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The Aronoff Center

Architect: Peter Eisenman

Janice Fredwest

The Aronoff Center: A Brief History

Peter Eisenmans program for the aronoff center was to re-organize 13,400 square meters of existing space and add 12,000 square meters of new space, including a library, theater, exhibition space, studio space, and office space. It is an addition to the University of Cincinnatis DAAP building and was completed in the fall of 1996. The landscape architect was Hargreaves Associates and the Construction Manager was Dugan & Meyers.

Unique Forms
The unique forms that make up the Aronoff Center are what really grabs the attention of people passing by. Eisenman wanted to create a space using geometric forms. The Aronoff Center is an addition to the DAAP building. Eisenman responds to the orthagonal lines of the existing buildings by creating a curving spine that wraps around the three existing building. The new addition seems to follow the form of the landscape more than the existing building. This curved line is complex in both plan and section. The curve also has no center. This building could not have been created without the new technologies in building construction. From there spatial boxes were planted along the curved path and each box overlapped the next. (Eleven Authors) Eiseman uses structure as a highlight in the Aronoff Center and used the new technologies in comptuers to his advantage, but there are many inconsistencies and problems in his concept and construction as the result of such a complex building.

Old vs. New

Because the curving spine was stepped in section, the building could not sit level onto the site. The bottom corner of the east side of the building became the place for the mechanical systems (the 200 level) and the top corner of the west side of the building became the highest point, the 600 level. All of the boxes in section step, but they do not torque so that it provides contrast between various boxes. The Aronoff building is actually the fourth building in the complex and each separate building has its own stair tower, so all of the buildings levels are not at the same height, with the exception of the 500 level where all of the buildings are connected. In the original DAAP building there is a hallway that acts as a chevron and was the device used to connect the buildings. The chevron that is in the northern corner is called the Alms trace and the more southern chevron is called the Wolfson trace.

Old vs. New Cont.

This weave pattern is evident in the existing buildings and the connecting pieces to create an orthogonal outline that is uniform along the northern faade. This makes the building read as a whole, and difficult to read one building from the other. Heather Chitwood writes:
The combination of the existing building traces and the box geometry forms the overall diagram for the Eisenman project. The chevron figures of the traces displace portions of the boxes that lie within particular chevron zones, defined as the space between two chevron figures. The portion of a box edge that passes through any chevron remains in its original location, while the portion a box edge between two chevrons shifts parallel to itself along the y-axis. The boxes of each phase are then connected at the overlap. This connection can be seen as an interlock. Because these blocks are immobile, their movement can only be implied. The leading edge of a trace is produced by overlapping the previous box edge, which obscures the interlock while creating the illusion of movement. In the transverse section, the boxes are joined by an extension

While the diagram for the new aronoff building is seamless with the existing buildings, the reality is slightly different. Many areas are sloped, especially on the 500 level where the buildings did not line up. There are also pieces of rubber where the seams are (purposefully) to allow for the movement of the individual buildings.

Just as Eisman had to compromise with the materials and colors chosen, the site too presented a problem with Eismans original design. The exterior can hardly be seen. Eiseman had originally wanted to lower the hill on the northern and western faades to reveal more of the building, but the university administration did not allow for this. Now half of the building is hidden behind the landscape. The Northern faade is covered by the existing buildings. The eastern entrance is the only place where you can really get a good look at the building.

Materials and Colors

The exterior of the building is synthetic stucco and gypsum wall. Originally Eiseman wanted Italian tile, but the cost and plasticity of the EIFS made it the winning candidate. Unfortunately the EIFS is not durable, and as the ten year anniversary approaches definite damage is already very evident and the maintenance cannot keep up with its flow of people. Originally Eiseman wanted bold colors for the Aronoff center but had to compromise with the universities wishes. When the pastel color choices were made Eiseman intended the pastels not to be read as colors, but as architectural guides. That way people who did not understand architecture could see and understand the different types of structure occurring. The pink represents the step blocks, the green is the torque, and the blue represents the chevrons. It is too bad that not many people get this out of the color scheme.

