Front Row Center Newsletter from the Greater Columbus Arts Counsil


By Tracy Zollinger Turner

When architect Michael Bongiorno walks between the Short North and Downtown, he admires the success of the cap that bridges 670, with the pedestrian-friendly continuity that its shops and restaurants have brought to High Street. But if he decides to head west, toward Goodale Park, he will take Russell Street or any alternative route to avoid the two large barren, concrete triangle-shaped spaces that sit along Goodale Boulevard. And he believes that instinctively, that’s probably what the rest of us do too.

Parched by unencumbered sunlight, these glaring, sidewalk-beige spaces are each lightly punctuated with a line of uninviting, shiny black benches. If you stop and take a good look, you’ll find that these areas do stand out like deserts in the middle of an urban oasis. Any nearby street has some respite of shade and natural or architectural interest. In these two spaces, the best you can do is train your eyes on a nearby tree or the lines of the Greek Orthodox Church and move through quickly.

“There shouldn’t be anything like this in a city like Columbus,” says Bongiorno. “Really good cities that value the preciousness of their land should never leave spaces like that unaccounted for.”

Bongiorno’s passion for reimagining overlooked, unused, abandoned and wasted urban spaces was the subject of a Columbus TEDx talk that he gave last year called “Looking Over the Overlooked.” A principal and senior designer at DesignGroup, he has worked on innovative civic projects, including the Grange Audobon Center and the Peggy MacConnell Arts Center in Worthington, which were recently named AIA Ohio Honor Awards recipients. He also led the team that designed the addition to the Columbus Museum of Art, which broke ground in August.  (To read more about Bongiorno’s work on the Museum project, check out GCAC’s latest blog post.)

There are a number of possibilities for the Goodale Boulevard spaces that could excite and engage the public, says Bongiorno, who has suggested possibilities like a “Parklet” – a place like where container greenery, shade-making objects and more comfortable seating could be freighted in temporarily for the outdoor-friendly months. In his native New York City, MOMA has PS1 — a Long Island City, Queens outpost that sponsors a Young Architects Program competition to transform its public courtyard each year. With criteria that asks designers to do things like provide shade, water and seating, the space has been transformed into an urban farm, chimney-shaped “cooling” shelters and a recreation center with components that were eventually recycled into the community over the past 14 years. With the right partnerships and administrating organization, the spaces could be transformed dynamically each year.

“You create these temporary autonomous zones and it creates moments of repose in the city,” he says.  They also act as “connective tissue” between places, like the High Street corridor or the Greek Orthodox church and Goodale Park.

But Bongiorno isn’t simply interested in his own vision. As the director of DesignWeek[s] 2013 (and creator of the event), he wants the public to look at them and think about what they would want to see there. Moreover, he would like them to locate other desolate pockets inside of the city, be they patches like those two triangles, abandoned structures like warehouses and grain silos, unused buildings or the immense swaths of grass that our many highway cloverleaves’s wrap around.

Through the crowd-sourcing power of Instagram, Bongiorno hopes that Columbus community members will search out more of the city’s unobserved, overlooked spaces and begin to re-imagine them.

“I want to encourage people to look at things and not just accept them they are,” he says. “They should look at places like these as though they’ve been created as conscious decisions, and look at them critically. They can be so much more for our citizens. ”

The central “collective engagement project” of Columbus’ Design Week[s] 2013 is cbus:FOTO (Friends Of The Overlooked), funded by a GCAC Project Support grant.  For the past few months – and for the next few weeks – urban explorers, armchair planners and designers can continue to submit photos of “leftover or wasted spaces in the city of Columbus” by adding the hashtag #cbusfoto on Instagram. (It’s also possible for those not on Instagram to participate by uploading digital photo contributions on their site). Several of the entries will be showcased at a kickoff party October 5, which will be held at a surprise, pop-up location.

“When we say we want to engage the city, we don’t mean all the designers in the city. We mean everyone,” says Bongiorno.  “It’s kind of great because everyone can become a documentarian. You can walk around and ask questions like ‘Shouldn’t this be something else?’ or ‘Who owns this?’ And these are questions we all should be asking about our city.”

In addition to the invitation to hunt down and document spaces rife with creative community potential, DesignWeek(s) will host FOTOshops for members of the public who have ideas for those spaces, but need the help of artists and designers to flesh out and present their concepts. The second tier of DesignWeek(s)’ public engagement asks community members to digitally submit concepts, drawings, paintings, collages or any visual representation of those ideas (there are no restrictions other than the requirement that they be submitted digitally) to the FOTOshop: Vignette Competition by noon on October 18. Participants will have their work exhibited November 2 at the Center for Architecture and Design, which is housed in a storefront space in the old downtown Lazarus building.

Design choices about the urban fabric of Columbus are deeply relevant to the always ongoing conversation about the city’s character, says Bongiorno. Apart from the confluence of our rivers, he says, Columbus doesn’t have any vast geographical features on which to hang an identity.

