Indy turns architectural corner

February 8, 2010
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It’s hard to miss the new J.W. Marriott downtown as workers add the skin and continue finishing the exterior. The building is tall by local standards—34 floors—and the dark blue glazing contrasts against the limestone and light colors of other downtown buildings.

That’s a good thing, says Ball State University architecture professor Michel Mounayar. The hotel design, which Mounayar describes as “exciting,” is another in a string of recent examples of clients’ allowing architects more latitude to create buildings showing Indianapolis is “not a shy place.”

The new terminal at Indianapolis International Airport and the Central Library expansion are two other recent examples of more expansive thinking, he says. So are some of the buildings at White River State Park.

“Indianapolis is kind of showing an evolutionary kind of face, saying, ‘Look at us, we’re one of the best places in the region to locate,’” Mounayar says. The Marriott “creates a sense of freshness to Indianapolis. It also makes it feel like a contemporary place. It’s really good for the image of the city.”

The Marriott, the airport terminal and the library expansion are a step beyond several “classy” buildings added to the downtown in recent years, he says. Emmis Communications’ headquarters on Monument Circle and the Simon Property Group’s headquarters nearby both make use of limestone, a traditional local material if ever there was one, while distinguishing themselves as contemporary structures. The Emmis building in particular blends the past and the present well, he says.

Whether more buildings like the Marriott or airport terminal are in the offing depends on public reaction, Mounayar says. Building owners will hesitate to step out if the Marriott draws much criticism.

His bet? People will like what they see. So, Mounayar predicts, “Indianapolis is on the verge of more refreshing.”

What are your thoughts? Do you like what you’ve seen of the Marriott so far? What about Mounayar’s broader observations of Indianapolis residents’ developing a taste for more interesting buildings?

  • Turning Corners
    Iâ??ve been waiting patiently to offer a productive critique on the J.W. Marriott. I will open my comments with an applause to our city and developers for wanting to be better stewards and advocates for design and architecture. Iâ??m hopeful that these projects will help our city, but question whether it will be enough. Admitting openly that we are turning corners is an admission for having been once been in bad place, which is a good start! I want to thank Norm for his article.

    I will be honest in announcing there is something oddly encouraging in the Marriottâ??s designs overall refusal to erase a style (post-modern) that once tried to deconstruct our classical and conventional urban past. Good, bad, or indifferent, the Marriottâ??s new hotel may appear to be the game changer against this â??shynessâ?? but I believe it is safe to say that turning corners and connecting dots do not always happen at the same time.

    The idea of turning corners is a big responsibility and means not just inviting a public to â??develop a taste for more interesting buildingsâ??, but inviting the public to develop a hunger for more interesting Architecture (capital â??Aâ??) and its ideas of culture, transportation, art, youth, new materials, activism, and innovation to participate and breathe new life into our communities and cores.

    Similar to Cesar Pelliâ??s 1975 Blue solution for West Hollywood (Google: Pacific Design Center // Blue Building) and our 1975 â??Goldâ?? solution for Market Square campus, what we can all agree on is that single colored mirrored glass on an extruded structure still offers a gee wiz moment for us in 2010.

    Perhaps Iâ??m wrong? Maybe we have turned a corner? For me, turning a corner means not continually having our local architects in a secondary position (behind design architect) in a city where local talent has designed buildings all over the world. This aside, a turn in the right direction has to do with a recent local movement currently at play which demanding design ethos be part of our future and all future corner turning scenarios.

    The birth of a new set of rogue designers (plenty), photographers (Dwuayno Robertson), urban theorist (Aaron Renn), artists (Orlando Pelaez), and architects (METHOD) should continuously be called on to help maneuver that turn. We should be encouraging, hiring, and seeking these future rainmakers as the next step in turning all corners. Because design is a hot topic today its potential to polarize at one moment (Lucas Oil Stadium) and reconnect at another (N.Y. High Line) goes hand in hand with whether we should simply be happy about being at the party, or bothered because we didnâ??t show up dressed the right way.

    Architecture under these conditions calls for continual reaction, critique, and education of our public so that blue buildings such as Bernard Tschumiâ??s are always considered as options in our cities growth. A digestible serving of architecture which Tschumi explains, â??captures the energy of the diverse population and eclectic buildings of the lower east side.â?? Tschumiâ??s translation of blue is of course a different taste from our blue, which was described only as tall..localâ?¦34 floorsâ?¦ dark blueâ?¦and contrasts against the limestone and light colors of other downtown buildings. Bottomllineâ?¦itâ??s hard to turn corners when the way we talk about our victories seems static, or blue.

    Congrats once more to our city and its recent achievments. We're here to help when you need us.

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  1. to mention the rest of Molly's experience- she served as Communications Director for the Indianapolis Department of Public Works and also did communications for the state. She's incredibly qualified for this role and has a real love for Indianapolis and Indiana. Best of luck to her!

  2. Shall we not demand the same scrutiny for law schools, med schools, heaven forbid, business schools, etc.? How many law school grads are servers? How many business start ups fail and how many business grads get low paying jobs because there are so few high paying positions available? Why does our legislature continue to demean public schools and give taxpayer dollars to charters and private schools, ($171 million last year), rather than investing in our community schools? We are on a course of disaster regarding our public school attitudes unless we change our thinking in a short time.

  3. I agree with the other reader's comment about the chunky tomato soup. I found myself wanting a breadstick to dip into it. It tasted more like a marinara sauce; I couldn't eat it as a soup. In general, I liked the place... but doubt that I'll frequent it once the novelty wears off.

  4. The Indiana toll road used to have some of the cleanest bathrooms you could find on the road. After the lease they went downhill quickly. While not the grossest you'll see, they hover a bit below average. Am not sure if this is indicative of the entire deal or merely a portion of it. But the goals of anyone taking over the lease will always be at odds. The fewer repairs they make, the more money they earn since they have a virtual monopoly on travel from Cleveland to Chicago. So they only comply to satisfy the rules. It's hard to hand public works over to private enterprise. The incentives are misaligned. In true competition, you'd have multiple roads, each build by different companies motivated to make theirs more attractive. Working to attract customers is very different than working to maximize profit on people who have no choice but to choose your road. Of course, we all know two roads would be even more ridiculous.

  5. The State is in a perfect position. The consortium overpaid for leasing the toll road. Good for the State. The money they paid is being used across the State to upgrade roads and bridges and employ people at at time most of the country is scrambling to fund basic repairs. Good for the State. Indiana taxpayers are no longer subsidizing the toll roads to the tune of millions a year as we had for the last 20 years because the legislature did not have the guts to raise tolls. Good for the State. If the consortium fails, they either find another operator, acceptable to the State, to buy them out or the road gets turned back over to the State and we keep the Billions. Good for the State. Pat Bauer is no longer the Majority or Minority Leader of the House. Good for the State. Anyway you look at this, the State received billions of dollars for an assett the taxpayers were subsidizing, the State does not have to pay to maintain the road for 70 years. I am having trouble seeing the downside.