Architect Kurt Platte Is Over-the-Rhine’s Renaissance Man

Rehabbing old buildings in Over-the-Rhine presents a number of hurdles, both design-wise and financially. Kurt Platte clears them with ease.
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Photograph by Aaron M. Conway

Kurt Platte, founder of Over-the-Rhine-based Platte Architecture + Design, has a soft spot for the historic neighborhood. As an undergraduate architecture student at Miami University in the 1980s, his first project was reimagining a whole block of OTR along Vine Street. “So Over-the-Rhine was pretty dear to my heart,” he says in the conference room of his sleekly modernist offices near Findlay Market. “But it sure didn’t look like the renaissance that would save Over-the-Rhine was going to happen in my lifetime.”

The renaissance is in fact happening, and now entering a busy new decade. Platte and his staff of 20—including architects, designers, a bookkeeper, and a managing director, plus a drone—partner with developers, contractors, or individual clients on projects. They don’t work exclusively in Over-the-Rhine, but they’re excited to play a high-profile role there.

“That’s the beauty of Over-the-Rhine,” Platte says. “It’s not just mixed generationally, socioeconomically, and ethnically. It’s mixed everything.”

Platte recently completed the 3CDC-developed Elm Industries Building, actually three joined-together separate structures centered at 1537 Race St. The former carriage and wagon manufacturing facility was converted to office and retail space using federal historic tax credits. “When you do a building that has historic tax credits, you just say There are certain things we’re not doing,” says Platte. “We’re not doing roof decks that change the roofline, not exposing brick unless it was exposed, not dry-walling over brick, not moving staircases. Any vertical circulation has to remain there.”

The design challenges are worth it, though, Platte says, because tax credits often cover a portion of renovation costs and put developers in better financial shape to borrow the remainder. “A lot of projects here would not exist if those weren’t available. You may win at the state level, which is super competitive, or you may not, but OTR projects can usually get the federal [credits].”

In the third-floor kitchen space at Elm Industries, not far from newly installed vents that run below the roofline, is a large pulley wheel attached to the original wooden support beams. That kind of embedded artifact, often a feature in Over-the-Rhine restorations, is something Platte enjoys adding to his projects.

With historic residential buildings, an ongoing issue is figuring out where people put their 21st century stuff—including cars—in 19th century buildings. Platte came up with a creative parking solution for condos in the Market Square project along the 1800 block of Race, which the Model Group developed. “It was an existing building and we were able to carve out the back, which mostly used to be residential, and put garage doors off Goose Alley into the rear of these buildings,” he says. Because there was room, he was able to install mechanical lifts to stack one car above the other, turning some two-car garages into four-car ones and single car garages into two-car ones.

The variety of Platte’s projects reflects the neighborhood itself: converting an old Pendleton mechanic’s shop into the Lucius Q barbecue restaurant, combining three vacant buildings near Washington Park with a new infill structure for the Saengerhalle office project, designing a new single-family home on narrow Pleasant Street with a tunnel through the facade to access a rear auto courtyard. “That’s the beauty of Over-the-Rhine,” he says. “It’s not just mixed generationally, socioeconomically, and ethnically. It’s mixed everything.”

Note: Click here to view Kurt Platte’s appearance on Local 12’s Good Morning Cincinnati with our Editor-in-Chief John Fox to discuss Cincinnati architecture.

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