Presidential Lectures: Peter Eisenman: Essays: Carlin and Varady
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Day to Day in the Aronoff Center

By Jane Carlin & Adrienne Varady

Recently a student was asked to describe what we call here at the University of Cincinnati the "new building," otherwise known as the Aronoff Center for Design and Art. His response was surprising but very telling. "Why it's Alice in Wonderland," he replied without hesitation. Indeed, the juxtaposition of angles, edges, and spaces compel one to re-evaluate their own perspectives -- just as Alice had to after vanishing through the looking glass!

The Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning Library is one of the major spaces in the Aronoff Center. While it is hard to be without prejudice, we feel it is one of the finest spaces in the new facility. From the very beginning of the design project librarians were part of the College programming committee, which was composed of faculty, administrators, and architects. From the practical perspective, our programming principles were simple: to provide optimum study and research areas, to integrate our visual resources with print collections, and to create an environment capable of accommodating changing technologies far into the future. We also had the opportunity to visit the Wexner Center Library, also designed by Peter Eisenman. Thus armed with a commitment to what we wanted the Library to be, and an insight into the architect's design of a library, we were able to focus on the building program and work collaboratively with the architect's design team. People often ask -- did you get what you wanted? Our answer is always a resounding -- YES! Is the Library perfect? Of course not. Certainly, some of the practical elements of a work environment are missing from the Library space. Where are the closets for coats and boots often needed during a Midwest winter? Where are the storage cupboards for the plethora of ephemera that seems to grow in libraries? But the sheer pleasure in the open vistas created in the Library and throughout the building certainly compensate for the lack of some practical features.

In personal terms perhaps the most dramatic impact of this building occurs when we are occupying other spaces. We find ourselves very aware of the often mundane, boorish concrete structures erected on our campus. The dark and dreary interiors lack creativity, responsiveness, and interest. We now recognize the considerable power and impact architecture has on our moods and attitudes.

The new Eisenman building is visually stimulating. For example, as you walk through the large airy public spaces to reach classrooms, the Library, or the offices, you are very much aware of the changes in natural light that filters down from skylights and windows onto the tilted wall and the variety of textured surfaces in this very strictly angled building.

The pastel pinks, blues, greens and grays add subtlety and soften the sharper angles. They evoke a relaxing environment and serve as a backdrop to other elements. One of the most striking visual moments in the new Library is to see a wall covered with over 200 art and architecture journals against this pale palette. The natural light that filters into the Library reading room through a bank of skylights creates unique and evocative shadows throughout the day. This area has become a favorite spot for students and faculty.

We also enjoy the many complexities of windows and views in this building. Indeed, one is invited to become a voyeur of sorts. Eisenman deliberately placed windows at odd levels and angles. Not only does this tend to deny the fact that much of the building is below grade, but the unusual positioning of windows emphasizes their function, encouraging one to look out of the structure to the exterior.

The building is not static -- almost every day one can experience a new way of looking at something! Innovative design approaches to color, carpeting, and ceiling tiles continue to delight the viewer and new architectural elements seem to continually emerge. But perhaps the best testimonial is that after almost a year and half of occupancy we still enjoy entering the building and delight in the combination of the functional day-to-day operation of our facility and the innovative design which lifts our spirits and inspires creativity.

Jane Carlin is Librarian at the College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning at the University of Cincinnati. Adrienne Varady is Curator, Visual Resources, for the DAAP. Their offices are within the Aronoff Center.

1998, Jane Carlin & Adrienne Varady


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