Avant-garde architect Morphosis has created an extraordinary recreational centre for this Ohio university, complete with suspended running track, swimming pool and restaurant
A frenetic extravaganza of swooping curves and sharp angles, some solid, others diaphanous, have been slotted together in the heart of the midwestern American city of Cincinnati. It is the £64m centrepiece of the Cincinnati University campus. But far from being a serious academic building, it is a 33,000 m2 all-purpose recreation centre for students.
The architect was Morphosis, an avant-garde Californian practice whose founding partner, Thom Mayne, won America's top Pritzker Prize last year. British firms have also contributed: Arup handled the structural engineering and Davis Langdon and Hanscomb were the cost consultants.
The brief was to bring together a sports hall, a swimming pool, a running track, a fitness centre, the grandstand for an existing stadium next door and a dining hall. And just for good measure,112 student bedrooms and six IT classrooms were thrown into the mix.
Morphosis' response was to play up the hyperactivity of this high-density conglomeration of disparate facilities. The aim, according to Morphosis, was "to encourage rather than dampen the polyvalent nature of social experience on campus".
At the same time, a modicum of calm and a sense of orientation is provided by "a field of undulating mats punctuated with light openings" that stretches across most of the complex. In plain English, this is a roof deck above a wide podium.
Below this field of mats are packed the recreational activities - and at such a high density that the oval running track has been hung from the ceiling of the sports hall where it sways with the pounding feet of runners. The dining hall
and cafe are given pride of place in the heart of the complex, from where diners can sit back and contemplate the strenuous activities all around.
Above the field of mats march two narrow superstructures on tall pilotis. The solid-looking angular one contains the student rooms. The snaking S-shaped one is shaded by a double-pitched screen of metal mesh and contains the classrooms and fitness centre. The two structures almost meet at a "pinch point" that funnels students on to the neighbouring campus green.
The university's students pay the equivalent of £78 for a year of recreational delights. Their parents, who have to find as much as a hundred times that amount in fees, must occasionally wonder whether their offspring can find their way out of this seductive labyrinth to gain a serious education.
client: University of Cincinnati
architects: Morphosis, KZF Design
structural engineer: Arup
services engineer: IBE Consulting Engineering
cost consultants: Davis Langdon Adamson, Hanscomb
main contractor: Turner