University of Cincinnati – Memorial Hall

Building Architecture- Large Scale (>10,000 sf)

Project Narrative

This historic building is a showpiece on the University of Cincinnati's College-Conservatory of Music campus.

Designed in the mid-1920s, Memorial Hall is a four-story, terra cotta and brick building with steep slate roofs over a steel frame and concrete structure. Built to memorialize World War I, the building features terra cotta gargoyles, nurses, soldiers, and other iconography along the outside of the building. The inner steel had rusted, and the terra cotta cladding and slate roof were suffering, as the building had fallen into disrepair. We were challenged to perform restoration work that would last for another 50 to 100 years, with minimal maintenance.

Our work began by careful surveying the structure and cladding. Surveying included photographic and hands-on surveys of the masonry and roofing (including multiple rappelling drops by our staff), as well as envelope water testing, and laboratory testing of the slate and mortar conditions. After working with the University to determine the restoration scope, we began to detail the various repairs. Designing for such a long lifespan is a humbling request; we considered ourselves stewards of the building throughout the process, taking great care to consider details that would outlive ourselves. This care included researching historic construction techniques, and working closely with the skilled craftsmen at ZSR Contracting and Restoration. Our restoration details often combined techniques and materials both ancient and contemporary, such as traditional copper and slate detailing, backed up by high-performance underlayments.

The terra cotta embellishments, some weighing 1,000 pounds or more, posed special challenges. We found that the original terra cotta pieces had suffered a great deal of distress not often visible from the outside. We used a specialized concrete fiber mix to replicate the terra cotta on site for pieces that were beyond repair. Custom molds were made from each of the terra cotta originals — more than 1,000 pieces, plus spires.

The most challenging pieces to design and recreate were the cantilevered gargoyles. Our firm began with a hands-on assessment via rappelling. After determining that the existing terra cotta was too far deteriorated, a replacement piece was designed utilizing a stainless steel armature within the tower. We worked with the contractor to take molds of the existing gargoyles, and the contractors then cast new replacement pieces around the armature, and craned them into place.

Careful detailing, hands-on assessment and construction administration, and a close working relationship between our office, the University of Cincinnati, and ZSR, led to a successful project outcome. During our project site meetings, the sounds of opera arias and violin solos would often drift out of Memorial Hall's open windows. Combined with the sounds of masonry hammers and copper soldering, this symphony of sounds provided a truly unique experience for all involved.


Project Details

Submission Category

Building Architecture- Large Scale (>10,000 sf)

Date of Completion

January, 2023

Submitting Firm Name

THP Ltd, inc

Project Team


THP ltd


Structural Engineer - THP ltd


ZSR Contracting and Restoration, Imbus Roofing