Why is the Banks Boring?

There was lots of chatter on my Facebook newsfeed the morning after Bowdeya Tweh’s Enquirer story on the disappointing architecture at the Banks, Is the Banks Too Boring?.  Words like “underwhelming” “generic,” “Cincinnati safe,” and “bland” dominated the conversation.

If you want to understand why recent designs don’t take many risks, you don’t have to look far for an explanation. Just pop on over to Tom Demeropolis’ cover story in the July 25th edition of the Cincinnati Business Courier, Why national money loves our real estate.

Most commercial buyers now are from outside the local market.

Hines, with its U.S. headquarters in Houston, controls assets around the globe valued at more than $28 billion.  They just paid more than 150 million for the Duke Realty portfolio and are looking to buy more. Affiliates of American Realty Capital, the largest U.S. owner of single-tenant properties, snatched up the Streets of West Chester and Gateway Center in Covington this year. Chicago-based Inland Real Estate Corp., which owns 15 million square feet of real estate, partnered on its joint venture with Dutch pension fund adviser PGGM to buy Newport Pavilion this summer. 

These days commercial buildings are primarily designed for their balance sheets, more consideration given to financing structures and hand-outs from City Hall than the beauty and richness we crave in our 9-5 lives. But after years of down-sizing, globalization, and out-sourcing – can we really be surprised GE doesn’t want to put the time into a design that says anything particular about who they are and what they will do inside their space on the Banks?   Industries change so fast, they don’t even want to commit to ownership.

Lately I find myself drawn into the cathedrals of Europe more and more frequently, the sweet, simple ones in small towns as well as the more famous monuments with lines of tourists.  I have to go in and sit awhile.  Which surprises my husband.   “You aren’t even Catholic,” he always says and tries to be patient.  But they amaze me, how many of them there are, the resources it took a society to build them, decade after decade after decade, how much human energy and talent was devoted to the creation of these architectural masterpieces at a time when daily life was so difficult for the vast majority of human beings. I used to tell myself that it was all about the church squeezing every dime they could get out of the peasantry to reinforce their power in a symbol of stone. But sitting on one of the hard wooden pews and looking high up into the dome, like a tiny, little ant at the bottom of those soaring arches, I can’t help but imagine every square inch of the surface covered in the bright colored stories of miracles, angels wings carved into stone. Five or six hundred years later, the strength of their belief in something bigger than themselves still permeates the space in a way that is sacred but has nothing to do with religion.

Great buildings that stand the test of time are always about something bigger than money.  And we have them in America.  We even have them in Cincinnati.   But these days, it’s not usually our big corporations responsible for commissioning their design.  

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