Conservancy plans take shape

February 4, 2009
Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share
The Nature
                              ConservancyThe Nature Conservancy is finalizing plans for its new $4.4-million headquarters at 620 E. Ohio St. downtown. The not-for-profit group is planning a two-story, 20,000-square-foot building that will take up about half a block between Easley Winery and the new six-story Maxwell condo and retail project. The Conservancy already tore down a building previously occupied by Nemec Heating & Supply Co., which sold it the property early last year (earlier post is here). The architect, locally based Axis, is working to design an energy-efficient headquarters with a “green� roof, extensive landscaping and possibly wind turbines. The Conservancy plans to finalize a timeline for the project after receiving construction bids Feb. 13.
  • Don't we all wish Ohio St. looked that nice in reality? Old paving bricks and train rails have been poking out from under the asphalt for quite a while now.

    But I don't want to hijack this post, so I'll steer back on topic:

    What first struck me about this rendering is the design's similarity to the Nature Conservancy's current home in the south wing of the Harrison Center for the Arts. Coincidence? That building was designed to house the educational facilities of a church in the mid-20th century. This building also looks like a mid-century educational building. It also reminds me of the elementary schools in Speedway, specifically Wheeler elementary, which I attended.

    I'm not saying that's a bad thing, just an observation. Perhaps evoking a spirit of mid-century education was the architect's goal. My question is, why ?
  • Not bad. The material treatment is a good transition between Lockerbie Square to the North and Cole-Noble to the south. Also the building fronting the sidewalk maintains the urban wall well. I do wish the design was a little more interesting overall.
  • Wow. Mid-century modern is back...

    Nice design. I guess since it's a block away from Axis, they want to help improve their work neighborhood.
  • That's a good point about being close to Axis. That has to influence their approach the design somewhat.
  • The working to design an energy-efficient headquarters with a “green” roof that attempts to reconcile the fact that they tore down a perfectly useful two-story building.

    All snarkiness aside, I think it's a fine design. This might be a small stretch, but it looks like Axis took a cue that one-story building on the opposite side of that block of Ohio that's half built to the sidewalk and half set-back with an overhang and vertical poles.
  • One might do well to re-read the comments from the previous article. Mainly this one:

    # Roger40 Says:
    February 26th, 2008 at 12:22 am

    I used to work at the building some 15+ years ago and I can tell you that the walls are so out of place that the second floor almost fell to the 1st. The roof leaked for years and was never worked on just empty the buckets….good luck on a reuse, I have not been there in years but it was bad even then. I remember the upstair walls being many feet bowed out…I don’t see it.
  • ejand22, I realize what the comment might have said, but I talked to architects and engineers that inspected and analyzed the building, and their consensus was that it was more than usable.
  • The original building was fine and could have looked very attractive (more than this).
    This is some attempt at mid-century. I recognize that style of window. I see it on 60's-70's buildings all the time and it is not very attractive.
    This stuff does not age well either. The originals of this style are not exactly considered 'beautiful'.
    This will suffer the same fate as every other structure of this fashion.
    BTW, it is greener to renovate instead of rebuilding.
    This with the new Fall Creek building are just more buildings to reface in the future.
  • Indie Indy, take a closer look and you'll see that the building is not fronting the sidewalk, only fronting the property line.

    It's not the developer's fault that the existing sidewalk is built adjacent curb, which isn't typically a bad thing in the downtown, but since there is no on-street parking on this block of Ohio, it makes for a very inhospitable walk. However, since that section of sidewalk is in severe disrepair, they will be rebuilding with their development. It should be rebuilt at the property line, which would result in their building fronting the sidewalk.

    They should also consider taking a cue from the Maxwell development, which faced with the same sidewalk situation, rebuilt the sidewalk at the property line and added a row of on-street parking. Perhaps the City would be willing to assist with adding on-street parking since they would presumably install meters and collect revenue, and the City would benefit from additional public parking available to all. The Nature Conservancy could realize a cost reduction by eliminating a few of the parking spaces they would otherwise build behind the building.

