Opinion and Viewpoint

SCHMIDT: Proposed Mass Ave structure stirs design passions

November 10, 2012

SchmidtWhile walking down a street in Prague recently, I made some observations. There were no potholes and no parking lots—just rows of buildings. Each building was five stories high, except one. That one had a much different façade and an angular design. It also was the building where people congregated. It was the building that captured the most attention and prompted the most discussion.

That, in a nutshell, is an example of good design. It creates a focal point along the background of the street. It is engaging, attracts interest, and creates energy.

As architects, we have a responsibility to design structures that meet an intended purpose, of course, but also structures that energize and help move neighborhoods and cities forward.

That was the intent of the Mass Ave development design team at Schmidt Associates, which worked with J.C. Hart Co. and Strongbox Commercial in designing a multi-use structure that will replace the Indianapolis Fire Department. As we studied the context of the avenue, we were cognizant of two primary characteristics.

Mass. Ave. (Rendering courtesy of Schmidt Associates)

First, the Egyptian design of the Murat Theatre on one corner and the Athenæum’s Germanic architectural style on the other.

Second, the building’s strong street edge bridges the gap and enhances the pedestrian experience along the Mass Ave corridor.

Click here to read Carol Faenzi's response to the Mass Ave structure.

The new structure’s design includes swatches of brick, giving a nod to its historic neighbors. Yet the vibrant façade of strong colors—seemingly suspended—disperses the historic brick and gives the façade a 2012 vocabulary.

The design was created to enhance the kind of energy Mass Ave reflects and will be the bridge needed to continue to grow and continue to attract people to the urban core.

Sure, some love the proposed new Mass Ave design; others not so much. But that’s OK. Architecture is art. When it’s successful, it evokes emotion.

Successful design is about allowing communities to reflect their past, embrace their present, and, more important, to push them forward. Advancing means taking chances, stepping outside our comfort zones, and thinking differently and creatively about our designs to take Indianapolis to the next level.•

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Schmidt is founder and CEO of the architecture firm Schmidt Associates, which is on Mass Ave. Send comments on this column to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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