Text by Clay Risen
New York–based Architecture Research Office (ARO) is perhaps better known for its careful, cerebral urban planning studies than its completed buildings, making the firm, at first glance, an odd choice to design an addition to a Midwestern college football stadium. This is especially true for the University of Cincinnati campus, which is famed for its collection of modern architecture designed by the likes of Frank Gehry, FAIA, Thom Mayne, FAIA, and David Childs, FAIA.
But ARO—founded in 1993 by Stephen Cassell, AIA, and Adam Yarinsky, FAIA (a third principal, Kim Yao, AIA, joined later)—turned out to be an inspired choice for a surprisingly tricky brief: part of an $86 million renovation to the 114-year-old Nippert Stadium, one of the country’s oldest collegiate sports facilities. The 450-foot-long, 115,000-square-foot addition on the western side of the stadium had to cram luxury boxes, press facilities, lounges, and concession space into a narrow triangle between existing seating and the Tangeman University Center, designed by Gwathmey Siegel Kaufman Architects (Mayne’s Campus Recreational Center is just south of the new building).
“I wouldn’t say we woke up one morning and said, ‘Hey, we’d like to do a sports stadium,’ ” Cassell says. But when Mary Beth McGrew, AIA, the university architect, called to request an interview, ARO accepted right away. “We came to it by way of doing complex projects in which design matters,” Yarinsky says. “Steve was an all-American tackle at Princeton,” he jokes.
Kidding aside, the firm’s lifelong interest in urban planning—among other things, it developed prescient strategies for New York City to cope with rising water levels, long before Superstorm Sandy—made it a natural fit for a site that abuts an active loading dock and fire lane, and sits along MainStreet (a major north-south corridor between classrooms and dorms) and on top of a dense network of major campus utilities that runs underground. Not to mention that construction would have to begin and end within a year, since, in the meantime, the Cincinnati Bearcats would have to play downtown at Paul Brown Stadium, at a price of $1 million a game plus lost ticket and concession revenues. “It had everything we liked in a project: a complicated program, a complicated site, and a clear, focused client,” Cassell says.
The school wasn’t looking for a trophy building, McGrew says, but was as interested in ARO’s understanding of urban space as it was in its design abilities. Twenty years ago, the university was a largely commuter school, covered in parking lots. But since then it has transformed itself, adding density through strategically placed buildings designed by top architects known for their appreciation of context.
“Some people call us a petting zoo of architecture, but we’re not that—the campus is a compositional whole,” McGrew says. “We wanted someone who could play in the orchestra, not compete with the other buildings.” Though less established than Gehry or Mayne, ARO fit the bill perfectly.
Fortunately, ARO didn’t have to start entirely from scratch: In 2013, the university hired Heery International—an Atlanta-based architecture firm with nearly 50 years of experience designing sports facilities—as the architect of record, and it conducted a series of preliminary studies of the site.
Heery quickly realized that the tight space was just one of the constraints. The university wanted luxury boxes to align with the field’s 50-yard line, but extending the building northward would block views from Bearcat Plaza, where students gather to watch games. Massing at its southern end would block views from the president’s office behind the stadium and the Tangeman Center, where Charles Gwathmey had installed a picture window that overlooks the field.
By the time ARO arrived on the project several months later, Heery (which also served as sports architect) had developed a basic massing solution for the project, says Mike Holleman, AIA, the senior vice president for sports at Heery. The luxury boxes at the north end of the structure cantilever over one end of Bearcat Plaza, while the south end sits lower to the ground, preserving the president’s view and creating an attractive, multifunction terrace that can be rented out.
ARO lifted the addition off the ground, preserving space for north-south foot traffic and opening up ground-level views into the stadium. Supporting it are three cast-in-place concrete structures, which house concessions, elevator banks, and mechanical rooms. This also facilitates access to the field, realizing another goal for the university: The stadium is now as much a central commons as it is home to its football team. In fact, since it opened last fall, the addition has been used for more than 150 non-football events.
ARO and Heery developed an innovative and visually striking X-braced structural truss that serves as the building’s basic frame. The system’s self-bracing efficiency saved 50 tons of steel, according to ARO, while enabling dramatic double-height spaces across the interior. A footbridge connects the addition to the Tangeman Center.
In a single urbanistic gesture, the new addition to Nippert Stadium enhances the university’s athletic infrastructure while at the same time tying it into the campus’ dense fabric. “Heery told us the primary goal was to reinforce the campus, not to reinforce football,” Cassell says. Clearly, they’ve done both.
Project: West Pavilion at Nippert Stadium, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati
Client: University of Cincinnati
Design Architect: Architecture Research Office, New York . Adam Yarinsky, FAIA, Stephen Cassell, AIA (principals-in-charge); Jeff Hong, AIA (project architect); Neil Patel, AIA, James Henry, Zac Stevens, AIA, Danielle Brown, Jason Kim (team)
Sports Architect, Architect of Record, and Interiors: Heery International . Mike Holleman, AIA, Gordon Smith, AIA (principals-in-charge); Todd Ballew (operations); Kenneth D. Hawthorne, AIA, Phillip Lough, Dan Ludington, Jacob Vagts, AIA, Heath Washburn (team); Lydia O’Neal, Amy Griffin (interiors)
Structural Engineer: THP
M/E/P/FP Engineer: Heapy Engineering
Civil Engineer: WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff
Geotechnical Engineer: Clifton Engineering
Construction Manager: Turner Construction Co.
Landscape Architect: Vivian Llambi & Associates
Lighting Designer: Lighting Workshop
Code Consultant/Expeditor: Preview Group
Graphic Design: Perkins+Will, University of Cincinnati Planning+Design+Construction
Size: 115,000 square feet
Cost: $65 million
Project DescriptionFROM THE ARCHITECTS:
On September 5, with the Bearcats' first home game of the season, the University of Cincinnati will unveil the new West Pavilion of Nippert Stadium. Designed by Architecture Research Office, this ambitious building is a significant addition to the landscape of the University of Cincinnati—already known internationally for its exceptional architecture—and the most notable element of an $86-million overhaul of Nippert Stadium, one of America’s most historic college football venues.
The new West Pavilion at Nippert Stadium enhances the visitor experience and strengthens the quality of the campus as a whole. The facility provides outstanding spectator facilities in a 450-foot-long dramatic and structurally expressive building. With space for premium seating and press facilities, the new building provides a strong counterpoint to the Thom Mayne–designed recreation center that also rings the stadium. The West Pavilion 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. 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 sits less than 10 feet from the Gwathmey building on campus, 30 feet from the Morphosis building and very close to buildings by Harry Cobb and Michael Graves.“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.”
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.
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. At 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. They are compact in footprint to maximize pedestrian flow and views.