Knowlton School - The Ohio State University

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    Lecture - Doug Graf

    By RMartz
    Nov 9, '13 9:39 AM EST


    Welcome back everyone. I’m sorry this has been along time coming, but we’ve been up to some other great projects that are coming down the pipeline. We were lucky enough to have our own Doug Graf, Professor of Architecture and historian extraordinaire, give a lecture on the architecture of central Ohio.  It really was more 1 part history lesson, 2 parts critique, and 1 part calls for change. For those who have never had/met Doug before, his lectures are always informative with even amounts of humor.

    I’ll start off with a theme found throughout the lecture, that Columbus not an extraordinary city, at least not anymore (I did say 2 parts critique). He presented a series of “Columbus” postcards from all over the country. Little do people realize there are 18(according to one source) different cities named Columbus, and ironically our neighbor, Columbus, Indiana, is the one known for architecture. As he said “that puts us at a disadvantage”. But before we settled there was already structures here in the form of the famous serpent mounds, some which are preserved, some built on top off, such as in Circleville, and one turned into a golf course. It must be fun to “feel the G’s” as you go tearing over the mounds and across the course Doug said. As settlers came and cities were established things started to be built and he presented some homes of importance. At the time Columbus was really all about the house. The city itself was fairly new, which he pointed out is planned to the same square city grid as many American cities are.

    But then Columbus became the state capital. With this came large growth, including many state institution projects, such as the Franklin County Court House, Deaf School and Blind School (beautiful grounds with a view looking to the city), and even the prison was of interest. All of which were demolished over time, a huge loss. The texture of the city grew tighter too, with a dense interesting street wall and the iconic Leveque tower going up. Many of the buildings , such as the first 3 have all been demolished and have become in parking. He questions whether this is really an improvement. Before the spread of the car there was a great public transit system, the interurban, which was a high-speed trolley that city livers could take to the countryside. At the same time, closer to the city, there was recreation such as Olentangy and Indianola park, which had pools, Tennis courts, and some pretty fun looking architecture. In his words “they just got things done”.

    Shifting gear to the university we found a number of amazing old building, that through fire or demolition are not longer around. These include the original University Hall, the Armory (referenced in the Wexner Center), and Orton Hall (still existing) as examples. The big defining move the university made however was to create the Oval. Rather than having a campus in the city the green space of the Oval became to focal point, thus now it’s we have a university in the country. Meanwhile, in the city things have grown (ignore chronology as we jump all over the place). He pointed out great pieces of architecture and unique moments in the city. Places like the Ohio and Southern theatre, both of which have beautiful interiors. The State Office Tower, which on the South is fairly solid to hold the street edge, while the North becomes smaller chunks, creating a relationship to the numerous smaller buildings. A particular unique and still existing building is the Ringside café. Located in an alley, rather than having a flat front it actually creates it own street corner to give itself a presence in the space, even though the “street” leads to nothing. Things began to change, “Architecture is becoming a service profession in which our job is to make the expected happen”.

    This change began with the car and the presence of suburban lifestyle in Columbus. People spread out and housing began to be done in mass developments. Even in the areas where the lots are not part of a planned development, contemporary architecture is often blocked by village commissions. What he’s not saying is that it should be a free-for-all in terms of design, but rather the addition of contemporary residential architecture adds life to the community and needs to be allowed to certain extents. He used the example of Hampstead, UK, a community with very strict design regulations, in which great, contemporary work is mixed with the historic work. While cookie cutter homes expanded here, Los Angeles, which at the time was of a similar population, was cranking out great homes. The best examples being done by Green & Green, who ironically came from Ohio.

    The end of lecture became a mix of great examples and lost opportunities. The focus of some of these, was a call for small change, excelling in the little moments. Places like the Chef-o-nette restaurant in Columbus, which has a wall that is part lattice, part mirror, and part open, causing people to seemingly disappear and then suddenly another person appears in their place. It becomes a little theater. Theater being the theme of the former Khahiki Restaurant.  After approaching via driveway through a garden, on the interior are 7 different worlds, the jungle and the village for example. It actually seems like a great business plan, as you have to come back at least 6 more times to try all the different worlds. He touched on some other amazing buildings, such as the Cattle and Arts & Crafts buildings at the Lancaster Fair Grounds. Of course his finishing example was our building, the Knowlton School of Architecture, which is truly great. On the north side we have the forest of beautiful landscaping, with the buildings surface regulated by a single continuous, smooth, strip. Meanwhile, the south becomes a series of cuts of additions, the city. The interior, a series of staggered floors connected by a central ramp. The building really has to be experienced to appreciate it. As a personal note, the ramps receive a lot of criticism from non-architects for being confusing or wasteful, but as a way to view to view the school in an entire procession and a means to move an 8’ wide site model it doesn’t get much better.

    The lost opportunities were first tied to transit. While cities like Denver and Calgary, which are of equal size, are investing in a subway, good mass transit, Columbus is doing none of the above. Doug believes will only do us more damage, as the transit will have to come one day regardless. Another pointed issue, as is in many cities, is the lack of density and large shopping malls in a sea of parking lots. The places are destined for eventual failure because people don’t care about them he believes. Meanwhile in Osaka, a fairly equivalent Japanese city, he showed their alternative. A denser, more designed shopping all…better. At the end of the day the concern is that architectural opportunities are being found overseas and that architecture for us is falling out reach to be designed.

    It was a funny and saddening lecture all at the same time, but always insightful and useful in conceiving the future of profession and its role in society. As always you can find the lecture video on the schools website, Keep an eye out for posts on our other great lectures, the next with Laura Kurgan, founder of the Spatial Information Design Lab at Columbia University.

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About this Blog

This blog will be a feeder for recent news, events and student work occurring at the Knowlton School at The Ohio State University. Posts will typically center around updates from the school's lecture series, exciting projects from recent student reviews and updates from other school events.

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