Selected Writings

Architecture and Urbanism

December 2015

StarchitectureThere has been an unfortunate trend in some urbanist circles to blame architects — or at least so-called “starchitects” in particular — for all of the world’s problems, to the point where it has almost become a trope. The latest example is a recent piece by the Project for Public Spaces titled “Let’s Stop Letting Starchitects Ruin College Campuses“. In the article, the University of Cincinnati’s Signature Architecture Program is singled out as a cause of rising tuition.

The article follows a familiar script: cherry-pick a recent project by some notable architect and use its shortcomings, real or imaginary, as a cudgel to disparage an entire profession. Bonus points are given if the notable building in question has some quality control issues such as a leaky roof (because bland, anonymous buildings never leak and contractors never make mistakes) or if its architect has a particularly strong personality and is prone to making provocative public statements. Then sprinkle in some colorful language like “murderers’ row” to score rhetorical points.

Full article…

September 2015

Nippert_StadiumSince launching the Signature Architecture Program nearly 20 years ago, the University of Cincinnati has become a campus brimming with notable projects by talented firms such as Morphosis, Moore Ruble Yudell, Gwathmey Seigel Kaufman, and STUDIOS Architecture. Rather than merely creating an architectural petting zoo of disparate buildings designed by celebrity architects, though, the university has sought to use architecture to create a cohesive sense of place that outweighs the sum of its individual buildings.

The latest addition to this effort is the new West Pavilion at Nippert Stadium, designed by New York-based Architecture Research Office in close collaboration with Heery International. ARO served as the design architect, while Heery served as the sports consultant and executive architect. Cincinnati-based THP Limited provided structural engineering services.

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March 2015

MainStreetDuring a press conference this past October, superstar architect Frank Gehry responded to criticism of his work by raising his middle finger to a Spanish journalist and saying, “Let me tell you one thing. In the world we live in, 98% of what gets built and designed today is pure shit. There’s no sense of design nor respect for humanity or anything. They’re bad buildings and that’s it.”

Gehry’s sharp retort sparked a firestorm in the press; op-ed pieces in The New York TimesForbesArchitect Magazine, and countless blogs have chimed in with their own responses, and the inevitable responses to the responses soon followed. Despite the brash way in which the conversation started, it is a conversation about our built environment that is welcome and long overdue.

Full article…

August 2011

LA_TransitA few weeks ago I had the opportunity to visit Los Angeles for the first time on a business trip. The vast majority of my transit-related expertise so far has been from transit systems that I’ve experienced first-hand, particularly in Chicago and along the East Coast. From that perspective, Los Angeles had never spent much time on my radar screen, and I had at least partially bought into the stereotype of LA as an unwalkable, automobile-dependent suburban wasteland. To be sure, I saw plenty of areas that fit that description, and after spending an afternoon on the 405 freeway, I vowed never to complain about Cincinnati traffic again.

Nevertheless, while I didn’t have the opportunity to do as much exploring as I would’ve liked (most of my time was spent documenting light fixtures and floor finishes inside an Orange County department store), what little I saw of LA’s transit system during my brief visit prompted some additional research once I got back home, and what I found was fascinating and encouraging for the future of public transit in that city and beyond. The story of public transit and urban planning in Los Angeles forms an arc of ambitious beginnings, a tragic fall from grace, and modern-day redemption.

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August 2010

ChicagoI am a native of the Greater Cincinnati area, but I have spent the better part of my adult life living and working in Chicago. I left Chicago in 2007 for greener pastures in New York City, and then ultimately found my way back home to Cincinnati earlier this year. However, I still look back on my time in Chicago as having an enormous impact on my thoughts about urban planning and design, architecture, and mass transit.

In June of this year, and after a long absence, I spent my first weekend in Chicago since becoming involved in discussions about Cincinnati’s ongoing urban renaissance. Once I arrived in town, I could not help but look at my old stomping grounds in a whole new light, and see Chicago’s urban development through the eyes of a born-again Cincinnatian. Over the course of a few days, I was able to explore a few key differences between the two cities, and perhaps come home with a few insights that can be applied to Cincinnati.

Full article…

All articles
All articles



HillerichPeople grow up and grow old, and if they have children, those offspring will likely see the day when their grandparents and parents die and are laid to rest. And then those offspring have kids of their own, and the cycle continues. That’s the natural order of things, and if that natural order is somehow disrupted – say, if a parent buries a child – then something has gone terribly wrong. But under normal circumstances, we’ll live long enough to see our elders grow old and reach the twilight of their lives. First our grandparents, and then eventually our parents. In the back of our heads we know it’s coming, and that it’s how the world is supposed to work. Like clockwork.

At least that’s what I keep telling myself, but somehow that never makes it any easier when it becomes apparent that somebody who has always been a part of your life won’t be part of it forever.

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HighwayOn a dark interstate highway in western Nebraska, I was driving a ten-year-old Jeep Cherokee through a downpour, with the windshield wipers providing a steady tempo, and the headlights of semi tractor-trailer trucks shining in my mirrors. The Jeep’s cruise control had stopped working somewhere around Des Moines earlier that day. My cat, Spong, sat quietly in a carrier on the passenger seat, and all my remaining material possessions filled the back of the vehicle up to the ceiling. Everything else I owned had been left behind in a rundown apartment building in New York City. On the car stereo was some lonesome ambient music. I specifically remember Patrick O’Hearn’s “Panning the Sands” coming up on the playlist during this stretch of highway, and nothing else could have made for a more appropriate soundtrack. The only other sounds besides the road noise and wipers were the squeaks and rattles that Jeeps are infamous for. Spong and I had been on the road for three days already, and it would be another two days before arriving in Eugene, Oregon to an uncertain future.

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BrooklynThe setting: About 1:00 AM on a rainy night in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. I was new to the city, having moved to New York from Philadelphia a couple months ago, with my head still spinning with the idea of being a New Yorker. A series of strong thunderstorms had just moved through the region, and it was still raining heavily. I was working at my computer when I heard the gut-wrenching cry of a kitten somewhere outside, near my apartment. As opposed to the sound of a garden-variety cat meow, the sound of this kitten’s howling indicated that he was in serious trouble somewhere. It’s the type of howl that says Help me, I’m dying. This went on for several minutes and became impossible to ignore. I went to the front window and did’t see anything, but it’s a neighborhood of densely-spaced brownstone apartment buildings, so the kitten could be anywhere, and my view is obstructed by the trees in front of the window.

The cries continued. Being a good animal lover, I decided to do something.

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