    Of course, this might cause some problems for their plans to install wind turbines in the Ohio Street right-of-way, where I would suggest the sidewalk belongs.
  • Hey Cory,

    Will there be a public hearing on this project? Does it meet the thresholds in the Regional Center Ordinance to qualify as a high impact project?
  • idyllic, to start creating a pedestrian friendly infrastructure in Indianapolis, we absolutely need to put the sidewalk flush with the property line and include a landscaped parkway buffer between the street in the sidewalk. Also, sidewalks should be a minimum of 6', not 5'. I'd suggest 8' on major streets or where there is commercial frontage.

    This is really basic stuff that makes a HUGE difference, but very easy to implement where sufficient ROW exists and construction is ongoing anyway. Particularly where the property owner wants a variance, the city could get some type of sidewalk easement as a concession for granting the variance where sufficient ROW doesn't exist.
  • The three vertical elements on the left interest me. You notice that motif used on a lot of the art deco type buildings downtown, although normally centered.
  • I think the three vertical elements you mentioned, Urbanophile, are the wind turbines discussed in the post.
  • Urbanophile, I'm pretty sure those three vertical elements on the left are probably some sort of vertical-axis wind turbines. Don't know how effective they'll be there, but Axis is probably shooting for every LEED point they can get. Though they seem a little too close for comfort to the sidewalk.
  • ...looks like I type too slow...anhe just beat me to it.
  • Yes, those vertical elements are turbines, just like those in front of KIB's new building in Fountain Square. And they rehabbed an existing building, by the way.

    I guess KIB wins the award for being more environmentally friendly. ;-)
  • I agree with the idea of moving the sidewalk back to the property line, and that it should be 8-10 feet wide. However, the space between sidewalk and street should be a rain garden (urban stormwater detention basin). Ideally, it should have a tree or two in it.

    After all, it is The Nature Conservancy and not the Urban Parking Association occupying the building.

    Perhaps the wind turbines could be set up on 8-10 foot cast stone that they actually catch some wind and prevent people from getting tangled up in them.
  • Earlier stories said that not only was the building sound, but it would be cheaper to reuse the building. It seems a little hypocritical that green organizations are only green when it suits its purposes. I am guessing they tore down the Nemec building to make sure that any discussions on saving it would be moot. The design is fine, but I would like to have seen the original building left, nothing works better in a historic neighborhood than a historic building.

    As far as vertical turbines, I hope if they are they plan to put them higher. Any first year engineer would know that putting them below the roof line will mean they will not use even a small percentage of the possible wind flow. I wonder if either they are standards to hold banners or if they are turbines, they are kept low on the drawing so they do not stand out and cause concern from neighbors.
  • The comments here and on the Jan. 11 post are right, Of all people Nature Conservancy should have a sense of using existing structures. If they have 4.4 million to spend why aren't they spending it on buying and maintaining land that are natural areas threatened by development? It's far greener to rent a floor of an existing skyscraper. There's no heat loss at all above or below you.
    Those three vertical things are not wind turbines, they are posts to hang banners on like you see in front of museums.
  • Don’t miss the point here people! The Nature Conservancy, an organization with a conservation mission, flatly refused to conserve the historic buildings in any meaningful way. They could have combined part of the old building with a new addition that is being done all over the country with very creative designs and sustainable results. It was definitely doable and would have been cheaper and a far better effort toward being truly sustainable. They simply did not try hard enough.
  • For the reuse issue - of course everyone has an opinion and they know they are right. Of course it's best to re-use buildings when it meets the programmatic needs of the client, it's mission, its marketing opportunities, and life safety concerns. However - none of the above commentors know the background of the decisions made - so opinions are just opinions and will not change the decision process. AND the materials from the existing building can be reused in many forms - wood for cladding interiors, brick and block can be reused as cladding or fill, steel is of course recycled and and iron pipes and copper will be recycled. Just because it's removed, doesn't mean the energy built into the materials and construction is wasted in a landfill. Anyone vaguely familiar with sustainable practices would know this and it's becoming more standard practice due to economic necessity rather than a trend. This project will help foster the continuation of debate and discussion about sustainable design in Indianapolis, which Indy desparately needs - it's 10 years behind other comparable cities...
  • As they say, the greenest building is the one that's already built. If I remember correctly reuse is higher than recycle on diagram. Looks like they missed a good opportunity here. The new building looks to be very green in itself, but the Nature Conservancy probably didn't win many style points by tearing down the old building.
  • Beyond the hang up with building re-use vs new construction, there are many benefits with new construction and energy costs based on thermal envelopes, building systems used and designed for the building instead of shoe-horned into an existing structure, and the orientation of the buildings are a big factor. Note that the orientation of the original building is completely different than the current design. I was never a fan of the original structure for solar orientation and the proximity to the street. Plus - it was not an attractive building (personal opinion) Old doesn't always mean it's better.
  • The fact that this stretch of Ohio Street continues to see investment, especially now, is a great sign. Let's hope something happens get proposed for the SZE corner of Ohio and New Jersey Streets to really complete that stretch between East and Alabam Streets.

