Environment

VIEWPOINT: Indy needs more contemporary design

June 18, 2007

As an architect, I'm always interested in work that wins national architecture and interior-design awards. And as a contemporary design fan, I also make it a point to visit cities and attractions with unique and interesting design.

So a few weeks back, I drove a couple of hours south to visit a boutique hotel in Louisville that's been creating a buzz and earning awards since it opened a year ago. The property is 21c, a 90-room hotel and museum dedicated to contemporary art from living artists.

This spring, The New York Times called it "an innovative concept with strong execution with prompt and enthusiastic service."

After all I'd heard, I expected to be wowed. I wasn't disappointed.

The 21c museum hotel is truly one of a kind. From the moment we arrived, everything we encountered was impressive. The contemporary design is nestled respectfully in a redeveloped historic building on Main Street.

The clean lines and materials mesh well with the traditional brick and stone exterior. Penguins seemed an odd choice for a Louisville hotel where thoroughbreds seemed more relevant, but there they are: 4-foot-tall bright red polyethylene penguins perched on the façade.

Inside, contemporary art by national, regional and local artists is everywhere-in the meeting rooms, sleep ing rooms, hallways and even the public first-floor bathrooms.

The lobby looks more like an art gallery than a hotel. One piece includes video installations and a tandem bicycle with the seats and handlebars facing opposite directions. The sleeping rooms feature exposed brick walls with large modern cherry headboards with cork panels.

While you're not allowed to take home the towels, guests are encouraged to take home posters. As you'd expect, there's a big plasma TV, but guests also get the use of an in-room iPod-programmed with your musical taste and an audio tour of the museum's art-and you can enjoy it while lounging in a Herman Miller Aeron chair.

Regardless of whether you like contemporary art, the hotel and museum are something to see. It is no wonder that the complex, which includes the adjoining Proof on Main restaurant, has become a destination in and of itself.

What surprises me most, however, is that this imaginative and perhaps risky attraction is in Louisville. Because of my experience in this one city block, I have an elevated opinion of this river town known for horse racing and bourbon. I left thinking: "This is a creative city-a place where interesting and intelligent people live."

At a time when cultural development in Indianapolis is reaching a fever pitch and the number of hotels and lodging facilities is on the rise, I'd like to challenge our community to create something as dramatic and inspiring as 21c.

Let's be imaginative and savvy with the built environment and create more places that symbolically showcase our city's creativity and design sophistication.

We ought to be able to at least keep up with Louisvile, right?



White is a principal at AXIS Architecture + Interiors.
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