Crosley Tower: Good or Bad?

 [photo by  CincinnatiPhoto ]

[photo by CincinnatiPhoto]

The University of Cincinnati’s campus has rightfully earned its reputation as one of the most beautiful campuses in the country, and it’s only getting better. As the student population grows and expansion is needed, the renovations happening across campus have truly elevated the university. UC’s 202 cozy acres are gorgeous.

Jutting out from the north end, however, is the most polarizing building in the city: Crosley Tower.

 
 

While the majority would agree it’s an ugly structure, its iconic reputation has softened the hearts of many. It was erected in 1969, originally referred to as the Powel Crosley Jr. Research Tower (or Crosley Research Tower for short) after the former Reds and WLW owner. For better or worse, the 16-story concrete pillar is a distinguishing feature of UC’s campus, like a birthmark that has sorta grown on everyone to the point of being charming.

The university’s thoughts on Crosley largely follow suit. Look closely and you’ll see its influence in UC’s branding. Quietly though, the university is exploring ways to demolish it. You’ll be hard pressed to find it featured, even semi-prominently, in any official UC marketing photos. Notice how many photos face away from Crosley. UC is trying to escape its cold, concrete grasp.

So how did it get there?

Crosley Tower, if you were to read the Wikipedia page on architecture, is a building constructed in the brutalist style. Brutalism, at its most basic, was supposed to be something powerful, utilitarian, and “honest.” It’s no-frills-construction at its best. In hindsight, brutalism was a trend that was popular in the ‘60s and early ‘70s and nothing more. UC had a need that coincided with a trend and made the mistake of committing to it. It’s like if the U.S. was founded 200 years later and made the Star Spangled Banner a disco song. Bad move.

 
 The only "under construction" photo I could find. [Enquirer - Feb. 25, 1969]

The only "under construction" photo I could find. [Enquirer - Feb. 25, 1969]

 

Anyway, back in the '60s, UC had won back-to-back national championships in basketball and was experiencing rapid growth. Future growth was projected to be huge, especially in the sciences. What do you do when you have no money to invest in infrastructure but want to show you’re a worldly, powerful, urban university with room to accommodate growth? Brutalist tower! Crosley was poured in an astounding 18 days. I think a good rule of thumb is that any building that can go from drawing to reality in fewer than three weeks is a building you don’t want.

 

 

It feels like only recently that opinions on Crosley have truly soured. For much of its history, it was just boring. My original intention with this article was to do some great research and come back with something similar to what I did for Sander Hall. There's not much out there. Nobody cared about Crosley until they decided they hated it.

 [photo by Tom Hubbard. Enquirer - Oct. 25, 1970]

[photo by Tom Hubbard. Enquirer - Oct. 25, 1970]

Brutalism is interesting. Brutalism is much less interesting when it’s fighting more traditional and modern architecture. My gripe with Crosley has always been that it’s philosophically opposed to every other building on campus. While 21st century UC is dotted with gorgeous flowing buildings made of glass and steel, designed to welcome natural light and foster social interaction, Crosley is (virtually) alone. It's the direct opposite of all those things. It looks like something plucked from Soviet Russia.

Here’s the kicker though: I kinda like it.

That doesn’t make sense. It’s an objectively crappy building that’s genuinely bogging down the beauty of campus. It’s the definition of a blight. However, it’s interesting. Imperfection is increasingly cooler on a campus that’s extremely calculated and becoming more beautiful by the day. Crosley is like a bad tattoo. It’s a weird relic. It's a lasting impression of a bad decision of decades past. Its demolition feels imminent and I’ve accepted that, but I’ll be kind of sad when it goes.

The same year America put a man on the moon, workers were in Clifton building a monument to our lack of foresight.

It’s an ugly chunk of concrete, but it’s our ugly chunk of concrete.

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