    Hopefully Market will take off like this once the best damn interstate access ramp in th eworld s removed. Sorry, I loved riding up that ramp.
  • Do you people honestly think that Axis and The Nature Conservancy didn't look seriously at keeping the existing building? As Rally mentioned, it's easy to say they could have kept the building, and I can't believe they're not. without fully understanding the circumstances surrounding what it would have taken to structurally stabilize the existing building. Without a doubt, I'm sure that Axis had a structural evaluation of the existing building done by a competent engineer and I'm sure that they would have looked at the cost implications of completing the stabilization required along with the cost of renovating the interior. It was obviously cost prohibitive to do so considering the budget, therefore a new building was designed.

    Please don't forget that the building was abandoned and given it's condition would have remained abandoned for quite some time, probably until it fell down. If nothing else, at least The Nature Conservancy is redeveloping an area that would have remained undeveloped for the foreseeable future.
  • If the building was abandonded, it was only recently. It was in use as of November of 2007. The debate to what is the most sustainable with in regards to this particular project is a good one, but one where the necessary facts aren't available to the public. The larger lesson seems to be that if one of your stated goals for a project is sustainability and the first thing you do is tear an existing building down, your going to get called on it. And that's a good thing. This is a controversy that could be seen coming a mile away and could have been handled better by the involved parties.
  • Demolition in the Regional Center now requires approval of a Regional Center petition. A case has to be made to DMD staff; I do not believe there is a predisposition to demolition..
  • Here are a few thoughts. Keep in mind that I actually think the design is very much a step up from what we're used to seeing. Looking at this and the 22nd/Delaware proposal, it is interesting to see more modern looks getting proposed instead of the usual 19th century retro look. Are the clients becoming more interested or are our architecture firms doing a better job of convincing them? Good to see Indiana has progressed from the 1890's to the 1960's at least! :)

    I like the use of the wind tower elements, which again, I note echo design motifs from elsewhere in downtown without being an overt clone. This sort of art deco verticality is a great counterpoint to the otherwise horizontally oriented building. The mix of tall, thin on the left and short, squat on the right reminds me of the art works proposed for the Central Library plinths. This is a much better setting for it. Thinking about how Indy could develop a more unique design identity and vernacular architectural style, perhaps that is the sort of motif that could become a signature. As much as I like symmetry, creating tension like this might inject some life into a downtown full of rather dull structures.

    Like the variations in color, texture, and size of the rectangular construction blocks.

    Like the attempt to provide interest on the front facade, not just a blank or flat wall.

    I think some tweaks could be made, however.

    First, the thin but oversized facade alludes to, I'm not sure how else to say this, a strip mall type design.

