UC MagazineUniversity of CincinnatiUC Magazine

UC Magazine

Storefront studio showcases students' global work

By Melanie Titanic-Schefft

The campus and local community enjoyed seeing views of Europe and Turkey – as seen through the eyes of students in the University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning (DAAP) – during a two-day open house Dec. 7-8 in the storefront along Calhoun Street near campus.

The students, with Hank Hildebrandt, professor in the School of Architecture and Interior Design, displayed their photos, sketches and video. The students were on hand to discuss their work from travelling abroad during fall term.

As part of UC’s experiential learning initiative, Hildebrandt led his fourth-year architecture and design students on a cross-cultural exposure of east and west during eight weeks of fall term. This is Hildebrandt’s 16th student trip abroad since becoming a professor in the 1970s.

Using the streets as their studio, Hildebrandt’s students sketched what they saw while experiencing up-close and personal –– a study through France, Switzerland, Germany and Turkey, opening their eyes to new cultures and the world of architecture and design beyond the western perspective.  

“Since our first year, we have looked forward to a fourth year travel studio,” says Hildebrandt. “This year our trip included Turkey, promising to take us to places we would have never thought to travel on our own. Our travel studio opened our eyes to new cultures and to the world of architecture and design beyond the western perspective.”

Calling themselves “The Design Commando Unit Zero-One-Four (014)” –– after the year in which they traveled –– Hildebrandt, with his “Commandos 014” group, examined contemporary and historic planning, architecture and design in Western Europe and Turkey. Their instruction included field drawing analysis, review of city planning strategies, classical architectural grammar, as well as Christian and Islamic cultures. 

Looking back on those eight weeks, many of the students said it was more exhilarating, terrifying and life changing than the program description promised.

"I had been to Guatemala once, but never to Europe," says fourth-year architecture student Shay Myers. "We went to more cities and countries and saw more landmarks than most people see in a lifetime. I will reflect fondly on this incredible journey for the rest of my life."

The trip expenses were paid for mostly by the students themselves through co-op work and donations, but UC's International Fund helped support their trip with over $20,000, which helped greatly to offset the airfare and living expenses.

Since the group was comprised of interior design and architecture students, they wanted to deal with the whole culture and fabric of the environment, as it was really all about culture and a well-rounded experience.  

The Commandos began their journey in Paris for one week because of the wealth of cultural mixes and the blend of the old and the modern. While there, Hildebrandt said they talked about more than architecture and design; they discussed the whole history behind every landmark. 

In France, studies included:

• Haussmann's influential urban plan of Paris

• The underground wonder of the Catacombs

• Historical analysis of Notre Dame, Arc de Triomphe, St. Chapelle, Versailles, the Louvre and Eiffel Tower

Encouraging the group to expand upon their knowledge of historic and contemporary art movements, Hildebrandt also included analyses of the museums of:

• Cité de l'Architecture et du Patrimoine

• The Pompidou Center

• Rodin

• Orsay

Cross-cultural layering and interweaving

Traveling from Paris, the group experienced the peace and isolation of Mont St. Michel and the somber environment of nearby Omaha Beach and: 

• Walked in the shoes of monks at La Tourette 

• Drew the pilgrim’s chapel of Notre Dame du Ronchamp 

• Climbed up the bell tower at Chartres Cathedral

After arriving in Normandy, the students discovered Omaha Beach, says Hildebrandt. “Exposing the students to this historic WWII landmark was profound. As they read the names and birthdates on the headstones from the Americans, they realized that those soldiers were the same age as they are.”

The students’ whirlwind travel continued on into Basel, Switzerland, analyzing the urban sequences of space from the city’s train station to neighborhoods in the historic district and later connecting with Hildebrandt’s professor, Wolfgang Weingart, typographer from the Basel School of Design.

Following four weeks of sketching everything from buildings to cityscapes, the Design Commandos 014 dispersed around Europe for a week as part of an independent travel portion, covering as many as 10 countries.

