Q&A: Barbara and David Day

Barbara and David Day’s City of Love

Vanishing Cincinnati, by Barbara and David Day, presents drawings, sketches, and stories that bring Cincinnati’s architectural heritage to life like never before. The creative couple has decades of design and historical-preservation experience to thank for their uniquely personal outlook on the city. And the panoramic view from their Pendleton Art Center studio doesn’t hurt, either.

Which designers inspire you?

David: All of them. Yes we have favorites, but we allow ourselves to be influenced by anybody that’s good. Ideas are sometimes our most valuable asset, visual or not. So we treat those things with care. Barbara: We’ve always been interested in everything. Art isn’t the only thing we think about. When we were at the University of Cincinnati many years ago, the professors that we had were architects. And we were there at a time when—should I dare say—Michael Graves was there. You were taught that if you were good at design, you could design anything. So art to us was not any particular form. It was whatever you could imagine.

This book is about the past splendor of Cincinnati, and the way figures at the perimeter of your drawings remain transparent seems to connect the past and the present. So I’m curious, to what extent is this book a call for rejuvenation?

David: It is probably the primary purpose. When you say past splendor, it’s still here. We restored buildings from the 1920s, fantastic things, like the old Enquirer building. That job lasted us 10 years. Most architects, back when we started, wanted to build buildings. They didn’t even want to touch preservation or restoration. We loved it. We didn’t have any compunction about that. We took other people’s buildings and restored them back to the way they were. Finally they caught on that we were having fun doing this.

What about representative elements that appear in older architecture? The grotesques on Hughes High School, for example. Is there still a place for representation in architecture?

David: I think it’s been lost. That’s the vanishing point. Austerity in architecture came out of the Bauhaus in the teens and twenties. That’s the kind of design we were taught when we were in school. Where did we go wrong? We love old buildings, which are the antithesis of that. Barbara: We knew all about what was then called Contemporary Design, which now means Mid-Century Modernism. But we really got interested in the older buildings when someone gave us an opportunity to do this.

How soon after your first date did you realize you’d make such splendid collaborators?

Barbara: We’ve known each other since we were in preschool, since we were 3 and 4 years old. We knew each other for 20 years but only said about eight words to each other. David: That’s a good way to put it. We met at the Church of our Savior, which is in the book—and even our photographs of it are in there. It’s not captioned that way but they’re in there. Barbara: David came home from the military on leave. I was asked to fix the flowers for the altar for Christmas. We started to talk. David: And we talked about substance and not superficial things and we realized that was a good connection. You know, we disagree on a lot of things. We look at that as constructive. Because we criticize each other’s work. That’s how you grow. Barbara: If you didn’t like something, you said it, but it was not done to make one person better than the other. We’ve never been competitive. When it comes to a design, you put your best foot forward. We talk about every detail: color, scale, content. We sometimes sketch together but he can do it so much better. David: She’s a good artist, too! She made a lot of sketches that are part of the book. Ideas…see, that’s what a sketch is. You may not want to show it to anybody, but it’s an idea. Maybe you’re showing it to yourself. In our case we’re showing it to each other.

Available at Joseph-Beth Booksellers; ddaydesigner.com


Originally published in the March 2013 issue.

Illustration by Pablo

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