University of Cincinnati, Master of Architecture thesis
As my Master of Architecture thesis (2009) I focused my research on one building. Designed by SOM (1945-1948), the Terrace Plaza Hotel was one of the firm’s first commissions and was also one of the first International Style hotels in the world and one of the first brick curtain walls. It is also one of the first major Modern projects by a woman architect - Natalie de Blois. Located in the heart of downtown Cincinnati, Ohio, the Terrace Plaza included a 7-story commercial base housing two department stores, retail, cafeteria, and offices and a 12-story hotel block, set back to create terraces for outdoor dining and even ice skating in the winter. The innovative design continued on the interior with commissions from world-class artists such as a Joan Miró, Alexander Calder, Marianne Strengel, Abe Feder, Saul Steinberg, and Jim Davis. The hotel had the newest and most cutting-edge components available, some of them developed just for this project -
Formica and stainless steel surfaces, user-controlled HVAC units in each room, escalators, automated elevators, electronic beds and walls, and much more. The Terrace Plaza had fallen on hard times in recent decades, as downtown faded and people forgot about the initial glamour of staying in what Life Magazine called the “pushbutton palace” or eating in the famous, five-star rooftop Gourmet Restaurant. Various calls for demolition or recladding had stirred a few local preservationists, but most people didn’t even seem to notice the Terrace Plaza was there and its national significance was lost. So I set out to reinvigorate the building in the imagination of locals and architectural historians. I interviewed dozens of people, including Natalie de Blois herself, and I searched through mountains of newspaper clippings and archives to learn as much about the building as I could. Then I began trying to solve some of its problems, namely the lack of appreciation, disdain for the brick curtain walls, and trouble finding a developer who could use the entire building (since the commercial base had no windows it had been vacant for nearly 20 years). I proposed using the hotel block as a combination of hotel and apartments, catering to young professionals and traverlers into Modernism and then bringing programs that would work inside the box and are needed in that area of downtown including a cinema, grocery store, and retail as well as support spaces for the hotel. I also started a publicity campaign for the building, having events and getting stories in the local press, as well as teaching a design studio, having an exhibition, and recreating historic postcards. Please see Film section for additonal strategies.
images property of Ezra Stoller and Shawn P. Tubb
Status: School Project
Location: Cincinnati, OH, US
My Role: author/designer