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From Church to Creative Arts Space: UC Students Envision New Life for Historic Inner-City Structure

A derelict, historic West End church may see new life as a space for artists, musicians and entrepreneurs. On June 1, UC interior design students will present their visions for reclaiming the building for new uses.

Date: 5/27/2012 12:00:00 AM
By: M.B. Reilly
Phone: (513) 556-1824
Photos By: UC interior design students

UC ingot   The Victorian Gothic structure of the German Reformed Church on Freeman Avenue in Cincinnati’s West End was first built in the early 1880s in order to contribute to the life of the community.

And now, some 130 years later, members of the community are teaming with students in the University of Cincinnati’s nationally top-ranked interior design program to envision new uses for the derelict structure so that it can again contribute to the life of local residents.

The church and its parsonage are owned by Music, Ink., a consortium of performers, artists and entrepreneurs interested in transforming the church into a popular music venue, restaurant and bar; space for a music school for inner-city youth and space for photography workshops; as well as theater and art gallery.
Carli Werthmann's design for a performance space.
Design concept for the church's performance space by UC student Carli Werthmann.

Manny Hernandez, co-founder and board member of Music, Ink., said that it’s very likely that his group will take concepts and ideas from different designs by the UC students and incorporate them into the eventual renovation plans.

Sixteeen third-year students in UC’s College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning (DAAP) are working under the guidance of Patrick Snadon, associate professor in DAAP’s School of Architecture and Interior Design, to re-envision the space within the church, parsonage as well as outdoor courtyard space.

The challenge of the project is integrating old with new, preserving the architectural/design integrity of the original structure and incorporating that into new uses in a thoughtful, appropriate manner.

Said student Carli Werthmann, 21, of Dayton, Ohio, “We have all the creative challenges inherent in such a project while also making sure we’re working within the physical constraints that come with an existing space, including meeting building codes and historic preservation best practices.”

For instance, she said that the church interior has a coved ceiling that dates back to the 1880s, an interesting and valuable design element. However, the church’s coved ceiling is grimy and worn, such that the students have debated among themselves the best course of action – to retain and clean the coved ceiling or to remove it and expose the structural elements behind it.

In addition, the structure once had large, stained-glass windows all along its exterior walls, but most of that glass is now missing.

Stated Werthmann, “And so, in our groups in class, we are making decisions as to what fits best with possible redesigns. Do we replace the missing glass, or take it all down for a new installation. These are the kinds of problems that need to be resolved and decisions made when working with an existing structure.”
Perspective of courtyard concept by UC students.
In this rendering by Lauren Schenk and C.J. Frey, a courtyard between the church and parsonage could extend the seating of the restaurant and also house a glass-enclosed elevator to make the renovated church and parsonage handicapped accessible.

Student Lauren Schenk, 21, of Finneytown, in Cincinnati, has also found challenges in working with an old, historic structure. For instance, she and partner C.J. Frey are suggesting a glass addition, with elevator, between the church and its parsonage.

She explained, “It’s a way of having one elevator serve both buildings, a necessity given that the floor heights in the two buildings don’t match one another. So, without the elevator, the structures aren’t handicapped accessible.”

Still, the challenges make for a rewarding project and end result, according to student Catherine Murray, 21, of Madeira, in Cincinnati. She stated, “The challenges come with a real site, and working with a real site is the best part for me. That means we face specific, concrete problems and challenges and must find equally specific and concrete solutions.”

The students will present their final concepts for the project to representatives of Music, Ink., from 2-6 p.m., Friday, June 1, on the 5th floor of DAAP.

Hernandez of Music, Ink., stated, “Working with the UC students has been a great way to get ideas from fresh, young minds. Our renovation is very likely to happen in the long term, with the timeline for that depending on finding funding for the project though we have already been hard at work cleaning the space and protecting it from the elements.”
Rendering of performance space by Catherine Murray.
Conceptual rendering of the performance space within the church by UC student Catherine Murray.

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