State of Downtown Cincinnati Report, DCI, 2019

Architecture for Great-Grandchildren

By: Andreas Lange, AIA, AIA Cincinnati Director & Senior Associate at PWWG

Downtown Cincinnati Inc. / 3CDC’s recent “State of Downtown” report included a fascinating chart.  The report, which is intended to highlight the progress in Cincinnati’s ongoing urban revival, included a graphic of the age of Cincinnati’s housing stock showing that over 70% of all downtown residential units are in buildings built prior to 1939.  Cincinnati urbanites, young professionals and affluent empty nesters – all the cool kids living downtown – are living in buildings built by our great-grandparents.

State of Downtown Cincinnati Report, DCI, 2019
Credit: State of Downtown Report, DCI, 2019

The chart points to a larger reality of practice for Midwestern architects, particularly Cincinnati architects. We renovate more than we build new. The housing stock counted by the US Census certainly is not the same as it was when it was originally built. All of these buildings have been renovated. We live in a world that is not wholly our own making, but forever in need of our care and stewardship. 

In my 12 years as an architect in Cincinnati, I estimate 9 out of 10 projects I have worked on have been changes to existing buildings. I’ve helped with adding a conference center to an office building that was once used as a book warehouse. I’ve designed classroom additions and complete interior renovation to a special needs school that was once an orphanage and convent. I’ve helped build high-rise apartments on top of an existing eight story parking garage. I helped restore the gorgeous Memorial Hall and add a 7-foot-wide addition in the rear packed with performance equipment, catering kitchen, and new bathrooms. Most recently, I helped renovate the elegant and enchanting Music Hall, upgrading patrons’ conveniences, re-opening wings for free circulation, and restoring 19th Century decorative motifs.

Ceiling of Corbett Tower, Cincinnati Music Hall
Ceiling of Corbett Tower, Cincinnati Music Hall

Downtown Cincinnati is doing great. Take a walk around. It is lively, energetic, and filled with interesting new work. Some sites have tower cranes and receive frenzied coverage in business publications. Most projects are more modest, layered behind the facades bricklayers placed prior to WWII, and adding new layers of their own. 

As architects, whether we are working on high-rises or kitchen remodels, we should take the long view. When the fires of new development cool, the shapes and spaces created in those intense moments of activity will be our future city. Architecture in 2099, 80 years from now, the edge of the 22nd century, will be much the same as it is today. It will provide the shelter, warmth, and light – and it will need to be renovated by our great-grandchildren.

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