Those who’ve spent any time downtown have watched with intrigue—and maybe a bit of sadness—the demolition of the landmark Indianapolis Star building in the 300 block of North Pennsylvania Street. The question now is, what will replace its stark, fortress-like facade? The apartment building that rises at the high-profile site represents a rare opportunity to make a statement about the city’s commitment to quality design.
TWG Development has said only that it plans a nine-story block of apartments at the site to complete its 478-unit Pulliam Square project. The first phase, containing 145 apartments, is nearing completion on the former Star parking lot at Delaware and New York streets. The design of the Pennsylvania Street phase is arguably more important because of its location.
The apartments will occupy almost an entire block at the southeast corner of what is essentially a five-block-long park that stretches from the old Federal Building north to the Central Library. TWG’s apartments will join a distinguished and exclusive group of buildings that face the park, including the Tudor-Gothic-style Scottish Rite Cathedral; the Blacherne Apartments, with its rounded turrets and Romanesque arch; and the Gothic-revival-style Chamber of Commerce Building. More recent additions are the widely praised 300 North Meridian office building and the contemporary Minton Capehart Federal Building, with its colorful ground-level mural. Opportunities to add to this group don’t come along every day.
Construction of the building that will replace the Star comes at a time apartment developers have been churning out downtown projects at a rapid clip. In the race to market and in pursuit of the highest possible return on investment, some have used uninspiring designs clad in materials of questionable durability. Architects and developers interviewed for a recent IBJ story expressed concern about the prevalence of cement-fiber siding, which they worried might not age well. And they thought the building designs were too similar to one another.
In a perfect world, all developers would build with an eye toward good design and long-term value. Many projects fall short of those goals. Others come close, if only because cities set a high bar. In the case of Pulliam Square, Indianapolis must be extraordinarily vigilant. The city’s own design guidelines call for special scrutiny of buildings that face the five-block stretch of parks and memorials.
TWG’s site looks out over the closest thing we have to New York’s Central Park or Washington, D.C.’s National Mall. The city should demand a design and materials that are both worthy of that location and likely to stand the test of time.•
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