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A Slice of Real Life: Students Help Make a Pizza Parlor to Serve Over-the-Rhine

University of Cincinnati design students are topping off a year in the classroom with real-world, hands-on work to benefit the local community. This summer, they’ve reconstructed portions of a storefront location in Over-the-Rhine to help local nuns who need a new place to run a non-profit pizzeria that specializes in job training for hard-to-employ residents of the community.

Date: 9/1/2004 12:00:00 AM
By: Mary Reilly
Phone: (513) 556-1824
Photos By: Andrew Higley

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The fact that the Dominican Sisters of Hope and the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur don’t have a lot of dough doesn’t mean their dreams for a new home for their non-profit Venice Pizza is a “no go.”  Thanks to University of Cincinnati students, the nuns – evicted from their former location due to rising rent – are now readying an old storefront at 1301 Vine St. for their service mission.

Student Mike McLaughlin cuts tile.

The sisters’ creativity in using a pizzeria as a means to provide food-service, catering and even computer training for hard-to-employ residents is matched by the UC students’ creativity in fashioning the new location for the sisters.

This summer, 16 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, have worked out ways to ready the space for a fall opening, all by using nothing but donated materials.

For instance, the students had 8,000 donated floor tiles; however, the tiles were of varying sizes, textures and colors.  In order to use the mismatched materials in the creation of a harmonious design scheme, the students cut each tile into strips and then fashioned a floor by blending and intermixing the variegated pieces. 

Jessica Kersting, left, and Ashley Murphy prepare floor for tiling.

In addition to constructing the pizzeria’s floor and subfloor this summer, the students – led by Terry Boling, assistant professor of architecture – have built wood wall panels and fabricated decorative screens made from very thin, circular strips of copper plumbing.

While the architecture students are benefiting by actually building their design scheme – working with real clients and using real materials with limited budget and time constraints – they’ve gone far beyond the class requirements, according to Boling.  “Everyone has put in lots and lots of extra time on the project,” he said.  “They’ve been cutting tile at my house, at night, all the time.  The gluing and grouting are never ending.” 

It’s been worth it, according to student Ben Crabtree of Toledo.  He 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 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.” 

Emily Wray prepares woodwork for a wall.

In the fall, other UC students will continue with the project, working on the service-area countertop, reception area and an interior light board that will serve as a signboard for the pizzeria as well as a “hall of fame” where pictures of local residents can be displayed.  They’ll fashion the client counter space out of concrete mixed with local metals and glass to playfully refract the light coming in from the front panel of windows. 

In addition to the kitchen and dining area the UC students are now working on, 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.

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