The Denny Tour: 14 Buildings Through One Very Personal Lens

April 8th, 2014 by IMAGE Magazine
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Illustration by Ryan Ostrander (CCAD 2000)

Illustration by Ryan Ostrander (CCAD 2000)

By Dave Ghose

When Denny Griffith started at CCAD 16 years ago, he set out to create a campus worthy of affection.

Back then, the school consisted of an assortment of disconnected and oddball buildings that lacked a sense of place and community. “It really was a hard place to love because there wasn’t much soul to it,” Griffith recalls.

His first change was a simple one. He painted every entrance door red at all CCAD buildings to identify what belonged to the school.

Then he got considerably more ambitious, launching a construction boom that doubled the size of the campus with the addition of such signature buildings as the Loann Crane Center for Design, the CCAD Design Studios on Broad, and the Design Square Apartments.

On a chilly January afternoon, Griffith gave IMAGE a tour of the transformed campus, sharing behind-the-scenes stories of his quest to create an “urban learning village,” his most visible legacy at the college.

The ART sculpture

The campus landmark began as a joke.

As Griffith and his new colleagues struggled to find a way to raise awareness of the college in the early years of his tenure, Richard Petry, now the director of graduate studies, made a wisecrack that the school should build a giant “Art” sign inspired by 1950s diners. The sign could go on top of a building and include a directional arrow pointing toward the campus. “I thought it was the greatest idea,” Griffith says.

Later, however, Griffith realized he needed to tweak the idea after controversy erupted over a new Fifth Third Bank sign downtown. “So we said, ‘What if we make one leg of it go down to the ground and then we could call it sculpture?’ ” Griffith recalls.

City officials approved the concept, but Griffith admits he still had his doubts when the hulking 10-story-high structure was installed in 2001. “I thought they were going to fire me,” he says. “But it turned out to be iconic.”

Illustration by Ryan Ostrander (CCAD 2000)

Illustration by Ryan Ostrander (CCAD 2000)

The Loann Crane Center for Design

Griffith says he can’t name a favorite building constructed during his tenure. But he does have a soft spot for the Crane Center. “It was the first big building I did on my own,” he says.

The building replaced a drab, one-story, cinder-block student center (a former Honeywell monitoring station) with a vibrant, versatile, three-story building that includes a café, a game room, offices, and flexible, high-tech design space. Griffith is also proud of the thrifty manner in which the college built the center, a lesson he’s applied to other projects. “We built this building for $56 per square foot,” he says, pointing to the cost-saving “tilt-up walls.”

CCAD Design Studios on Broad

Griffith considers the 106,000-square-foot former car dealership the most important addition to the campus since he became president.

The former Byers Chrysler showroom gave the college a desirable location on one of the city’s main roads, as well as a massive building that could house the Master of Fine Arts program (launched in 2010) and CCAD MindMarket (started in 2012), which includes a student-staffed design agency.

From the moment he started at CCAD, Griffith had been eying the Byers building.

“Once or twice a year, I’d have Buddy Byers over,” Griffith recalls. “He’s crafty. He knew I was keeping him close. So one day, he calls me, ‘Denny, we’re going to sell the building, and we wanted you to be the first to know because we know you’ve always wanted the building.’ ”

Griffith quickly redirected an ongoing capital campaign to focus on raising money to purchase the Byers building. “After the whole deal was done, Buddy came back and said, ‘I’m going to give you a gift,’ ” Griffith says. “And he and his wife, Diane, made a very, very nice gift.”

Illustration by Ryan Ostrander (CCAD 2000)

Illustration by Ryan Ostrander (CCAD 2000)

The Quad

The 2006 dedication of the quad, the grassy area at the foot of the ART sculpture and in front of the Loann Crane Center for Design, created what Griffith calls a “psychic center” for the campus. Students gather there to toss Frisbees, play hacky sack, listen to music, bond with their classmates, and let off steam.

Griffith’s favorite quad moment occurs in the spring when a petting zoo sets up shop. “There are llamas and baby ducks and bunny rabbits, and all these kids who look really hip and too cool to care about this kind of stuff are just so excited, cooing and petting animals,” he says with a laugh. “I love it.”

Design Square Apartments

When architect and former CCAD board member George Acock designed the campus’ newest residence hall, he wanted to create “internal streets” inside the building. Instead of dark and dingy hallways, two-story-high corridors bathed in sunlight greet people when they step out of the elevators.

Those streets, however, aren’t exactly hopping on this day in January. With students yet to return to campus, they’re mostly empty.

But that doesn’t lessen Griffith’s enthusiasm. He greets the handful of students he runs into by name and celebrates both small and large details of the building, from the state-of-the-art cafeteria (which attracts professionals in the neighborhood in addition to students) to washing machines that send text messages to students when loads are done.

“How cool is that?” Griffith says.

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Published in print twice a year, CCAD’s IMAGE magazine shares stories about our creative community, whether here in Columbus or around the world—what we’re doing, thinking, and planning next. The IMAGE blog brings those stories online for transmission at the click of a mouse.

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