Article : Varsity Village Hits a Home Run On University Campus

Varsity Village Hits a Home Run On University Campus

By Gregory Harris, assistant editor

The Athletic Lawn looking south. The Oscar Robertson statue in the forefront has a backdrop of Cotoneaster and Everflow Taxus. The statue was relocated from a site adjacent to “Fifth Third” Arena to the entrance of the new athletic center.
Photo: Human Nature
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The University of Cincinnati’s athletic department boldly leapt into the 21st Century with the christening of the Richard E. Lindner Varsity Village in 2006.

The extensive renovation and upgrade of the athletic facilities – including the construction of several new venues – has allowed the school’s sports programs to compete among the nation’s best.

Victory Plaza looking north to the Richard E. Lindner Athletic Center. The athletic center building was designed in the shape of a boomerang allowing it to fit between two existing structures: Nippert Stadium (at left) and “Fifth Third” Arena on the right.
Photo: Human Nature

The Varsity Village project began under the leadership of University of Cincinnati’s former athletics director, Bob Goin. In 2001, Goin said, “We don’t have accommodations befitting a Division I program. When you list the universities across the country and walk in the front door of the athletics complex, it shows a comprehensive program of excellence. We will become the university of choice. This will allow us to compete with the Kentuckys, the Purdues, the Indianas and the Louisvilles.”

The $109 million Varsity Village is a major campus district, one of three entry portals into the campus, the crossroads for everyday student activities, and a major public attraction. The village provides a hub for all varsity athletes and administration.

This graphic is a Form Z computer model of Varsity Village during the design process.
Photo: glaserworks

Christopher Manning of the landscape architecture firm Human Nature, the project’s principal-in-charge of design, said this project was a collaborative, multi-disciplinary effort among several firms, building on the master planned framework done by Hargreaves Associates.

The Varsity Village vision was to establish a cohesive “village” vocabulary and connective spatial structure that tied all athletic components together. This was accomplished by creating a new village green and plaza core that is framed by a new baseball stadium, a new athletic center, new soccer stadium, new tennis courts and parking garage, the existing Nippert Stadium and the Fifth Third Arena.

Liriope muscare “Big Blue” and Cranberry Cotoneaster were used to accent the wall leading leading into Varsity Village. The walkway on the other side of the wall is designed to be a gathering place for pre-game activities.
Photo: kolar design

The Village is bound together by a central gathering space (the plaza), a pedestrian network, plantings and hardscape elements. The orthogonal and curvilinear forms of the surrounding structures create the setting for a large open plaza that becomes the center of the Village and sets the stage for events that express the spirit of the University’s athletic program. The Village design strategy uses a consistent palette of materials and spaces to unify the Village and create a uniquely identifiable district within the larger campus.

The tree allee on O’varsity Way is composed of Dynasty Chinese Elms. The tennis courts to the left of the trees have been built on top of a parking structure.
Photo: Human Nature

Manning said one of the challenges of the project was implementing the vast number of changes to the campus, which has a relatively small, urban footprint. When possible, materials – such as fencing – were reused, while existing landmarks, such as a statue of legendary basketball player and University of Cincinnati alumnus Oscar Robertson were incorporated. “The sculpture’s previous location did not do the village or the person justice,” Manning said.

The sculpture of “The Big O” now resides at the entrance of the new, eight-story Bernard Tschumi-designed Richard E. Lindner Athletics Center.

Victory Plaza looking east to Fifth Third Arena at Shoemaker Center. The walk is lined with February Gold and Mt. Hood daffodils.
Photo: human nature

Due to the fact the campus is located in an urban setting, overlapping uses on site were essential. New tennis courts were built on top of an underground parking facility and a new practice gymnasium for the school’s basketball and volleyball teams was built three floors below ground inside the athletic center. Manning said sustainability was essential on this project, adding that site irrigation proved to be a substantial hurdle. “The drainage network was piped all over,” he said of the pre-project irrigation system. “The site drainage had to be reinvented, and a new central storage area for runoff had to be designed.”

Manning noted that the site is divided into areas with adequate water quality and areas where water is not ideal for reuse.

The trees here are all Dynasty Chinese Elms. The trees have been planted in small cutouts planted with ornamental grass. No tree grates were used for maintenance reasons.
PHOTO: Human Nature

“The village is divided into water quality categories. The site has new rooftop drainage and bed landscaping drainage, which flows into the storage tanks,” he said. “Runoff from the sidewalks and street flow into a separate detention facility.”

A new synthetic turf area, known as the Raymond D. Sheakley Lawn, sits on top of a portion of the underground gymnasium and water retention storage facilities. This green space is designed to be used by the general student population.

“The great thing about this village is that all of the athletic facilities are open to the students,” he said. “The green space has been used for picnics, softball, and touch football games.”

Nick’s Compact Juniper, Cranberry Cotoneaster and Henry’s Garnet Sweetspire are among the plants and grasses used throughout the village landscape.

Manning said the intensity of usage for the Sheakley lawn as well as the ability to avoid mowing the lawn led to the decision to use artificial turf rather the natural grass.