    Is this an office building or storage facility? I ask because there seems to be a lot of space on the front facade without windows. The window density in the remainder of the structure draws attention to this. I'd look to revise the fenestration a bit.

    The front projecting element in brick is a particular area I'd look at. This could be more powerful with more transparency - is this a conference room or something? There are already big windows. If you are going to do something like this, perhaps playing around with a dramatic ambiguity between internal and external space could be good.

    The sides of the building also need permeability since they are so visible. Even using a nicer construction material will still make it look like a masonry wall. The doorways on the left side in the rendering appear to be a bit of an afterthought. Maybe do something to make this a real secondary entrance.

    The sidewalk recommendations from the earlier discussion need to be incorporated. Note how the landscape elements actually buffer the building from the street in this rendering, a suburban effect despite the street grid orientation. We need to pull the building into the city and vice versa.

    On the whole, a solid first cut, but one I'd iterate on a couple more times to take it up a notch or two. Lots of potential in this one.

    By the way, there is nothing wrong with just being a solid infill building. In line with my statement that the ordinary is more important than the special, having the average building function well in the urban context and look good is as or more important than getting the big, prominent structures right.
  • I think the landscaped buffer between the sidewalk and the street is such and easy fix...especially for a site like this. I think the rain garden suggestion is a perfect solution. It's crazy how many developments don't do this kind of stuff. Overall, though, not a bad design but not amazing either.
  • Rally and the rest,

    Very little of the old building could have been recycled, because they demolished it with heavy equipment, not hand dismantling which is what is needed to save beams and bricks. Most probably ended up as fill material in a floodplain somewhere.

    If the building did not meet the needs of the conservancy as it stood, then they should not have bought it. They should have found an empty lot somewhere and built on it. Or better yet, they should have taken up space in an existing building. Everyone agrees the number one way to conserve is to reuse an old building. number two is to utilize existing office space. Number three is to gently dismantle a building and use most of its parts for other projects and one of the worst is to tear down, and build new.

    It is ironic that a conservancy group chose the last option. Actions speak louder than words, and this group spoke loudly. Reminds me of Al Gore running around the country in a private jet and SUVs telling everyone to lower their carbon footprint. Almost makes me want to go to the recycle bin and take out my aluminum can and put it in the trash as a protest.
  • I constantly hear complaints about Carmel using 19th century styles in their construction because it isn’t ‘21st century’ however, how is this any different? This is a revival of 70’s design and is not 21st century at all.
    I think people have more of a dislike towards ornamentation than revivals.
    The building that sits there now is more original than this poor attempt at 1970’s will ever be.
    It would have been greener for them to build on an empty lot.
    Just because they are developing an abandon property does not mean we should bend over backward.
  • Perhaps the building should have been an underground bunker, with deep atrium shafts providing interior natural light, and a park perched on top of the site. That might be much more appropriate for conservation of nature on the site. It would fit in just right with our park-scape city too.

    Axis would have a place to eat lunch that beats the heck out of sitting by the bums under the Market Street bridge. Oh, wait, that's gone now. Now they'll have to head down to the to the jail...ermmm, I mean the Market Street Self Storage.
  • Hey, indyman, I'll bet most of your recycling ends up in the dump anyway during these tough economic times. It's so nice to pay $5 a month to have someone else take my segregated plastic and carboard garbage to the landfill. GO PROTEST!
  • Where's the DENSITY?

    One of the fundamental concepts of sustainability is optimum use of infrastructure and protection of new lands from irresponsible development.

    The Nature Conservancy has pulled down two buildings designed to take advantage of a dense urban environment and infrastructure systems designed to support it and dropped in a suburban office building with a surface parking lot. What's more is that the planning of the new facility effectively precludes denser use of the site in the future without major modification.

    This effectively means that the square footage lost on this site will eventually need to be built elsewhere, potentially obliterating undeveloped land in the process (or this one will have to be torn down and replaced with something more appropriate).

