Terry Boling: Making a Mark in the Midwest

For Cincinnati-based architect and teacher Terry Boling, AIA, the proof of good architecture lies in creating a project full of material connections—a regional approach focusing on an organic design process that explores and exploits the unique properties of each material used. And, while Boling is a sole practitioner, he doesn’t accomplish this experimentation alone. As a full-time professor at the University of Cincinnati’s School of Architecture and Interior Design, Boling works closely with a group of students and ex-students. “U.C. has a unique co-op program where students are required to work in the real world for 10 weeks during the semester,” says Boling. “That program gives me the opportunity to hire students I’ve been working with in class, and the students then have the ability to put their learning to use.”

“The mark of the maker” is a term Boling says he continues to try to define and make evident in his work, through fabrication of furniture, surfaces, and finishes on-site. Boling admits that working this way doesn’t produce quick results, but credits his clients with having the patience to let the process take its course. “We’re usually working with shoestring budgets,” says Boling, “and what we design isn’t paper architecture. Luckily, our clients have been understanding of the process. The restraints have worked in our favor. And Cincinnati is at an exciting place right now. It’s a time of rich growth for the city, and a good time to be practicing architecture here.”

Boling teaches a class about critical regionalism, and his work reflects his thoughts on the topic. “I’m often exploring what it means to be a Midwesterner,” he says. “What kinds of materials and techniques can we find that are specific to the Midwest? What does it mean to be working as an architect in Cincinnati?”

Part of that regional approach for Boling is an ethically responsible architecture. “It’s right in the middle of everything,” he says. “Landfills are mostly composed of construction materials, so it’s obvious that we should use leftovers.” For one project, a nonprofit facility called Venice Pizza that trains people to work in restaurants, Boling and a group of graduate students actually had a zero budget, which forced them to explore the space between thinking and making. “They got on the phone and found everything they could get their hands on—tile from a company’s excess, crushed beer bottles that the students made into mosaics, leftover wood from construction sites,” Boling explains. “Our discussions revolved around questions of homogeneity and heterogeneity, quilt and mosaic, and even culinary formulations that addressed the idea of leftovers, such as pizza, meat loaf, and soup. It soon became evident that each material treatment would need to have a relationship to the next, both procedurally and aesthetically, for the project to be successful as a collection of components.”

The result exemplifies Boling’s love of textures and visually decadent yet formally clean structures. “We tend to undervalue beauty,” he says. “There’s just not enough beauty in the world.” For Boling’s part, he plans to add more beauty locally, and branch out from there. “I would love to jump scales and broaden my firm’s possibilities,” he says. “But only if I can keep bringing personalization—a mark of humanity—to every project.”

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