“What we do have that we can make better is our culture and our physical environment,” he says. “If we are going to place our bet there, we should really do our best work.”

Innovation doesn’t necessarily mean flattening things that exist, however.  When Bongiorno looks at grain silos he wonders about the possibilities of scuba tanks and inner city zip-lines. In recent decades, Columbus has leveled several buildings that might have been re-imagined, some for better, others for worse.

“I’m interested in the embodied energy in a structure,” he says. “I’m not a building-hugger, but when we have stuff that’s kind of interesting and cool looking, someone should be looking at it creatively for its real and perceived value and what might be possible rather than immediately tearing it down.”

That can prolong the design process, present technical challenges and create debate, but for a city of character, those hoops can be worth jumping through. And doing so doesn’t have to be more expensive.

“The right thing to do is never easy,” says Bongiorno.  “Any civic project I’ve been involved in design-wise, like the MacConnell Art Center in Worthington, hasn’t been easy. They were going to tear that building, which was designed as a high school, down. It was a Frank Packard building that had a community, iconic quality. The cost to rebuild what you would tear down didn’t add up and there was a lot of debate that added more time to the process. But in the end, people are more excited about it as a redesigned building than if we’d laid waste to it and built something new.”

During the first Design Week last year, the Center for Architecture and Design created a its first collective engagement project called The Ideabook Project, which distributed 500 notebooks to community leaders, educators, artists, designers and others, who were asked to reflect on Columbus now and in the future. About 200 of the notebooks came back – filled with extensive, loving detail, comical notions or urban philosophizing – and were exhibited at a pop-up exhibition.

“People didn’t want to leave,” says Bongiorno. “It was so powerful for us because we found out that people really care about this city – what it is, where it’s been and where it might be headed.”

The Ideabook Project recently earned an Excellence Award from the American Institute of Architects.

From one week to week[s] – the growing celebration of design

What started as a weeklong event last year has now been increased to more than a month of events and programming. Design Week[s] 2013 is organized by The Center for Architecture and Design – a collaborative volunteer group of architecture and design professionals that came together two years ago with the mission to “enhance public understanding of architecture and the design of the built environment.”  DesignWeek(s) is its largest event, but the center does other things throughout the year, including architectural bike tours called design:ROLLS and a summer “Camp Architecture” for kids ages 8 to 18, who learn about the field through walking tours, discussions with local professionals and hands-on activities.

Beyond the central community engagement project, there will be several other design-related events held throughout the city, including a 20th Century Design Market at the Columbus Museum of Art the last weekend of September, the idUS celebration of innovation and design (including TEDx), CMH Fashion week October 6-13, and the Short North’s Highball Halloween, among others.

“We want to tap into the creative culture we see growing in Columbus,” says Bongiorno. “One of the things we do is to try and highlight the contributions local architects and designers have made, and try to help them sing their song.”

Columbus Design Week(s) Events

Sept. 27 – Columbus Moving Image Art Review – Screening of work by local artists.

Sept. 27-29 – 20th Century Design Market, Columbus Museum of Art – A market featuring mid-century vintage items, as well as an expert view talk, strolling cocktail brunch and Vespa Drive-In, among other events. (Kick-off preview party has a Mad Men theme.)

Oct. 1-31 – AIA ARCHallenge: A month-long competition for Columbus’ favorite buildings, voted on by the public in NCAA bracket fashion.

Oct. 4 & 5 – ZeroLandfill: An upcycling program for local artists and art educators.

Oct. 5 – Worldwide Photo Walk – a social event where photographers tour through urban neighborhoods together and take pictures. This year, they will largely walk in areas with abandoned structures, including the Bellows Avenue Elementary School (closed in 1982) in Franklinton.

Oct. 5 – DesignWeek(s) Opening Party – Features an exhibit of cbusFOTO entries at a surprise location.

Oct. 6 – design:ROLLS City Tour – Bike tour of several local neighborhoods, featuring presentations by local designers, planners and developers.

Oct. 6-12 – CMH Fashion Week – Featuring fashion high tea at the Columbus Museum of Art, multiple industry mixers, a fashion marketplace and a finale show in Genoa Park.

October 8-13 – Columbus idUS: A celebration of innovation and design. Featuring TEDxYouth@Columbus and TEDx at COSI, a Mini Maker Faire at the Idea Foundry and other events.

Oct. 19 – CMO Roundtable: Outside Perspectives for Your Capital Improvement – Marketing professionals talk to architects/engineers/contractors about marketing trends and forward-thinking strategies.

Oct. 19 – FOTOshop: CMA

Oct. 25 & 26 – Highball Halloween – The Short North’s annual event, featuring costume competitions and a Costume Couture Fashion Showdown.

Nov. 2 – Cbus:PHOTO Exhibition Opening  –

More details on these events, and new events are being added regularly. Visit for more information.

Riffe Gallery - Poetics of Pattern through October 6