Now in his second year as director of the School of Architecture and Interior Design at the University of Cincinnati (SAID), Edward Mitchell details his ambitions for the school, his favorite local buildings, and why he’d like to see the Crosley Tower saved.
Tell us a bit about your background: Where did you grow up?
I was born in New Haven, Connecticut, which was the first English-planned city in America based on biblical proportions. I was raised there and in nearby town, Wallingford, which was once home to a utopian society. This is not to say that either lived up to that bargain or that I was even aware of that as a kid, but aspects of those stories and the present complications of our small cities and towns set against a backdrop of idealism fascinates me.
As an East Coaster whose most recent post was at Yale School of Architecture. What attracted you about the job at UC?
I visited several times as a critic and thought the students were terrific. I also liked the opportunity of working at a public institution because of the challenges and the prospects for students for a high-caliber, affordable education. And the city was a real draw. It has this rich history and was going through a renaissance that struck me as the ideal situation for cultural invention.
What are your goals for the school, and how are you executing them?
I’m not a believer in rankings, but I’d like to get the school’s graduate programs up into the very top tier. The undergraduate program, which currently has about 575 students, is still a top-five program, as far as I can see. We are looking to expand our research capacity particularly in the area of Urban Futures, a topic that I spent much of my time on at Yale, by taking on prescient problems in Cincinnati while also strengthening our connections to our international partners in China, India, Europe, and Mexico.
In the first year we have done three publications of work from the school, including a study on affordable housing in one of the city neighborhoods and an examination on the future of work.
We’ve also put on several exhibits at the college and in town to promote the talents of our faculty and are part of a large show back in New Haven done in collaboration with several major universities on the impact of NAFTA on food and agriculture.
The school also has about 120 graduate students, and we are also starting a Master’s in Urban Design with the School of Planning, and several other initiatives that I will be working on in the next year or so.
What part of town are did you choose to live in, and why?
The Gaslight District in Clifton initially because it was within walking distance of the school but also because of its beautiful homes and great neighborhood district on Ludlow.
From an architectural standpoint, what are your favorite buildings on UC’s campus and other parts of town, and why?
Both those questions are tricky for a school director because I hate to play favorites. I can get myself in trouble here because I worked for Peter Eisenman when the DAAP building was designed, but my favorite on the UC campus is Thom Mayne’s Rec Center because of its dynamic sectional properties which create diagonal views from the exercise rooms through to the pools, while its exterior integrates parts of Nippert Stadium and the landscape into the building composition.
There are just too many buildings in town that I think are incredible, and I never have enough time to explore the more hidden gems, but I would include Carl Strauss’s house in Clifton, David Niland’s “Mary’s House” in Clermont County, the Palm Court in the Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza, Union Terminal, and Memorial Hall.
A related question: UC has announced plans to take down the brutalist Crosley Tower, but has gotten some pushback from some quarters on doing so. What’s your take on this debate?
I’d like to see a creative way of reusing the existing structure as an armature for new architecture. Come to think of it, that sounds like a philosophy for the school.