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Piece by Piece, UC Students Build a Pizza Parlor

Local nuns evicted from their non-profit pizzeria don’t have a lot of dough. That’s why young design students from the University of Cincinnati have drawn up plans for and are now reconstructing portions of a storefront location in Over the Rhine to replace the location where the sisters formerly worked.

Date: 7/15/2004 12:00:00 AM
By: Mary Reilly
Phone: (513) 556-1824
Photos By: provided by Terry Boling

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Flooring, wall surfaces, signage, cabinets, an entranceway and furniture are among the ingredients University of Cincinnati architecture and interior design students are creating this summer to help complete Venice Pizza in Over-the-Rhine.  The non-profit pizzeria, operated by the Dominican Sisters of Hope and the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, will serve to provide jobs and training for hard-to-employ residents in the Over-the-Rhine community.

Sixteen students from UC’s top-ranked College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning, which houses the nation’s number-one ranked undergraduate architecture and interior design programs, are spending every Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoon from now until Sept. 3 to help realize the overall design concept provided to the sisters by UC faculty and students this past spring.

According to Sister Monica McGloin, Venice Pizza formerly operated in another Over-the-Rhine location, but was forced out when the rent went up.  That’s when they picked out a new storefront location at 1301 Vine St. (the northwest corner of 13th and Vine Streets) and first turned to UC students for help.  Earlier this year, individual design students created interior-design concepts to guide the renovation of the project.  Then, faculty and a student from UC’s Community Design Center completed construction drawings and bid packages and now, students are doing hands-on work to renovate the storefront space.

The students now at work are led by Terry Boling, assistant professor of architecture, who explained that the students are also benefiting along with the sisters.  “It’s very important for students to build what they design, to explore design and construction techniques with real clients, real materials and real constraints,” he said.

The students agreed, adding that the Venice Pizza project will be among their first chances to see something they design get built.  Ben Crabtree of Toledo explained, “We’ve all worked professionally via cooperative education or co-op quarters.  On co-op, I helped design the adaptive reuse of a fire station in Baltimore.  It’s now a community center with computer training and other services, but I’ve never got to see that project finished and opened.  It’ll be nice to see something local that I’ve worked on because I’ll see the end result.”

He added that the students’ efforts are already appreciated by residents.  “They see 20 of us in a storefront and ask us what we’re doing.  They seem to appreciate us.  People are happy we’re here.”

Currently, the 19th-century storefronts are sheathed in new drywall, new plywood floors, and the UC students are set to begin creating the interior for the pizzeria’s kitchen and dining area.  Their ideas include an interior light board that will serve as a signboard for the pizzeria and as a “hall of fame” where pictures of local residents can be displayed.  They are also experimenting with other means for playing with light, perhaps a client counter space made of concrete mixed with local metals and glass to playfully refract the light coming in from the front panel of windows. 

“We want to make this design specific to Over-the-Rhine, a place that really speaks to and for the community so that it’s not a place that looks like ‘McPizza,’ and could be just anywhere,” said student Emily Wray of St. Louis.

In addition to the kitchen and dining area the UC students are now completing, Venice Pizza will also consist of a catering center as well as a small computer training space.  A contractor will complete the interior for the catering center later this year, and other students will likewise complete the interior for the training center.  The nuns expect to open for business late in the fall. 

When it does open, Venice Pizza will continue its ministry of employing and training hard-to-place workers, paying up to $7 an hour.  In the past, the venture has employed up to 12 part-time workers at any one time.

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