Model: Exterior Form

Technology and Structures

The concept for the Aronoff Center was created by using new technology in computers. This created a problem for the construction because all of the computer had just created 3D extrusions from simple planes. The programming and planning functions for the Aronoff Center were created within a 3D wire frame boxes on the computer. The spaces actually emerged from the process of design on computers. Therefore, drawing lots of sections would be meaningless because any traditional section would be orthogonal and cut through only one wire frame box at a time. The construction drawings do not describe the space of the building one bit. Also, the construction process was much more unconventional because of the new technology. The coordinate system that is usually used to survey land was used to dimensioning the project instead. The conventional string dimensions of the floor plans were not useful because the edges of all the boxes had no correlation to the column grid.

Technology and Structures

There is a sense of logical system to the overall form, but sometimes that logic is elusive. Doing such a complex series of forms along with many concepts causes tehre to be grey areas in actual construction.
Because the structural design of the building presented special engineering challenges, the architects had to toss away all conventional wisdom and try to visualize the building as a shape. Computer modeling was indispensable says
Tim Raberding, president of Progressive Engineering

Site Plans
Left: Hand Drawn Right: Computer Generated

Floor Plan

Structural Grids and Columns

The Aronoff Center is organized by a phase of boxes that started on the 5000 level. This means that all of the columns act independently of the curving form. As a result columns pass in and out of walls. Sometimes the columns are only partially revealed, staying true to the grid and not the shape of the space. All of the new columns are vertical on one side and slope (to mimic the profile of the building) on the other. To contrast the old from the new sections of the building, there are round columns that help represent the existing building. Trying to integrate such a rigid structural grid has caused problems with the naturalness of the column. Not all of the columns are structural in the Aronoff Center.
In some cases they are part of a figure traced from the existing building and not related to their structuring function. This contradicts the conventional notion of the structural column (Eleven Authors).

Eisenman uses too many concepts with the columns, causing a compromise to the idea of a true column. Eisenman brings attention to a structure that is not even there.

Steel Framing and Problems

Some of the structure is highlighted in the Aronoff Center. For example, the library shows exposed beams overhead that seems to weave in and out of the walls. Not only is the structure evident, but it is also very aesthetically pleasing. Unfortunately this does not happen all around the building, although it should. The building is made up of steel framing and a grid of concrete columns. The exterior of the East side of the building really shows Eisenmans concept of geometric shapes. It is conveyed by use of cantilevers as well as steel-formed flying buttresses and are clad with EIFS (an Exterior Insulating Foam System). Wolfgang Preiser in his POE (post-occupancy evaluation) of the Aronoff Building said: Foam follows function(Preiser). He notes that there are many leaks in the roofs and walls of the building.

Exterior Under Construction

Left: South West corner Right: Main (East) front

Construction Phases of the Atrium

After Thoughts
Peter Eisenmans design for the Aronoff Center was very complex and a huge undertaking. He had many initial design issues by having to build off of an existing building. He also created his own issues by having many concepts to his building, many of them involving structure. Having the new technology merge with the limitations of building construction was another problem. Dealing with all of these issues make certain aspects of the building and its structure a little under par. He could not stay true to all of his concepts at once, so the building has much compromise. It is also deteriorating at an alarming rate. At the same time, the Aronoff Building would not be nearly as unique and interesting if it had not been for all of the risks that Eisenman took on. We should be glad for what Eisenman strived to do, but learn from his mistakes in hopes that we can build form and function with perfection.

Eleven Authors, Eleven Authors in Search of a Building: The Aronoff Center for the Design and Art at the University of Cincinnati. New York: The Montacelli Press, 1996. Pp 21-119 Preiser, Wolfgang. Aronoff Center for University of Cincinnati: POE The AIA Jouranl of Architecture, Janurary 2006. Chitwood, Heather. Architectural Thesis from Cincinnati, Ohio. University of Cincinnati, signature architecture: The Aronoff Center for Design and Art

*all images found from the last two sources*