IBJOpinion

ZEIGLER: Downtown deserves better design

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

Downtown Indianapolis has a housing problem. I am not referring to the abandoned and foreclosed homes that blight many of our neighborhoods. This is a problem of new, prominent construction projects that are out of place in our built environment.

I work as an architectural historian and am keenly aware that buildings have a huge and lasting impact on a city. I am also an aficionado of good modern design who thinks new buildings should be stylish and well-designed avatars of the 21st century.

Unfortunately, two of downtown’s recent, large-scale residential projects, the Villagio and 3 Mass condos, will represent our times to future historians as being out of context, scale and proportion with their neighborhoods. Massive buildings don’t dissipate over time. They can mar a city for centuries.

If you haven’t seen the nine-story box called the Villagio, you should. Drive south on Virginia Avenue as you pass it so you get the full effect of the off-kilter concrete parking garage at the rear, as well. And if you think the front of the building is unattractive, take a gander at the rear. The developers snubbed their noses at three historic neighborhoods—Fletcher Place, Holy Rosary and Fountain Square—with this manila-colored blank wall blocking the view of downtown.

A building that looks like a time-share on the beach of Panama City, Fla., is inappropriate at this prominent gateway to the beautiful residential architecture of Fletcher Place and the bohemian-tinged Fountain Square. This is a big, clunky cube plunked awkwardly on a triangular tract of land. The square footprint defies the logic of the flatiron shape our clever ancestors fit so perfectly onto city lots such as this one.

Another residential project still under construction is also shaping up as an architectural blunder. The 3 Mass condos in the 300 block of Massachusetts Avenue are a good idea gone wrong. While the concept of filling a surface parking lot with a mixed-use condo/commercial unit is commendable, the actual building isn’t. From the corner of New York and Delaware streets, the disturbing juxtaposition of its bulk pushed up against the beautiful flatiron building in front of it conjures up the image of a whale about to swallow a tuna.

On Massachusetts Avenue, the heavy brick façade overwhelms the comparatively small-scale and elegant historic buildings that are its neighbors. 3 Mass is out of context in this charming historic district. An attractive modern design of appropriate scale and proportion could have worked well at this spot, but this doesn’t.

To be balanced, it should be said that both 3 Mass and the Villagio would probably be great places to live, from the inside. Villagio’s height gives it commanding views and 3 Mass’ wall of windows overlooking Delaware Street would make that interior space bright and appealing.

There is reason to be hopeful there won’t be other Villagios or 3 Masses in our future. The latter rushed into construction before Massachusetts Avenue was designated as part of a local historic district, which would now require design review by the Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission. And in 2008, after Villagio and 3 Mass had been approved, the city instituted new urban design guidelines. These guidelines are intended to “set standards that will produce a more thoughtful design response to regional center development projects.” That thoughtful-design response was sorely needed in these two projects.

Buildings are important in how we view ourselves as a people and a city. If Indianapolis is to become the “world-class” city we hear so much about, we can only hope these new guidelines will prevent such mistakes in the future.•

__________

Zeigler is president and owner of C Resources Inc., a local business that preserves historic properties.

ADVERTISEMENT

  • Connie, Applause! Applause! Today design wins!! Today we win. Today,(A)rchitecture mattered. It delivered a message that I understand may offend. That is how world- class cities learn. It is how we get better. I also understand that sometimes we need to be honest with ourselves. That there needs to be truth in architecture and clarity. That is how we grow into a world-class city. A honest gut check to remind us about our culture and how some days it doesn't look so good. Thank you for your honesty.
  • Connie,

    Thanks for publishing what many of us in the design community feel. While I am not so sure that Regional Center Guidelines will prevent these types of buildings from being built in the future, we need to do whatever we can. We can only hope that people start to value the rare undeveloped property that we have left in downtown Indianapolis, and bring only their best efforts to its development.

Post a comment to this story

COMMENTS POLICY
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
ADVERTISEMENT

facebook - twitter on Facebook & Twitter

Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ on Facebook:
Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ's Tweets on these topics:
 
Subscribe to IBJ
  1. The $104K to CRC would go toward debts service on $486M of existing debt they already have from other things outside this project. Keystone buys the bonds for 3.8M from CRC, and CRC in turn pays for the parking and site work, and some time later CRC buys them back (with interest) from the projected annual property tax revenue from the entire TIF district (est. $415K / yr. from just this property, plus more from all the other property in the TIF district), which in theory would be about a 10-year term, give-or-take. CRC is basically betting on the future, that property values will increase, driving up the tax revenue to the limit of the annual increase cap on commercial property (I think that's 3%). It should be noted that Keystone can't print money (unlike the Federal Treasury) so commercial property tax can only come from consumers, in this case the apartment renters and consumers of the goods and services offered by the ground floor retailers, and employees in the form of lower non-mandatory compensation items, such as bonuses, benefits, 401K match, etc.

  2. $3B would hurt Lilly's bottom line if there were no insurance or Indemnity Agreement, but there is no way that large an award will be upheld on appeal. What's surprising is that the trial judge refused to reduce it. She must have thought there was evidence of a flagrant, unconscionable coverup and wanted to send a message.

  3. As a self-employed individual, I always saw outrageous price increases every year in a health insurance plan with preexisting condition costs -- something most employed groups never had to worry about. With spouse, I saw ALL Indiana "free market answer" plans' premiums raise 25%-45% each year.

  4. It's not who you chose to build it's how they build it. Architects and engineers decide how and what to use to build. builders just do the work. Architects & engineers still think the tarp over the escalators out at airport will hold for third time when it snows, ice storms.

  5. http://www.abcactionnews.com/news/duke-energy-customers-angry-about-money-for-nothing

ADVERTISEMENT