UC Continues Tradition of Innovative Architecture with Expanded Nippert Stadium

The University of Cincinnati — already lauded internationally for its exceptional architecture — will debut a brand new example of creative urban planning with a 115,000-square-foot athletics venue at the heart of campus. 

Set to open in September, the new West Pavilion structure spans roughly half of Nippert Stadium, one of America’s most historic college football venues. The five-story, long and narrow glass-enclosed sliver will introduce the program’s first true premium seating, club spaces and high-end press facilities. 

The 450-foot long dramatic building is the most notable element of an $86 million overhaul of Nippert that will include more restrooms, expanded concession options and enhanced pedestrian circulation — which fans will discover at UC’s first home game when the Bearcats host Alabama A&M on Saturday, Sept. 5. With the added seating and amenities, the gameday standing room capacity is expected to increase from 35,000 to roughly 40,000.

Construction began on the Bearcats’ original football stadium — the fifth oldest in America — in 1915, so preserving the historic and intimate nature of the space, became one of the leading motivations of the project. 

UC Architect Mary Beth McGrew says UC planners challenged design architect Architecture Research Office (ARO), Heery International, the architect of record, as well as Turner Construction, the project manager, to deliver a structure that fits — not just onto campus, which was a challenge given the tight urban setting, but also into the scheme of UC’s George Hargreaves-designed Master Plan.

“Nippert is at the heart of our campus, so that drove a lot of the design,” says McGrew. “Great care was taken to make sure the views into the field from MainStreet were still present.”

“Given the tradition of great architecture at the University of Cincinnati," says Stephen Cassell, principal of Architecture Research Office, "having the chance to work on that campus is, in itself, an enormous honor and responsibility. This is a university that greatly values the role of design in their students’ educational experience.”

“Nippert Stadium is one of the most prominent public spaces at the university,” explains Adam Yarinsky, also a principal at ARO. “We went to great lengths to balance deference and distinction in designing the exterior expression of the new West Pavilion – particularly how the building faces the campus.” 

In 2000, UC launched an architectural overhaul when it committed to remaking a once typical commuter school covered in parking lots into a pedestrian-friendly campus that values its own unique sense of place.

The campus boasts work by some of America’s top contemporary architects, including Frank Gehry, Thom Mayne, Charles Gwathmey, Henry Cobb, Peter Eisenman, David Childs and Michael Graves.

The new West Pavilion was built to stretch along UC’s Tangeman University Center yet not overpower the intimate feel of MainStreet, the pavered pathway that winds through the center of campus.

“The new building is bold yet fits nicely into the narrow site,” says McGrew. “Athletics is wonderful and a big part of the university’s culture, and the building needed to serve them but our campus is about architecture ideas and this tradition, too, needed to be addressed.”

West Pavilion provides a strong counterpoint to the Thom Mayne-designed recreation center that also rings the stadium. The facility is entered through a new footbridge that passes through the campus student center (Tangeman University Center) from McMicken Commons, one of the main public spaces of the University.

McGrew points out that one of the most unique aspects of the pavilion — just like the football field — is that it will be open to the university community year-round to use for a variety of  events. 

“This was an opportunity to  integrate athletics and academics,” she says, “I think it will be something special for the rest of the university to be able to have a gathering in the pavilion. Not many athletic venues on other campuses are used in this way.”


The changes to the historic stadium are not limited to those customers in premium seating areas. As part of the project, both east and west concourses were completely renovated and widened. 

Fans will find new concession stands and restrooms throughout the stadium, including ADA accessible seating and facilities.


Concession stands will feature the usual stadium staples along with food and beverage offerings from premium local vendors. Nearly 75 permanent point-of-sale concession locations will be available on gamedays.


The number of women’s bathroom facilities in the stadium have tripled and the number of men’s facilities have nearly doubled.


East side patrons with seats in Herschede-Shank Pavilion will notice the skywalks connecting O’Varsity Way to the upper deck, allowing them to bypass the main concourse and have a quick and easy route to and from their seats.


Electronic ribbon boards will be installed on the face of the press box and Herschede-Shank Pavilion. These will feature statistics, graphics, out-of-town scores and more.


In addition, three new lighting poles have been installed along with new lights on existing poles and on the roof facing of the press box. The stadium lighting will average 165 footcandles, a vast improvement over the previous number.


All the seating benches in the stadium will be covered by red Perma-Cap vinyl bleacher covers by Hussey Seating. The covering will give the bleachers a new look and will include UC logos and marks to make the stadium more visually appealing on non-gamedays.


The West Pavilion has two major goals: to enhance the spectator experience and to strengthen the quality of the campus as a whole. It accomplishes the former by calibrating the height and position of the building to retain optimal sight lines for viewing the field. The east elevation’s cantilevered pre-cast seating tubs offer appropriate seating positions relative to Carson Field. 