“Our Turkey journey was oriented toward exposure to the east and west cultural shifts represented in Istanbul’s 3,000-year history and its modern relationship to Europe,” says Hildebrandt. “We were exposed to major architectural sites and their relationship to Islamic culture.

“The impact of architecture on society suddenly became apparent, especially Istanbul’s architectural diversity of Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman and contemporary buildings.” 

The Commandos’ daily ritual in Istanbul included crossing from Asia to Europe on a Bosphorus ferry each day while drinking Turkish çay and watching Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque come into view.

“One of our highlights was climbing the ancient Roman wall and witnessing the different urban textures of panoramic Istanbul,” says Hildebrandt. “We saw contemporary Istanbul in the ultra-westernized Mall of Istanbul, and a trip up the Bosphorus to the Black Sea was capped with an authentic 300-year-old Turkish bath experience, which was listed as one of the ‘1000 Things to Do Before You Die.’” 

After leaving Istanbul, they headed for Cappadocia in Central Turkey, visiting:

• The original crossroads where Alexander the Great came over and the Persians come up.

• Göreme, a small town in the historic region of Cappadocia, where for centuries, people have carved churches, monasteries and even homes out of the region’s soft volcanic rock.  

• Watching Göreme’s famous hot-air balloons fill the sky in a very beautiful and majestic way on a daily basis.

Other sites in Turkey included:

• Derinkuyu, an underground city carved from the soft rock to hide Christians from persecution.

• Selçuk, near the ancient Roman site of Ephesus.

• Temple of Artemis; remains of one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.

Finally, their trip reluctantly ended in Turkey, with some people continuing on for another week to other destinations. 

A storefront studio is born

After arriving in Cincinnati safe and sound, Hildebrandt and his students set out to showcase their work to friends, family, the university and Greater Cincinnati. 

Because of a lack of optimal space at DAAP, Hildebrandt secured studio space in the U Square development on Calhoun Street. Towne Properties donated the space between the restaurant Lime and Starbucks for the remainder of the semester for the Design Commando Unit 014 to showcase their experiences. Towne Properties is also looking at possibly donating another storefront sight for next year’s studio class.

The studio’s relaxed atmosphere turned out to be much more conducive for working together, says Hildebrandt. The students built one, long medieval feast-like table where they could talk with each other and share ideas much more creatively.

Beautifully sketched drawings of the buildings, landmarks and organic scenes they visited are displayed along the walls of the studio. And on the unfinished back wall, the pink colored exposed insulation seems to bring the drawings to life against the diagonal lines in the support beams.

In the corner, Hildebrandt has a turntable and some old vinyl rock 'n' roll records playing for some fun stimulation, and the individual flexi-neck lamps on the table create a quiet and unique atmosphere for the students to work.

A neon light that says “DAAP” hangs above the front door, as well as a neon window sign that says “014,” signifying the Commandos 2014 year. The signs were donated to the students by DAAP Dean Robert Probst and will find a home on a wall inside DAAP after the semester.

Hildebrandt explained the benefits of working together in the storefront secluded and open space.

“My relationship with my students is very symbiotic,” says Hildebrandt. “Our class time becomes an idea of exchange. It used to be that the professor was the keeper of the knowledge and would parcel it out in doses, but now that there is such easy access to information, the teaching is more interactive, which is another example of how teaching has evolved on a more democratic level.

"It is more collaborative than hierarchical, which has changed from when these students’ parents were in school.

"I am extremely proud of this unique group of students," continues Hildebrandt. "They are the best group I have ever traveled with. They have such an amazing sense of maturity, which is why the trip went so smoothly. I'm really looking forward to watching all of their careers unfold and blossom."

Before breaking the studio down at the end of the semester, Hildebrandt and the Commandos held a two-day open-house event in early December. The public was invited to come and view the posters, drawings and sketches that were on display.