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 think the poster was being sarcastic and only posting or making fun of what is usually posted on here about anything being built in BR or d'town for that matter.

  2. Great news IRL fans: TURBO the IMS sanctioned movie about slugs running the Indy 500 has caught the Securities and Exchange Commission because Dreamworks had to take a $132MILLION write down...because the movie was such a flop. See, the Indy/IMS magic soiled another pair of drawers. Bwahahahahahaha! How's CARTOWN doing? HAHAHAHA...Indy is for losers.

  3. So disappointed in WIBC. This is the last straw to lose a good local morning program. I used to be able to rely on WIBC to give me good local information, news, weather and traffic on my 45 minute commute.Two incidents when I needed local, accurate information regarding severe weather were the first signs I could not now rely on WIBC. I work weekend 12 hour nights for a downtown hospital. This past winter when we had the worst snowfall in my 50 years of life, I came home on a Sunday morning, went to sleep (because I was to go back in Sunday night for another 12 hour shift), and woke up around 1 p.m. to a house with no electricity. I keep an old battery powered radio around and turned on WIBC to see what was going on with the winter storm and the roads and the power outage. Sigh. Only policital stuff. Not even a break in to update on the winter storm warning. The second weather incident occurred when I was driving home during a severe thunderstorm a few months ago. I had already gotten a call from my husband that a tornado warning was just southwest of where I had been. I turned to WIBC to find out what direction the storm was headed so I could figure out a route home, only to find Rush on the air, and again, no breaking away from this stupidity to give me information. Thank God for my phone, which gave me the warning that I was driving in an area where a tornado was seen. Thanks for nothing WIBC. Good luck to you, Steve! We need more of you and not the politics of hatred that WIBC wants to shove at us. Good thing I have Satellite radio.

  4. I read the retail roundup article and tried Burritos and Beers tonight. I'm glad I did, for the food was great. Fresh authentic Mexican food. Great seasoning on the carne asada. A must try!!! Thanks for sharing.

  5. John, unfortunately CTRWD wants to put the tank(s) right next to a nature preserve and at the southern entrance to Carmel off of Keystone. Not exactly the kind of message you want to send to residents and visitors (come see our tanks as you enter our city and we build stuff in nature preserves...

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