The carousel game is changing dramatically as cities look to revitalize their downtowns with family-oriented urban activity. This spring has seen two brand new carousels open, both of which are housed in contemporary architectural pavilions. Carol Ann’s Carousel opened in April at Smale Riverfront Park on the banks of the Ohio River. The 44-character, $1 million carousel sits inside of a $4.5 million glass pavilion designed by the Boston-area firm Sasaki Associates and Cincinnati architects KZF Design. It is situated alongside a public fountain plaza.
“The whole 30-acre park along the river is designed by Sasaki to be contemporary, and has really brought the downtown back to life. We wanted the carousel to add one more attraction. We already have the world’s largest [outdoor] foot piano,” said Steve Schuckman, superintendent of Cincinnati’s Division of Planning and Design/Program Services. “The glass box allows it to be an attraction year-round, as well as capitalizes on the stunning views of the Roebling Bridge.”
The all-custom carousel itself draws upon the history and culture of Cincinnati, including the architecture of what was once the epicenter of the pre-railroad Midwest. The figures were hand-carved by artisans at Carousel Works in Mansfield, Ohio, the world’s largest maker of wooden carousels.
The characters and landmarks were decided upon through a survey of the community. Final carousel figures include an elephant wearing the Cincinnati Zoo Elephant House as a hat, a giraffe wearing the “tiara” from Cincinnati’s tallest building, the iconic Great American Tower, and a gorilla that pays homage to the city’s former tallest building, the historic Carew Tower.
“Cincinnati buildings just have so much unique architecture, there was just a huge abundance of elements for us to look at and work with,” said Kate Blakley of Carousel Works. “We tried to take the concept and instead of doing a literal interpretation, we worked each building into a design. There are little details of architectural elements hidden in there, and there are Easter Eggs once you look closer. Even if you don’t know anything about Cincinnati.”
The building is a “jewel box” style design that is based loosely on Jean Nouvel’s Jane’s Carousel pavilion in Brooklyn. However, Schuckman explained that Cincinnati’s new building will have more amenities, including restrooms, support services for parties, and a conference space on the floor below. It is also built above the 100-year flood line.
Cincinnati is not the only city to be jumping on the contemporary spinning jinny bandwagon. Heading east, to Manhattan’s downtown tip, families can enjoy the SeaGlass Carousel at The Battery, an unconventional carousel that will feature a school of fiberglass fish that will bounce up and down on hydraulics, while glowing from inside. The carousel and modern pavilion were designed by WXY Architects, and will be an immersive environment that will feature integrated music as well.
Both of these carousel pavilions point toward a larger trend of carousels as urban landmarks embedded within urban revitalization schemes. Many older carousels have been refurbished and relocated to modern buildings. Jane’s Carousel sets the standard, and is cited as inspiration for both the Cincinnati pavilion and Cleveland’s new merry-go-round, the Euclid Beach Carousel, encased in a glass building by Richard Fleischman + Partners Architects of Cleveland, which opened in 2014.
Bette Largent, president of the National Carousel Association and publisher of the carousel trade magazine the Merry-Go-Roundup, explained the importance of the buildings, whether for wooden carousels or for fiberglass renditions. “New or old, the carousel is becoming more profitable if it is climate controlled. Many owners of old signature style buildings are understanding this and are adding air-conditioning for summer operations and have seen significant ridership and profit due to this. It also is more comfortable for the public and protects the wooden figures.”
Although many new air-conditioned spaces have opened for a variety of carousels old and new, the Ohio pavilions along with New York’s are setting the standard for modern carousel design. The Ohio-New York axis is nothing new in urban design, as Cincinnati’s Roebling Bridge (1867), served as a prototype for the Brooklyn Bridge, completed in 1883. While bridges and large infrastructure were a defining feature of cities in the industrializing 19th century, the advent of small-scale urban interventions, such as parks, improved landscaping, and of course, carousels, are playing integral roles in shaping today’s urban experience.