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An Interview With Jim Guthrie About A Covington Architectural Firm’s Approach To Design

Hub+Weber Architects works diligently to harmonize new developments and restorations with a neighborhood's pre-existing character. So far, it seems to be working for both them and the neighborhoods, too. The Hannaford, The Reserve at 4th and Race, Boone Block, Woods Hardware, Hotel Covington... All Hub+Weber, all complementary of the architectural vernacular, and all worthy subjects for our stellar cast of photographers.

We sat down with Hub+Weber Principal Jim Guthrie to speak about that and much more.

Cincinnati Refined: How long have you been an architect and what inspired you to become one?

Jim Guthrie: I graduated from University of Cincinnati in 1989 and became registered in 1991. I started working at Hub + Weber shortly after graduation. I quit more than once. Now I’m a partner.

I’m not sure there was a single point of inspiration. I kind of gravitated to it naturally. I liked sketching from photographic building silhouettes in the newspaper. I was interested in house design and took drafting in junior high school. I worked as a draftsperson through a co-op program my senior year of high school. It was a vocational start to my career.

CR: Which famous architects (past or present, local or national) do you most admire?

JG: I’ve been interested in different architects at various points in my life. In junior high, it was Frank Lloyd Wright, Fallingwater being a favorite (although I’ve never been). In my college thesis years, I followed the work and writings of Bernard Tschumi and was very interested in authenticity created through a collision of architecture and program. I’m also intrigued by the work of Lebbeus Woods. Locally, I admire the work and rigor of Terry Boling and Jose Garcia, having known both of them for a very long time.

CR: In all of Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky, what are your three favorite buildings and why?

JG: There’s the obvious answers like Contemporary Art Museum, Union Terminal, and Omni-Netherland. There are small projects/interiors by folks like Drawing Department, Boling, Senhauser, Platt and Garcia that I like.

I also like the un-purposed places — the beer tunnels, alleys, industrial buildings, landscape, and others. I’ve been in some abandoned warehouses I thought were pretty cool in their rawness and proportion of space. I love the industrial buildings along the river west of town and along the Mill Creek. There was a point in the construction of the Great American Tower when it was full of construction lighting that I thought it was the coolest thing on the skyline.

I’m not that academic in my architectural observations. It’s more of a subconscious observation. But the question reminds me of the need to stop and think about such things.

CR: How has your admiration/appreciation of Covington changed in the years since you began at Hub+Weber?

JG: I most appreciate and admire the people and their devotion and love of the city. Their persistence against negativity... and, their authenticity. I hope it doesn’t get developed away. I’ve aligned myself with Renaissance Covington over the last several years, currently serving as Board President.

I’ve been involved with a lot of cool placemaking projects like CoSign, Curb’d, underpass rock gardens, madlot, and others. It's fed my interest in creating place where there is no expectation of one. And the community has been very receptive of this.

CR: What is your favorite project you’ve worked on at Hub+Weber?

JG: MidFirst Credit Union in Trenton, Ohio. It was programmed as a typical colonial bank and through our investigation (and persistence) became something interesting. The idea of a 30-foot tapered cantilever over the drive through was something I didn’t think would ever come to fruition (and it did).

CR: What is one vacant lot (or otherwise developable space) in Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky you would love to see utilized and why?

JG: If I had to pick one, I’d say Kentucky’s Ohio and Licking River river fronts. There’s so much potential there. Look north: parks and infrastructure. The CSX underpasses between Mainstrasse and downtown Covington would be a close second. Trying to figure out how to make railroads act as a good corporate neighbor.

CR: Hub+Weber seems to have a passionate and thoughtful approach to community development. Where does this come from, and why is it important to the firm?

JG: We have a passion for community: ours and yours. It’s important to acknowledge and contribute to the bigger picture. You’re serving a much bigger client and purpose. And a strong community strengthens our business. You know… rising tide thing.

CR: In a few of their blog posts, Hub+Weber highlights distinct approaches to infill development. Why is one preferred over the other? What does the “Ludlow Yard” approach do for the community that a more generic infill would not?

JG: “Generic” by definition is a low common denominator. It satisfies the greatest number of folks. Or at least the greatest number of investors. It’s recognizable. It’s easy. It's tested. It’s proven. It’s economic. It works on many levels. There’s really nothing inherently wrong with it, except it has no connection to the community. It’s not authentic.

Authenticity has broader impact and value. The blog posts get more into it, but it’s hard to fit a modern commodity/need/program in a context that has been developed over a period of 100 years. Scale, mass, materials… they’re all different. There may not be much difference between the architecture of Covington and the architecture of OTR, but the character of the communities was/is very different. It’s much harder for architecture to reflect that.

In the case of Ludlow, the character and history of the architecture was pretty unique, which informed the design. I’m not sure what we’d come up with for Cincinnati, Covington or Newport. Perhaps someone will ask, but maybe it’s better if they don’t. Not that we wouldn’t want the opportunity, but it’s a tough question. The struggle is real. But until we come face to face with the risk of having to answer, we’ll focus on the easy ones like FC Covington.

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For more information about Hub+Weber Architects, check out their website.