As it builds toward the future, the University of Cincinnati is celebrating the completion of its new Campus Recreation Center, a structure that will loom large indeed on a campus already studded with masterpieces – “starchitecture” if you will – by the nation’s most celebrated architects.
But it didn’t start out that way. When the architectural team behind the Campus Recreation Center first sketched the outlines of the structure seven years ago, the project was no more than that – a simple recreation center. Since then though, it’s “morphed” into five buildings in one, according to principal architect Thom Mayne of the architectural firm, Morphosis in Santa Monica, Calif. Last June, Mayne became the first American in 14 years to win the world’s most coveted architectural award, the Pritzker Prize.
Collaborators Kristina Loock, project architect with Morphosis; Dale Beeler, senior architect with local firm KZF Design, Inc.; and Ron Kull, university architect, agree. “Perhaps,” said Beeler, “Vontz (by architect Frank Gehry and located on UC’s East Campus) is as complex, but this rec center at 350,000 square feet is far, far larger.”
The “five buildings” that constitute the new $112.9-million Campus Recreation Center are:
The “back” or south end of the new rec center serves as the northern terminus for UC’s Nippert Stadium, providing stadium seating topped by a pedestrian bridge and a scoreboard. The grandstands serve as an exclamation point for Nippert, said Kull, while the pedestrian bridge will serve as a campus shortcut “through” the stadium.
“For a long time, Nippert has served to block the natural lines of east-west traffic on campus. All the pathways that naturally led toward and past Nippert had to stop and dogleg around the facility. It was a 24/7 impediment to cross traffic. Not anymore,” stated Beeler.
The facility also includes a 160-seat restaurant – the Marche – overlooking Nippert along with a juice bar and a more informal 400-seat dining facility – CenterCourt – featuring made-to-order specialty pizzas, deli sandwiches, fresh breads, salads and more.
Housing in the center is comprised of 112 suites for upperclassmen. Each suite holds two single bedrooms, private and semi-private baths, along with a shared common area with a mini-kitchen.
The muscular athletic core of the building includes:
"There’s no other recreation facility like it on any other college campus. Theoretically, a student could spend his entire academic career at UC in just this one building,” reported Loock, adding, “It’s become a building with enormous capacity and freedom with its large transparent spaces. It’s a monumental space, and it’s been a monumental challenge.”
|The rock-climbing wall|
Situated on a dramatically sloping site where it’s possible to enter and exit the building at elevations that differ by more than 20 feet, the Campus Recreation Center started out as a much smaller facility located in an area of campus that had once held a small power plant, gym, bookstore and service building. Over time, programmatic needs and the evolving design plan on campus required a more expansive structure on this dense site.
The rec center grew in scale because of changes in other campus projects, according to Ron Kull. Initially, he explained, UC’s Joseph A. Steger Student Life Center was to have contained student housing. Instead, that space was eventually used to provide offices for student groups and does not include housing. The university was also short on classroom space, especially larger spaces for groups of 60 to 80 people. The best options for providing such amenities became the recreation center – which would then require accompanying food-service options.
|The rec center's roofscape seamlessly continues the oval curve of the stadium's stands until meeting the straight edge of the center's Northeast portion|
Both she and Mayne see the building, principally, as a sculpture and as a “roofscape” that is entirely visible from Nippert Stadium. The west end of the structure abuts Nippert and the roof line of the rec center seamlessly continues the curving sweep of Nippert’s oval-shaped grandstands. On its east side, the rec center roof is a sharp, up-and-down straight edge, a foil to the curving roofline on the opposite end of the structure. “There,” explained Loock, “We were responding to the dramatic geometric forms that rise up in the green space that surrounds the north and east ends of the center. All the steel panels that form the roof’s covering layer taper in one direction or the other. The roof was definitely difficult.”
|The suspended running track|
To emphasize the sculptural elements of the building, the interior palette of the building were deliberately muted: Grays with accents of chartreuse, green and white. Kull explained that the grey, green and white used within the structure recall the grey, green and white of Nippert Stadium – the grey of the grandstands along with the green of the field overlayed with white stripes.
The outside – clad with painted aluminum and steel – is designed to blend with the zinc cladding of the adjacent Tangeman University Center and the Steger Student Life Center.
|The six-court basketball arena|
Campus Recreation Center Completes UC’s MainStreet
The Campus Recreation Center is the last link in the University of Cincinnati’s MainStreet corridor which stretches on an east-to-west diagonal line on West Campus. The links on the MainStreet chain stretch from University Pavilion on the west to Tangeman University Center, the Joseph A. Steger Student Life Center, the Campus Recreation Center to Turner and Schneider Residence Halls to the east. Woven throughout the buildings, as an integral part of MainStreet, are acres of green space designed by award-winning landscape architects and planners Hargreaves Associates and local partners Glaserworks.
To read more on MainStreet, visit
Past Achievements in UC’s Master Plan
The previous MainStreet projects were
A selection of other Master Plan projects on campus