Two-story north and south club lounges have wide-open views of the stadium, while the roof terrace on the south end of the building is a unique venue from which to experience the field and campus. Suites on the north have views of the field and MainStreet (the primary campus pedestrian zone) while the top floor of the building is the designated press area. The footbridge and five elevators grouped in three lobbies provide access to each floor level. 

Food service, catering and kitchen facilities are located on every floor. All of these goals were achieved within a very constrained site that included maintaining an active fire-lane and loading dock, avoiding major campus utilities that run beneath the building, challenging construction logistics, and accelerated schedule.

The West Pavilion’s elegant, expressive identity is derived from an X-braced steel structural frame that is visually striking.  It is also highly practical, with self-bracing diagonals that resist lateral forces and use less steel than a conventional frame. The internal super diagonal frames provide lateral bracing for the upper portions of the building.

The dynamic form of the structure defines the stadium edge, and the dramatic north cantilever frames the view into the stadium from campus pedestrian space. The sloped surfaces of the west, north and south elevations animate the building’s dynamic massing and structural frame. On the exterior, diagonally oriented, parallelogram-shaped glass and metal panels establish a scale and repetitive rhythm which creates a unified surface in deference to the varied articulation of surrounding buildings. The depth of the diagonal mullions varies to create a staggered pattern that adds texture to the skin.

An expansive, floor-to-ceiling glass-curtain wall at north, west and south elevations enables views from and through the building, unifying it with the surrounding landscape. It is a light-filled, open space in which the building’s X-braced structural frame is expressed throughout. A uniform, off-white color palette accentuates the sense of openness, brightness and deference to the dramatic views. There are seating and amenities for approximately 1,300 exterior club and patio suite patrons, plus 18 private suites. 

Planned so that the main interior spaces can be used year-round for various events, the new West Pavilion complements the quality of the campus by creating well-designed spaces between it and the surrounding buildings. The project improves pedestrian circulation, providing a visually open concourse to the south side of the campus from Main Street along Bearcat Way. Bearcat Plaza, a new platform with views of the field, sits atop discrete restrooms and concessions. Clad in material employed on nearby buildings, three cast-in-place concrete structures contain concessions, elevator lobbies and mechanical space that are compact in footprint to maximize pedestrian flow and views.

  • 1895 – UC physical education director Arch Carson introduced a plan to build a stadium in Burnet Woods.
  • 1901 – Cincinnati played its first game on Carson Field. Wood bleachers were built on the surrounding hillside.
  • 1909 – Lights were first used because the large number of co-op students on the team could practice only at night.
  • 1915 – Construction began on a permanent brick-and-concrete structure.
  • 1923 – James Gamble donated $250,000 in memory of his grandson, Jimmy Nippert, to complete the stadium. Jimmy died on Christmas 1923 from a football injury a month prior.
  • 1924 – The completed James Gamble Nippert Stadium was dedicated on Nov. 8, 1924. Capacity was 12,000.

  • 1936 – Carson Field was lowered 12 feet to allow the capacity to expand to 24,000.
  • 1954 – Reed Shank Pavilion was completed along the east sideline to boost the capacity to 28,000.
  • 1968 – Nippert served as the first home of the Cincinnati Bengals while the city constructed a facility for the new pro franchise.
  • 1970 – AstroTurf replaced the natural grass surface.
  • 1989 – Nippert Stadium was closed for renovation. UC played its 1990 home games at Riverfront Stadium.
  • 1991 – Phase I of the stadium renovation was completed to allow for UC home games to be played. The structure was fortified and a three-tiered press box was added.
  • 1992 – Phase II of the renovation was completed, increasing the seating capacity to 35,000 through the expansion of the (renamed) Herschede-Shank Pavilion, and adding new lighting and a scoreboard.
  • 2000 – FieldTurf, a revolutionary new grass-like artificial surface, was installed. The former press box was renamed the John and Dorothy Hermanies Press Box.
  • 2001 – A new video scoreboard was added in the north end zone and 10,000 seats were upgraded.
  • 2005 – A permanent grandstand upgraded seating behind the north end zone and provided new locker rooms at field level for game use. A new, larger video board was installed and the FieldTurf playing surface replaced.
  • 2009 – 9,000 black cushioned seats were installed in the UCATS seating areas of the stadium, replacing the previously installed red plastic seating covers.
  • 2013 –  FieldTurf playing surface replaced again.
  • 2014 – Nippert closed for renovation. UC played home games at Paul Brown Stadium.
  • 2015 – Capacity increased to 40,000 with addition of premium seating, new pavilion, additional restrooms, upgraded concessions and improved concourses.
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