    We don't need more parking lots in downtown Indianapolis, we need more density.
  • The Nature Conservancy is not just any developer. It is an organization that is supposed to promote conservation. This is about truly walking the talk.
  • Well the building re-use debate continues. I don't know the background behind the decisions that were made and neither does anyone in this comment string. I do know that it probably was not taken lightly by anyone involved, especially considering the mission of the NC. Sure the three points from reuse, to existing space to light demo are all good ones - but did the building meet the needs of the client, was it safe, would it be more costly to renovate and operate(think long term energy costs folks)? We don't know the answers to these questions. And if left intact, there would have been a big gaping hole facing the street,which would look abyssmal for a neighborhood trying to improve its image. I think Indy should be estatic about having positive green-leaning development downtown. The NC could have easily went to Carmel or some suburban office space. That does nothing for positive growth in downtown Indy.
  • Actually JJ, we put our recycling out every Friday. there is no need to segregate it, my community does it for me. Thanks for sharing your lack of knowledge and unwarranted attack with us.


    My main point is still valid. If the building did not meet their needs, then why buy it? I have issues with people who buy a historic house and then gut it, modernize it and put a modern addition that dominates it. If that is what they want, then build new somewhere else.

    If the conservancy wanted a new building with all of the bells and whislted build elsewhere on an empty lot. Seems like a rather easy solution.
  • Why do people pull out the scare of ‘they could go to the suburbs’?
    This is not Carmel or the suburbs. If they want to be downtown, they should follow through.
    We are not beggars and we should not just take anything that is a pathetic thing to do for downtown Indy.
    We shouldn't let developers pull out the fear card whenever we question the development.
  • Why is it I get the feeling the guy on the Nature Conservancy board is the same one who's on the board of CVS? Don't forget a good building on North Delaware is being abandoned also. Who will move into that space? Or will they tear down that building too?

    The LEED system itself needs to be reworked to take into account the environmental damage done by putting up a new building. Otherwise it's like Al Gore's limousine.
  • It's odd, to see so many people outraged at what they percieve to be contridicting principals it almost seems an intentional effort was made to provoke. It appears that this proposal is the most cost effective way to construct office space which in a free market system the green that matters the most is the dollar. In that respect it is the building that had to be built and im sure they are pleased to see your responces.
  • And if all that matters to the conservancy is dollars and fine, they made the right decision for themselves. My problem is they like many green organizations is preach the green lifestyle. If they want to tell the world how we should live, then they should toe the line too. For them to put green, dollars, in front of green, the environment, makes them look hypocritical and like Al Gore, will cause some people to be less worried about the environment.

    They are more than welcome to do as they wish, but doing what they did lessens the impact of their story.
  • from the NC website:
    Why We're Successful
    It's how we work that has made the Conservancy so successful — and makes us optimistic that we can expand that great conservation work to meet the challenges ahead:

    We use a science-based approach — aided by our more than 700 staff scientists.
    We pursue non-confrontational, pragmatic solutions to conservation challenges.
    We partner — with indigenous communities, businesses, governments, multilateral institutions, other non-profits…and people such as yourself.

    It's science based approach. They are not the USGBC. They are not trying to be the USGBC. Anything could be better and everyone's i critic, I know. Give them a chance to educate us. I still think it's a great opportunity for Indianapolis. There could be another stucco bland office building there. Or a CVS. or gas station.
  • tem,

    The Nature Conservancy's current home is in the Harrison Center for the Arts.

    When the Nature Conservancy relocates, employees of Redeemer Presbyterian Church will take over the space.
  • Why is the Nature Conservancy demolishing an old building instead of conserving it? The green roof doesnt make this a green project after tearing down a building and filling up the landfill.
  • But wouldn't the best way to educate us would be to show us how conservancy is done? I do not have any real heartache with this group other than if they are going to push conserving nature, being green, etc..., then they should do that. If I preach being good to your neighbor than steal from mine, how much would you trust my word?
  • This site is only a block away from where Uncle Tom Magruder's cabin once stood. In fact the old Noble St. may have run right through the proposed Nature Conservancy building. Think twice about tearing something down because you can't bring it back. If someone long ago would have had the foresight to save Uncle Tom's cabin it would now be even more important to us than Conner Prairie Farm.

