Un/Museum and Learning Center 2.0

A preliminary design proposal for the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati


Contemporary Arts Center

Cincinnati, Ohio

Project Team:

Tobias Armborst, Daniel D'Oca, Georgeen Theodore, Katherine Isidro, Odili Onochie, Antoine Robinson, Andrew Wald

Whats the Problem?

Working intensely with CAC staff during our design charrette on May 16, we learned about the great things that are happening at the Un/Museum and the Learning Center. We also heard about the many ways in which the sixth floor does not currently provide the best spatial setting for these activities.

The Big Idea

The sixth floor should be a visible, exciting destination within the CAC: The exclamation mark on the top floor! The space should be at once more flexible—allowing for a greater range of curatorial, educational and social activities—and more specific: More easily navigable, more stimulating, more sensory, more fun.

We propose: 

1. The creation of three Rooms With Views as arrival points on the third floor. These are three public spaces that frame views of the museum, the street, and the city, and that thereby allow the visitor to map her location within this larger context. 

2. The creation of three distinct Flexible Program Spaces, for learning center activities, exhibits, and other programs.

Even though our proposed interventions create radically new ways of using and navigating the space, these interventions are also highly strategic and minimally invasive. Our goal is to give new meaning to the space and to open new curatorial, educational and social possibilities, while only touching the architecture lightly and with the greatest respect for your amazing, iconic building.

1. Rooms with Views

Concept: Three Distinct Places

At the three important thresholds of elevator, stairs and window, we are proposing a set of strategic architectural interventions. Our proposal is to turn these areas into key orientation points for the spatial perception of the sixth floor, creating three distinct places: The Vestibule, the Lookout and the City Room.

These three places will improve the spatial experience and the legibility of the sixth floor, and they will open up many new possibilities for exhibitions, learning activities and other programs.

Each of the three places is identified with a specific framed view that allows the visitor to map her position within the museum and the city. In addition to the panoramic view of the city from the City Room, a new window box at the Vestibule will open the view of the museum atrium and a new operable glass door will frame the view of the street (and in particular the Banksy piece) from the Lookout. 

The Vestibule

The Lookout

The City Room

The Vestibule

The Vestibule will mediate between the entrance from the elevator, the new learning center spaces, and the exhibition areas. The Vestibule will serve as a gathering area for visitor groups, an orientation space, and an anteroom for the learning center program spaces. It will provide easy and clear access to the service areas with bathrooms and stroller storage. 

The new window box will open up the view to the atrium and will help visitors map their location on the sixth floor and in the larger museum. Seen from the atrium, the box will also become a display window for the Un/Museum, giving visibility to the sixth floor.

The Lookout

The Lookout will become the culmination of the architectural promenade through the museum and will create an elevated outpost of the ground floor lobby, providing space for small gatherings and receptions.

In order to create sufficient program space, we propose expanding the square footage of the landing, by widening the current entrance to the Un/Museum. Part of this new lobby space will be a moveable bar that could at times serve drinks and at times serve as the learning center's art bar. A new backspace can accommodate the bar (plus materials) when it is not in use, and serve as a staging area for events at the Lookout.

The expanded Lookout will also create a clear and generous entrance for the Un/Museum, including a marquee wall that could either become a large sign or a wall to display art.

We also propose to introduce a large operable door that (if possible) allows access to the outdoor space, and that re-frames the view of the city (in particular the Banksy piece) from the Lookout (and by extension from the Vestibule's window box).

The City Room

At the visual threshold between museum and city, we propose to locate a flexible yet architecturally specific common space that can serve as a setting for informal gatherings, more formal learning center activities or individual lounging. The highly reflective mirror ceiling of the space will blur the vertical boundaries of the space. A set of custom City Room furniture pieces will allow for a variety of uses.

For the City Room we propose to develop a customs set of props that blur the boundaries between furniture, architecture, and sculpture. The props will support and encourage a variety of ways to inhabit the City Room, from conventional to experimental. When deployed, the pieces will allow for a variety of uses, and will give access to the view to shorter people and persons in wheelchairs. When not in use, the props will line the parapet wall, increasing the depth of the parapet. As a result, the shape of the props is partially dictated by the geometry of the architecture.

the empty city room

some furniture pieces deployed in the city room for seating and play

the city room with furniture pieces stored along the parapet

some of the pieces deployed to access the view of the city

2. Program Spaces

Concept: Three Flexible Spaces

Between and adjacent to the three Rooms with Views, we propose the articulation of three distinct Flexible Program Spaces, for learning center activities, exhibits, and other programs: The Learning Center Space, the Gallery, and the Sensory Space.

While programmatically flexible, these three areas will provide specific conditions of enclosure/openness, natural/artificial lighting, hard/soft surfaces, and silence/loudness.

Each of the three program spaces will be perceptually and programmatically defined by one dominant architectural move: A "thick wall" and a glass wall at the Learning Center Space, a museum ceiling at the Galler, smaller, semi-enclosed rooms at the Sensory Space.

Three Rooms with Views

In-Between Spaces

Three Flexible Program Spaces

The Learning Center Space

By reorganizing the existing restrooms and reducing the size of the large storage area, we can gain enough space to locate a series of meeting- and work- and art lab spaces along the east side of the plan. These rooms - which are accessed from the Vestibule - provide space for Learning Center programs, but also for other meetings, workshops, and events.

A "thick wall" that runs along the eastern edge of the plan serves as a storage container for materials, machinery (as specified by the project brief) and even small office booths. The thick wall serves the different activities taking place in the Learning Center Space. By opening and closing respective doors of the thick wall, the spaces can be temporarily turned into specific work areas. The drawings show how the thick wall and moveable partitions allow for changing work scenarios.

scenario 1: office + classroom + makerspace

scenario 2: event space + visual storage

scenario 3: artlab + classroom + makerspace

scenario 4: classroom + classroom + visual storage

The Gallery

The main exhibition space will provide flexible white cube conditions. The only major changes we are proposing for this area are a new ceiling and new lighting system.

The Sensory Space

By adding a few wall elements, we propose to turn this area into a series of smaller, semi-enclosed spaces. This area will provide wall space for smaller formats and distinct rooms for immersive sensory environments.