It was while sitting in the press box of the old baseball field on campus that architect Bernard Tschumi got the idea to position the University of Cincinnati’s new Richard E. Lindner Athletics Center as a ‘squeeze play’ into the compressed space between the university’s Fifth Third Arena and Nippert Stadium.
Tschumi was instantly attracted to this unused alley of space because he wanted the new athletics center to have a strong connection to campus life. “Athletics and academics are part of the same university family,” he explained. “This space was a natural linchpin, a pivot. That’s why I wanted it even while it demanded we design a building of unusual shape.”
The 236,000 square foot Richard E. Lindner Athletics Center is designed by Tschumi in cooperation with Kim Starr, senior architect with Bernard Tschumi Architects; Mark Thurnauer, senior architect with local firm, glaserworks; Barrett Bamberger, UC project manager; and Ron Kull, university architect.
The decision to place the “lattice-work” structure to the west of Fifth Third Arena came down to practicalities: There were too many utilities located under the east side of Fifth Third Arena. Also, by siting the new Lindner Center on the arena’s west side, the designers could incorporate two existing floor levels, below ground, into the new structure.
“There were two existing floors where we needed to build a football locker room and a mechanical room. Those never closed throughout the whole project. We spanned over the existing floors,” according to Thurnauer who explained that the building contains eight floors in all, five above ground and three below.
Tschumi goes further, succinctly describing the building as “precise, muscular, eventful.” He added, “The building openly expresses its structure via its exposed diagonal trusses. It’s a building with incredible personality, possessing a muscular feel appropriate for an athletic center. It’s also elegant. It doesn’t have to sweat. It’s comfortable with itself and its site.”
“It’s a deep building, not unlike a cathedral. Because of its depth and size, I wanted to bring light down into the structure while also drawing the eye upward. That’s achieved by the skylight that caps the atrium,” said Tschumi.
In addition, the atrium incorporates a four-story trophy case, part of the George and Helen Smith Athletics Museum also housed within the Lindner Center. As part of that museum – created by designer Eva Maddox of Chicago – a 20-foot-tall video screen will display two-minute videos on the history of each sport.
While the multi-leveled atrium and trophy case create a powerful visual impact at the building’s entrance, a monumental “floating” staircase dominates the building’s central core. The wide stairway – a vertical runway, if you will – proceeds on a straight north-south line from its underground source on the center’s north side to where it rises aloft and comes to rest on the eighth floor on the building’s south side. Upheld by horizontal supports at each landing – and so without visible support from below – the stairway seems to glide, to be pulled upward.
And for athletes. Newly appointed Director of Athletics Mike Thomas said Varsity Village will make a difference for generations of students: "I have been in college athletics for more than 20 years, and this is one of, if not the most integrated facilities that I have ever seen. Not only will Varsity Village serve our campus community on a daily basis, but it will also be a magnet for UC to help us recruit the best prospective student-athletes and staff members. This is the finest collegiate athletics complex anywhere in the nation."
The Varsity Village project began under the leadership of UC’s former athletics director, Bob Goin. Back in 2001, Goin explained, “We don’t have accommodations befitting a Division I program. When you list the universities across the country and walk in the front door of the athletics complex, it shows a comprehensive program of excellence. We will become the university of choice. This will allow us to compete with the Kentuckys, the Purdues, the Indianas and the Louisvilles.”
Thurnauer concluded, “We had a vision of being able to stand in one spot and see all the University of Cincinnati teams practicing and playing at the same time. That’s the vision that led us to today’s Varsity Village.”
And yes, stand on the topmost floor of the Richard E. Lindner Athletics Center’s southern tip, and you can see every practice and playing field used by UC’s varsity athletes.
Schedule of Public Events to Celebrate UC's Varsity Village
Among the events to celebrate the opening of the Richard E. Lindner Center and other portions of Varsity Village are
Saturday, May 13
Within the Richard E. Lindner Athletics Center
Given the construction materials and the elemental use of diagonal trusses to form the structure, it’s a building of size, solidity and girth. It will also house a sizeable list of functions and features, including:
The overall Varsity Village complex surrounding the Lindner Center also includes:
UC's new Richard E. Lindner Varsity Village is part of the university's Master Plan, set in motion in 1989 to transform campus. To date, the Master Plan encompasses more than 30 projects.