CHALLENGE Government Square has served as downtown Cincinnati's main transit exchange for more than 100 years. However, its previous major renovation, which occurred in the late 1960s, was in dire need of a facelift. The existing design mainly catered to bus traffic, treating the buses as the primary user of the area with little regard to pedestrians and waiting passengers. And if buses got backed up, vehicular flow throughout downtown came to a standstill. With the city's growing concern over an increase in crime in the area and the need for better traffic control, the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) decided to redesign the space.

SORTA asked Cincinnati-based architecture-engineering firm Michael Schuster Associates (MSA) to create a new design for the city's busiest bus stop. MSA was a logical choice for SORTA as the two had worked together before, and the transit authority wanted a local firm to be involved. SORTA expected "the highest level of design for the project," explains firm principal Michael Schuster. "A lot of the redo had to do with safety, traffic flow, and the visibility of the bus system being integrated into the area." Cincinnati is a "very conservative design market," Schuster says, and a resulting challenge was to get city and transit officials reviewing the project, in addition to others, "to think creatively about design and get them to be open to new ideas."

ARCHITECTURAL AND LIGHTING SOLUTION Despite the city's conservative approach to design, project architect John Noble, an associate at MSA, points out that the firm was able to do a lot more designwise than it initially expected and that decisions were "justified by strong design reasons and practical reasons, and it ended up as a bonus to make this a really exciting piece of architecture."

From the start, lighting was key. Aside from surrounding streetlamps, the main light source was found in the waiting shelters. Schuster says city residents were aware that "at night, there had been a lot of concern with taking the bus when the sun goes down on Government Square." Because of this, Schuster explains that MSA wanted to "develop lighting that [would] help [the transit stop] look like a very safe, clear, friendly, well-lit environment that is also engaging." To achieve that goal, the architects placed translucent glass panels along the top of the structure. During the day they reflect sunlight, creating a brighter environment, while at night they "use the reflective light to create a canopy of light over the top of the people," Schuster says, producing a safer, more comfortable environment for those waiting for a bus. Also, he adds, since the panels are not clear glass, they do not show dust and debris.

Thanks to the canopy glass and its reflective capabilities, the designers were able to get more out of the lighting by using the glass as a type of lens, Schuster explains. If MSA had not used the panels, it likely would have had to double the number of lamps used. "Light fixtures are part of it, but the entire structure becomes a light fixture, both during the day and at night," Noble says.

In addition to creating an inviting space, the architects were mindful of long-term upkeep. "The maintenance element of lighting is challenging," Schuster says, adding that MSA knew it would be better to use fewer luminaires and longer-lasting lamps. To aid lamp replacement, fixtures are located at "ladder" height.

Fluorescent downlights illuminate the waiting area. The fixture, which uses three 54W lamps per section for each of the 24 sections, spans the length of the shelters and was customized for the space with a slip mounting panel to accommodate adjustment in both the x- and y-axis, along with a standard mounting bracket attached to the steel beams. The weight of the fixture required additional mount plates, resulting in brackets at every beam.

This year the Government Square project, completed in August 2006, won an American Institute of Architects Ohio Honor Award. The space illuminates the area by capitalizing on daylight and electric light, especially via the glass panels, and enhances the urban fabric of downtown Cincinnati.


PROJECT | Government Square Transit Center, Cincinnati
DESIGN TEAM | Michael Schuster Associates, Cincinnati
PHOTOGRAPHER | J. Miles Wolf, J. Miles Wolf Architectural Photography, Cincinnati
PROJECT SIZE | 7,500 square feet
PROJECT COST | $9 million
MANUFACTURERS | Designplan Lighting, Ledalite, Shaper Lighting