College Guide


October 13, 2010 2:27 PM A Very Bad Investment for Ohio

By Daniel Luzer


Building really impressive structures on campus is one way for colleges to increase their influence and name-recognition. The University of Cincinnati built its prestige, in part, on a 1996 building by a famous architect. Nice idea. Poor execution.

According to an article by Lawrence Biemiller in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

The problem here is that the building, an icon of architecture’s “deconstructionist” movement, is deconstructing itself—literally coming apart at the seams because moisture has penetrated the “exterior insulating finishing system,” as it’s called, that makes up much of the angled facade. Now its dull, weather-stained wall panels are peeling away from windows and rooflines, and boils and rot mar the edges of some walls in busy locations. Attempts to correct the moisture problem by adding weep holes to drain away water didn’t help. Nor did students, some of whom took to tossing rocks at the walls to see if the rocks would stick.

The university spent more than $82 million to build the Aronoff Center for Design and Art (above) in 1996. The building, designed by renowned architect Peter Eisenman, features exterior walls made of foam insulation and fiberglass mesh. Eisenmen apparently wanted ceramic tiles but the insulation/mesh was $2 million cheaper. It was also new and “experimental” technology. The technology turned out to be crap.

So now the building, only 14 years old, needs a renovation. Eisenman’s Wexner Center at Ohio State University also needed a major overhaul just 13 years after original construction stopped.

Peter Eisenman is a now a professor at Yale. His office there is located in a Brutalist building completed in 1963. The Yale building has not significantly deteriorated, though the school made extensive changes after a 1969 fire. [Image via]

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer


  • million dollar pips review on October 15, 2011 12:30 AM:

    I could not agree with you more

  • Paige Turner on December 27, 2012 1:44 PM:

    Just because some "expert" is associated with Yale doesn't mean he should be taken seriously. It's not the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. I was an undergraduate there and took courses at the architecture school; believe me, the place is full of pretentious know-it-alls who are either ignorant of, or indifferent to, the practical art of building. To many, it's all about theory and novelty, the weirder the better. Who cares if roofs leak and mold grows everywhere, as long as the thing photographs well in Architectural Record?

    Didn't planners at the University of Cincinnati read Peter Eisenman's proposal for the Aronoff Center, specifically "exterior walls made of foam insulation and fiberglass mesh," and realize they were approving over-priced garbage? My advice for expanding colleges is to save money and headaches by eschewing fads in architecture (dogmatically termed "building of our time"), stop hiring from ivory towers, and instead giving a chance to local architects with traditional building virtues (including tight roofs and durable walls). In other words, give vanity a pass and build for the future, not merely futuristic.