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Great Summer Road Trips
Architecture Heaven


Drive time: 4.5 hours

Yeah, you probably know that Cincinnati was once the nation’s pork-processing capital. But what you likely don’t know is that it has an architectural pedigree that would make design buffs weep. See the University of Cincinnati’s $300 million investment in buildings by starchitects such as Frank Gehry, Bernard Tschumi, and the late Michael Graves—an ongoing project that The New York Times dubbed the “most ambitious campus design program in the country.” But there’s plenty to marvel at among the city’s old-school buildings, too—and a two-day trip is just the right amount of time to explore both the historic and contemporary.

Published May 19, 2016

Day 1: Modern

Cincinnati Engineering Research Center
Cincinnati Engineering Research Center Photo: Courtesy of Michael Graves Architecture & Design

10 a.m.: Start by paying tribute to Zaha Hadid, the Pritzker Prize–winning architect who died in March, at her stark Contemporary Arts Center. Check out the famous “urban carpet,” a sweeping slab of concrete that flows in from the outside and curves up the back wall.

11:30 a.m.:Catch an early lunch at local tapas favorite Mita’s (mitas.co), in the city’s newest office building, designed by Gensler’s Chicago group.

1 p.m.:Drive to the University of Cincinnati, a playground for modern architectural idols.

Cincinnati map

1. David Childs’s Vera Clement Edwards Center

2. Bernard Tschumi’s Richard E. Lindner Center (It’s best known for its curving white exterior and hundreds of triangular windows.)

3. Thom Mayne’s Campus Recreation Center

4. Charles Gwathmey’s Tangeman University Center

5. Michael Graves’s Engineering Research Center (He was a Cincinnati alum!)

6. Peter Eisenman’s Aronoff Center for Design and Art (Attractive, yes, but it’s been criticized for noise issues and dead-end hallways.)

Vontz Center for Molecular Studies  Photo: Lisa Ventre/UC

7. Frank Gehry’s Vontz Center for Molecular Studies (Clad in red brick rather than gleaming chrome, its heaving shapes are still classic Gehry.)


Day 2: Historic

10 a.m.:Drive to Cincinnati Union Terminal, an art deco masterwork capped by the largest half dome in the Western Hemisphere. After visiting the city history museum here, ask about the semisecret whispering fountains on your way out.

Cincinnati Union Terminal
Cincinnati Union Terminal Photo: Robert Webber

11:30 a.m.:Park at the Netherland Plaza, then order pizza and dine alfresco at Via Vite (viaviterestaurant.com).

1 p.m.:Visit three blue-chip structures, all at the corner of 8th and Plum Streets: Samuel Hannaford’s Romanesque City Hall, the Greek Revival St. Peter in Chains Cathedral, and the Byzantine-Moorish Isaac M. Wise Temple.

2 p.m.:See the world’s first reinforced concrete skyscraper—the Ingalls Building—then head a few feet north to visit the Carew Tower, which inspired a little thing called the Empire State Building.

From left: Carew Tower and the Contemporary Arts Center Photos: (Carew Tower) Lorenzo Montezemolo; (Contemporary Art Center) Roland Halbe

3:30 p.m.:Stop back at the Netherland Plaza, a meticulously restored 1931 French art deco–style hotel, for a snack at the bar in the acclaimed restaurant Orchids at Palm Court.

5 p.m.:Drive to Music Hall, which has been a venue for not only choral music but also industrial expositions. Carvings of flowers, gears, and protractors along the façade reflect that heritage.

5:30 p.m.:Cut two blocks east to Vine Street for dinner in the lively neighborhood Over-the-Rhine. Local favorite: the whimsical Asian street food at Quán Hapa (quanhapa.com). With more than 1,100 significant Greek Revival, Queen Anne, and Italianate buildings, Over-the-Rhine is considered one of the most well-preserved historic neighborhoods in the United States.


While you’re there: No visit to Cincy would be complete without a scoop of ice cream from the famous Graeter’s.

Where to stay: You’re here for the architecture. So stay in a national historic landmark: the Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Place (from $188, hilton.com).

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