    Why not move the Nature Conservancy into the NUVO building on Meridian St.? They have empty space and HEC is already there.
  • To reply to CorrND's comment from 2.4.09 - I wanted to say that his/her comment regarding ...a perfectly useful two-story building is a good example of an under-informed statement. Having been inside the Nemec Building on numerous occassions exploring development opportunities, this building was far from serviceable. Besides being extremely structurally unsound (literally being held up by steel retrofits). the majority of it's original character and intrigue had since been compromised if not totally removed.
  • SlappyWhite,
    1930's normal architecture was not always ornate.
    The exterior is actually highly intact.
    Buildings literally caved in have been saved.
  • True, caved-in buildings have been saved - but at what cost? While it may be worth spending $1 million dollars to restore a vintage Ferrari, is it worth it to spend the same amount restoring a VW Beetle? Buildings can be looked at in the same manner. A broken-down warehouse can't be lumped in with an ornate theater.
  • Our mistake is thinking that if a building isn't being used it ought to be torn down. Yes, it might be not be cost effective today to retrofit an old building to modern office standards. But unless there is a pressing need to use the land underneath it, it should stay standing even if unoccupied, as it reminds us of our own humanity. If there is money enough to stabilize the deterioration fine, but even a ruin has some importance. Good thing the Colosseum is in Rome and not in Indianapolis or that blighted obsolete old building would become a surface parking lot in a heartbeat.
  • From what I have heard, the building was structurally sound. That all that was needed was replacing the roof, more energy efficient windows and redo the interior. Again, if a conservancy group wants us to conserve, then they should set the example
  • From what I heard says right there that you don't know what you're talking about. This crappy old warehouse was NOT structurally sound, especially the inside frame. They recycled the bricks for pete's sake, all of them. By hand. If that's not conservation I don't know what is. Don't trash talk if you don't have your facts straight.

Post a comment to this blog

We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in IBJ editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
  1. why oh why does this state continue to elect these you wonder how much was graft out of the 3.8 billion?

  2. i too think this is a great idea. I think the vision and need is there as well. But also agree with Wendy that there may be better location in our city to fulfill this vision and help grow the sports of hockey and figure skating in Indy. Also to help further develop other parts of the city that seem often forgotten. Any of the other 6 townships out side of the three northernmost could benefit greatly from a facility and a vision like this. For a vision that sounds philanthropic, the location is appears more about the money. Would really like to see it elsewhere, but still wish the development the best of luck, as we can always use more ice in the city. As for the Ice growth when they return, if schedules can be coordinated with the Fuel, what could be better than to have high level hockey available to go see every weekend of the season? Good luck with the development and the return of the Ice.

  3. How many parking spaces do they have at Ironworks? Will residents have reserved spaces or will they have to troll for a space among the people that are there at Ruth Chris & Sangiovese?

  4. You do not get speeding ticket first time you speed and this is not first time Mr.Page has speed. One act should not define a man and this one act won't. He got off with a slap on the wrist. I agree with judge no person was injured by his actions. The state was robbed of money by paying too much rent for a building and that money could have been used for social services. The Page family maybe "generous" with their money but for most part all of it is dirty money that he obtained for sources that are not on the upright. Page is the kind of lawyer that gives lawyers a bad name. He paid off this judge like he has many other tine and walked away. Does he still have his license. I believe so. Hire him to get you confiscated drug money back. He will. It will cost you.

  5. I remain amazed at the level of expertise of the average Internet Television Executive. Obviously they have all the answers and know the business inside and out.