IBJOpinion

ZEIGLER: Downtown deserves better design

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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.

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  • 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.

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  1. I had read earlier this spring that Noodles & Co was going to open in the Fishers Marketplace (which is SR 37 and 131st St, not 141st St, just FYI). Any word on that? Also, do you happen to know what is being built in Carmel at Pennsylvania and Old Meridian? May just be an office building but I'm not sure.

  2. I'm sorry, but you are flat out wrong. There are few tracks in the world with the history of IMS and probably NO OTHER as widely known and recognized. I don't care what you think about the stat of Indy Car racing, these are pretty hard things to dispute.

  3. Also wondering if there is an update on the Brockway Pub-Danny Boy restaurant/taproom that was planned for the village as well?

  4. Why does the majority get to trample on the rights of the minority? You do realize that banning gay marriage does not rid the world of gay people, right? They are still going to be around and they are still going to continue to exist. The best way to get it all out of the spotlight? LEGALIZE IT! If gay marriage is legal, they will get to stop trying to push for it and you will get to stop seeing it all over the news. Why do Christians get to decide what is moral?? Why do you get to push your religion on others? How would legalizing gay marriage expose their lifestyle to your children? By the way, their lifestyle is going to continue whether gay marriage is legalized or not. It's been legal in Canada for quite a while now and they seem to be doing just fine. What about actual rules handed down by God? What about not working on Sundays? What about obeying your parents? What about adultery? These are in the 10 Commandments, the most important of God's rules. Yet they are all perfectly legal. What about divorce? Only God is allowed to dissolve a marriage so why don't you work hard to get divorce banned? Why do you get to pick and choose the parts of the Bible you care about?

  5. Look at the bright side. With the new Lowe's call center, that means 1000 jobs at $10 bucks an hour. IMS has to be drooling over all that disposable income. If those employees can save all their extra money after bills, in five years they can go to the race LIVE. Can you say attendance boost?

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