The site furnishings, trees and plants used throughout the Varsity Village follow a cohesive pallet or materials used campus wide. Although some of the plants and trees were pre-selected by the university – such as the Dynasty Chinese Elm and Ivory Silk Japanese Tree Lilac trees, the Varsity Village does feature some unique plant materials. “The furnishings were dictated by university guidelines and are similar throughout the campus,” Manning said. “There was more freedom in the planting and paving selections. There is lots of red in the varsity village, because of the team colors.”

The words inscribed in these granite bands along O’Varsity Way are from the University of Cincinnati fight song. The materials are etched granite with enamel filled grey paint.
PHOTO: Human Nature

Red stem dogwood’s and burning bush shrubs are among the foliage used to bring a splash of red to the village. Manning said the trees and plants were selected with the four seasons in mind.

“We wanted a landscape that looks good in all four seasons, and I think we achieved that,” he said.

The formal approach to the athletic center is a paved street known as “O’Varsity Way.” Heading toward the athletic center, visitors are treated to a tree allee of Dynasty Chinese Elms. To the right of the tree allee is the O’Varsity Way paved walk. Engraved in this paved area are lyrics to the University of Cincinnati fight song. “The university really wanted to enhance the arrival experience to the village, for attendees to sporting events as well as prospective student athletes,” Manning said.

This view is from the Baseball Stadium entry planter looking north along Champions Ave. The forefront plantings include Dwarf Fountain Grass and Henry’s Garnet Sweetspire. Bega Classic Sphere Lights and Shingle Oak line Champions Ave.
PHOTO: Human Nature

Kolar Design, a Cincinnati-based visual communications and architectural graphic design studio, had the job of incorporating the fight song lyrics into the paved walk.

“The pageantry and entrance ‘march’ up to the entry of the athletic center is aligned with the entry to the soccer/track areas and this formal entry was the perfect place to begin telling the story of the alma mater song and capture the Bearcat spirit,” said Kelly Kolar of Kolar Design. “The materials are etched granite with enamel filled grey paint. This is artfully woven into the paving pattern to capture field markings and marches you up to the main entry. The song was not anywhere on campus and it seemed befitting to be incorporated into this space.”

O’Varsity Way looking north to Richard E. Lindner Athletic Center. The drive is lined with Bega Pole Top Disk Light; Boral Bricks accented with granite inscribed with Alma Mater song verses.
PHOTO: Human Nature

O’Varsity Way leads to the entrance of the athletic center. The ground level fourth floor of the building houses the George and Helen Smith Athletics Museum. The floor pattern of this space is divided into red and black, one side highlights athletic achievements and the other side academic honors. The sports side of the atrium highlights each of the universities 18 varsity sports and features, trophies, stories and photos of Bearcats’ triumphs. Manning said university officials have reported that athlete recruits have been overwhelmingly in awe of the facilities upon entering the village.

The Richard E. Lindner Varsity Village entry kiosk guides visitors throughout the complex. Liriope and Cranberry Cotoneaster (in background) are among the plants used here.
PHOTO: Kolar Design

In addition to athletic recruits, the new varsity village has made a favorable impression among the school’s team coaches:

One of the first things that a potential basketball recruit, or any potential student-athlete, will see with these new facilities is the university’s commitment to college athletics, and especially, the student-athletes. The Richard E. Lindner Varsity Village has it all for them, and all centrally located.

“One of the greatest assets is that prospective recruits, upon entering the new athletics center, will obtain an immediate understanding of the rich history and tradition of our athletics program, and later as student-athletes at UC, will have that understanding reinforced each day.”
– Mick Cronin, men’s basketball coach.

“Varsity Village displays the level of commitment that our athletics department and our University has made to the student athletes that we are recruiting to compete here at UC. Everything from our sports venues to our training room is first class. This will allow us to recruit at a higher level and should allow us to field some very competitive teams. I believe the University of Cincinnati will become a model of how an urban campus can renew itself.”
– Jim Schnur, women’s track and field coach.

The Richard E. Lindner Varsity Village is a long-awaited union of athletics and academics at the University of Cincinnati.

“I believe this is everything that a great university and an NCAA Division I program strive for. We will truly rival the great institutions in this country.”
– Meridy Glenn, women’s soccer coach.

Project Team

Cincinnati, OH (Prime)
Principal-in-Charge: Arthur A. Hupp
Principal/Design Architect:
Michael J. Moose (site coordination)

Human Nature, Inc.,
Cincinnati OH
(Landscape Architect)
Principal-in-Charge of Design:
Chris Manning
Principal-in-Charge of Construction:
Gary Wolnitzek

Hargreaves Associates,
Cambridge, MA (Master Planning)
Principal: Kirt Rieder

Kolar Design,
Cincinnati, Ohio (Environmental Graphics)
Principal: Kelly Kolar

Bernard Tschumi Architects,
New York, NY
Principal in Charge/ Lead Designer: Bernard Tschumi (Collaborative Partner (Athletic Center)

UC Landscape Architect:
Leonard Thomas

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July 1, 2016, 11:21 am EST

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