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The Ascent

By Sarah Stephens · January 14th, 2009 · Cincitecture

I wanted to dislike The Ascent at Roebling’s Bridge. Well, “wanted” is the wrong word. I expected to dislike the Ascent.

Perhaps this could be due to my preference for old historic buildings, or maybe I presumed that such high aspirations would have to result in a stunning but alienating encounter. I have to say that despite my preconceptions, I am really fond of this building.

As is generally the case with cutting-edge projects by starchitects like Daniel Libeskind, the Ascent tends to incite highly polarizing reactions. People love it or they hate it. Many complain that it doesn’t fit with its surroundings. Sure, in the conventional sense, it doesn’t fit. But when you consider the ways in which it pays homage to the Roebling Suspension Bridge mere yards away, you begin to notice that the blue-tinted glass of the facade subtly echoes the bridge’s blue hues. You might even perceive that the dynamically coiled roof unexpectedly mimics the Suspension Bridge’s curved cables.

So while the Ascent does stand out from the architectural fabric of the surrounding community, a broadened consideration of form and color reveals its harmonious connection to the beloved Suspension Bridge, which in turn congruously assimilates the high-rise with its surroundings. (Street level interaction could use some work, as pointed out on www.building-cincinnati.com.)

Considering Libeskind’s numerous museum commissions, you might expect living in the Ascent to reflect the austerity and asceticism one would suppose living in a museum would feel like.

And this supposition isn’t entirely inaccurate. Considering that the public spaces of this condominium complex are adorned with $500,000 worth of contemporary artwork selected by Carl Solway, yes, it does feel a bit like living in a museum. But this experience lacks the severity one might expect. Quite the opposite, the public spaces are surprisingly warm and inviting. Entering the soaring foyer, light reflects off the white glass and marble wall causing a subtle undulation vaguely reminiscent of rippling water. This effect is more pronounced, however, in the artworks that unite the east and west walls of the lobby. Upon entrance, to the left is a massive, cartoon-like, vertically focused acrylic waterfall, while across the way a series of horizontally aligned enamel panels showcase with photographic realism gently rippling water.

Up the cascading staircase, a surprisingly warm yet industrial-chic owners’ lounge, bar and expansive terrace await. But the most surreal experience of all is the unfinished 20-22nd-floor penthouse, “The Pinnacle.” As if standing beside the — at one point — 55-foot-high, floor-to-ceiling windows isn’t enough to induce a serious case of vertigo, you can actually wedge yourself into the “prow” of the structure; since the facade’s curving point gradually leans outward, the feeling of dangling unobstructed in the atmosphere is both thrilling and terrifying.

Libeskind’s Ascent aspires to lofty ideals, aiming to create a “cultural edifice” that will “resonate with the history of the place,” as he told AIArchitect. That’s not unlike the ambitions of John Roebling, who in 1846 said the Suspension Bridge: “…will possess great claims as a national monument. As a splendid work of art and as a remarkable specimen of modern engineering and construction, it will speak loudly in favor of the energy and enterprise of the community which will boast of its possession.”

Today we can apply Roebling’s words to this new and innovative landmark. Whether you personally love it or hate it, the Ascent and other local high-profile contemporary constructions are reinvigorating this city’s one-time status as an artistic and cultural mecca — Cincinnati was labeled the “Paris of the West” only a century or two ago, after all — and that’s something we can all be proud of.

For more on the ASCENT, go to www.yourascent.com.



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