "What is it?'

Saturday, August 8, 1998

The Cincinnati Enquirer

The "nonconforming" office by architect Terry Brown in Hyde Park.
(Tony Jones photo)
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The work is the thing, says nationally recognized architect Terry Brown, the aesthetics thorn in Hyde Park's east side.

When construction is complete on his way-out-of-the-ordinary office on Erie Avenue at Tarpis Street, "it'll lose some of the excitement for me," he says.

Five years into the project, which has drawn hoots and hollers and sundry efforts to stop its evolution, Mr. Brown anticipates he'll be finished within two years. The structure remains unfinished inside.

Terry Brown in the front of his office.
(Tony Jones photo)
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Some of the credit (blame, from some points of view) goes to current and former students at the University of Cincinnati's College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning, where Mr. Brown is adjunct assistant professor of architecture and interior design. As many as 35 third-, fourth- and fifth-year co-op students have helped build circular steel steps, deck rails in layers of wood shingles and oddly shaped windows, many of them filled with custom stained and textured glass.

It's what industry observers call organic architecture, and what Mr. Brown calls an extension of transcendentalism -- "lineage from the (Henry David) Thoreau, (Walt) Whitman, (Ralph Waldo) Emerson era."

For its critics, such as Carl Uebelacker, member and spokesman for the Hyde Park Neighborhood Council, it's an example of a building that should be someplace else.

  • Born and reared: Rural Iowa
  • Education: Iowa State College of Engineering; Washington University (St. Louis); Academy of Fine Art, Vienna, Austria (Fulbright Scholar)
  • Family: Wife, Jean
  • Residence: Brown County
  • Hobbies: Longhorn cattle (31) and Appaloosa horses (four)
  • Credentials: Worked with highly regarded architects Robert Venturi and Robert A.M. Stern
  • Work examples: Mirror Lake renovation under way in Eden Park; Contemporary Arts Center gift shop - bookstore, downtown; and Covert Medical Office Building, West Union
  • "It lacks sensitivity to the environment in which it is located," Mr. Uebelacker says. "I don't think it complements anything in the community."

    "I think it's a breath of fresh air," counters Mount Lookout architect Stephen Brown, unrelated to Terry. "It's a curious little landmark that adds a bit of novelty to the area. This is America. Isn't individual expression a part of what this country is founded on?"

    Howard Moy, who runs the upscale China Gourmet restaurant across the street from the mushroom-teepee-egg house, as it has been labeled during its evolution, says: "I think mainstream Hyde Parkers had some trouble with it early on, but I haven't heard much lately. A lot of people ask about it, but they just want to know what it is and what's in it.

    "I don't have any problem with it myself."

    The front steps.
    (Tony Jones photo)
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    There were no official challenges to the building because everything Mr. Brown did complied with zoning and building code requirements. Terry Brown, who bought the old Loveless place in 1989 and began work on the structure in 1991, said it's tough to blend into the neighborhood because the site is one of "chaos."

    "If I were building a Taco Bell, I would have had less of a problem," he says.

    Within a stone's throw are a United Dairy Farmers convenience store, a police station, apartment buildings, tennis courts, various small businesses and houses at each end of the Hyde Park price spectrum.

    That's why, Mr. Brown says, he used numerous elevated windows in his turret - teepee design and stained glass to block what he calls the non-view.

    The building includes a circular client meeting room in front -- "much more casual than a conference room" -- with a cathedral-type ceiling and a small loft with a drawing table overlooking the space. Three other rooms, in a basic shotgun arrangement, are designated as work rooms and an office for Mr. Brown.

    Unique shingles.
    (Tony Jones photo)
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    The building started as a one-bedroom, one-story frame house. Its owner, recognized in 1995 as one of the Architectural League of New York's "40-under-40" accomplished young architects, particularly is fond of the custom-crafted leaded and stained glass and the "combination of things seemingly unalike but, when you put them together, they provide a richness."

    As an example, he points to the corrugated steel siding and white cedar railing at the rear of the building.

    He uses multiples of colors and textures in his design, including cedar shakes decorated with ceramics, gargoyles and other art works, many of which he created, as his way of "giving visual gifts to the community."

    "It's not the standard architectural expression you might find in this vicinity," says Stephen Brown, who worked with Terry Brown for about five years. "He (Terry) takes pride in being a very expressive, artful designer."

    "Look at the buildings from a hundred years ago," Terry Brown says. "They all had columns and carvings and other interesting things on them."

    "In my mind, an architect is supposed to build buildings that have ideas. Most professionals now tend to build buildings without ideas."

    That's why it's important to get his students involved.

    "After years of being creative in school, the first thing the industry does is ask (students) to have a lobotomy," he says. "I want them to keep their minds active and get excited about what they're doing."

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