The Contemporary Arts Center is a forum for the exchange of ideas and a gathering place for people of all cultures and ages. It presents an ever-changing menu of visual and performing arts that feeds the cultural vitality of Cincinnati. The museum is not defined by a collection and a set approach to art. Rather, it is a changeable site that is open and receptive to the creative diversity of artists from around the globe.
The architecture of the new Contemporary Arts Center building redefines the boundaries between art and life in various ways. The building itself is as original and enigmatic as a piece of abstract or conceptual art. Like a work of art, it has its own strong formal logic. In this case, the formal logic informs the spatial logic of a piece of civic life.
The Center should act as a socializing force in Cincinnati. The building engages with the community, hopefully helping to broaden the audience for contemporary art. It will play an important role in developing local art enthusiasts into an involved community. In addition, the Center is an important civic space-like a public living room-inserted in the heart of downtown. The openness of the ground level and the penetration of light into various parts of the building make the passer-by aware that there is something exciting going on inside. The ground floor surface bends upwards at the back of the building creating a strong continuity with the vertical circulation space cutting through the building. This surface is the “urban carpet” that articulates the public accessibility of the building.
With a system of ramps prominently positioned throughout the building, visitors will be able to see each other moving through the space and interacting with the art. In this way, the architecture facilitates the viewing of art as a collective experience. The stair connects the ground level (the lobby) to the top level (the UnMuseum), facilitating the ease of movement from one part of the space to another.
The fundamental concept is a jigsaw puzzle of diverse exhibition spaces: long, short, broad, or tall spaces, each with different lighting conditions. This concept is expressed in the exterior configuration so that from the outside, you can read the volumes of the building. Inside, each volume is defined by material changes in the ceilings and the floors, so the viewer is constantly aware that the next level will be slightly different. We sought to create as many spaces congregated together as possible to allow greater variety and support the presentation of two or three shows at the same time. Collectively, the space gives a clearly recognizable identity to the Center, ensuring that the experience of viewing art here will be distinct from any other venue.
Rather than presuming that flexibility depends on blandness, the building offers diverse conditions to choose from, each with a particular character. This creates a more engaging experience for the visitor. I believe architecture can be a catalyst for instigating and influencing the process of making, as well as viewing, art. I hope the space will instigate a new sense of possibility.
28-Jul-2010 The first freestanding building for The Contemporary Arts Center, founded in Cincinnati in 1939 as one of the first institutions in the United States dedicated to the contemporary visual arts. The new CAC building will provide spaces for temporary exhibitions, site-specific installations, and performances, but not for a permanent collection. Other program elements include an education facility, offices, art preparation areas, a museum store, a cafe and public areas. To draw in pedestrian movement from the surrounding areas and create a sense of dynamic public space, the entrance, lobby and lead-in to the circulation system are organized as an “Urban Carpet.” Starting at the corner of Sixth and Walnut, the ground curves slowly upward as it enters the building, rising to become the back wall. As it rises and turns, this Urban Carpet leads visitors up a suspended mezzanine ramp through the full length of the lobby, which during the day functions as an open, day-lit, “landscaped” expanse that reads as an artificial park. The mezzanine ramp continues to rise until it penetrates the back wall, on the other side of which it becomes a landing at the entrance to the galleries.
Jigsaw Puzzle: In contrast to the Urban Carpet, which is a series of polished, undulating surfaces, the galleries are expressed as if they had been carved from a single block of concrete and were floating over the lobby space.
Exhibition spaces vary in size and shape, to accommodate the great range of scales and materials in contemporary art. Views into the galleries from the circulation system are unpredictable, as the stair-ramp zigzags upward through a narrow slit at the back of the building. Together, these varying galleries interlock like a three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle, made up of solids and voids. Skin/Sculpture: The building’s corner situation led to the development of two different, but complementary, facades. The south facade, along Sixth Street, forms an undulating, translucent skin, through which passers-by see into the life of the Centre. The east facade, along Walnut, is expressed as a sculptural relief. It provides an imprint, in negative, of the gallery interiors.