Does the Indianapolis Convention Center Renovation represent a failure of design?

Convention Center 3-Photo Stitch from Canon Powershot Point & Shoot (click to enlarge)
Convention Center 3-Photo Stitch from Canon Powershot Point & Shoot (click to enlarge)

This past Sunday, my wife and I had the last minute pleasure of attending the first pre-season Colts game. It was a hot August Indianapolis weekend. We witnessed a great performance by the first team, and then a mediocre performance by the Colts “B” team.

When we decided to make our way out of Lucas Oil Stadium,  we left by way of the north gate which lies on South Street and gives you a grand view of downtown Indianapolis’ skyline.

If we back up for a second and take a look at what is going on in this area of downtown, we should go back a few years when planners decided to build a new stadium. This also included the renovation and expansion of the Convention Center; a place that could be considered one of Indianapolis financial main arteries. The renovation included moving into some of the space made clear by the demolition of the RCA dome.

If you happen to witness the current on going construction from Maryland, Capital or Georgia Street, the design represents a modern looking and attractive structure. One could see it from these sides and proclaim that even while it is a low profile structure for a CBD, it will get the job done in a somewhat attractive manner.

Convention Center Entrance under construction 8/2010
Convention Center Entrance under construction 8/2010

Then you look at what is going on from South Street, and by extension, the North Gate of Lucas Oil Stadium and it looks like Ford or General Motors moved in and constructed a parts manufacturing plant. There is nothing but an entire block of two stories of aluminum siding. My wife made this comment, and I couldn’t agree more.

Digging into this, I found that Ratio Architects covered the design as well as a couple of other local architecture firms Blackburn Architects and Domain Architects. I attempted to research on each of the architect’s websites what they may have been involved with, but Blackburn’s website cited that they were involved in some of the interior design and Domain’s website was so difficult to navigate, I closed the browser after 5 frustrating minutes.

How could this have happened? In looking at how comparatively good the rest of the expansion is looking, how was one of the most visible facades of the convention center allowed to turn out this way?  Was this part assigned to the design “B” team like the remaining 3 quarters of the football game I witnessed this weekend? I have spent about an hour’s worth of time trying to dig into the available information on the web to see if there is anything covering the exterior, but there does not seem to be that level of detail readily available.

I hope that eventually I am proven wrong and that something will be here to replace what looks like the side of an automobile parts manufacturing plant. Is this the face that we want to show to the people who will be attending the Super Bowl here in 2012? Granted, there is plenty of good looking skyline, but a two block long corrugated aluminum wall is going to detract from that.

Some other ideas for sprucing this up could involve some sort of Indianapolis themed mural. Maybe some sort of foliage along the CSX viaduct that travels adjacent and in the foreground would help to distract from the plain appearance. At this point, I am spitballing. As always, comment is welcome and if someone in the know has something to add to this, please comment on it so that the rest of us will know.

Editor’s Note: This post is referenced in an IBJ Property Lines Blog post located here

Comments 13

  • I too hope it isn’t finished. If so, someone missed bigtime.

    But I also think the new blue hotel trashes our skyline. It is out of character with the rest of downtown, and is on the edge of it. Takes away from Victory Field, White River Park, the Zoo, etc.

    • Dear sir : iam sorry but i have to disagree with you when it comes to the new jw marriot hotel its beautiful and should had been taller. Its the best thing to show up on our sky line in decades. it puts a whole new spin on this once known as india no place town/city. Until that hotel came along i and others had simply looked at indy as a fake city ran by a bunch of stupid misguided hillbellys that lacked any taste for design and cool looking buildings like the chicagos,las vegases,miamis and others including our once known twin columbus ohio thats also branching away from indy to become a super cool city with cool looking buildings and cool looking bridges not thoes box looking no charactor towers we had been known for for years, The type of downtown that made you want to move away in a flash. But now we are starting to build flashy looking towers and buildings like the rest of americas big cities . And yes they are building them away from eachother like the jw. is built away from the other towers that creates a new view of our downtown and anew flashier one at that.

  • Wow. That’s a really bad long side of the convention center. It seems that an effort was made to pretty it up in the first 100 feet west of Capitol, then nothing. And you’re right: that’s the big view looking out The World’s Largest Patio Door from the Bud Party Zone at Lucas Oil.
    The mega-ugly rust-colored retaining wall along the RR trax will be the “highlight” of the new parking lot north of South St. I’m hoping that the parking lot will be the next expansion site for the Convention Center. (In the next CC expansion, that lot could be wiped out and a new building could be physically connected directly to the now-new portion via the two RR underpasses.)

  • Proof that Indy still struggles to make buildings that look decent at more than one or two angles.

  • I think that Lucas Oil Stadium is surrounded on most sides by horrible facades. I don’t want to suggest vandalism but it reminds me of a great work by Banksy:

  • @Chris Barnett: this is the big view looking out The World’s Largest Patio Door from the Bud Party Zone at Lucas Oil, the photos in the post are from the gate

  • Why don’t you call the ICVA and ask what happened?

  • I would think that there is a plan to eventually fill in the lot between South Street and the railroad tracks. In the short term — I would think that for major events at Lucas Oil Stadium – there will be large tents set up which major advertisers will rent and have large parties in. For regular Colts games — it will be the site of some of the most prime tailgating spaces anywhere. Eventually — Convention Center Expansion – phase 5 will happen on the site – and a beautiful new expansion of the convention center will fill in the space – and block the view of the aluminum siding wall on the north side of the RR tracks.

  • It was a political payoff with Mitch deciding most of the contracts. Same reason why he had to control the stadium construction. The “Playing it Safe” mentality dropped the ball here, as with the Main library and the Airport terminal. High profile construcion projects should always have a design competition. Otherwise we will always get really nice but bland results.

  • For those in the design or construction profession, it might be easier to see or know why the south side of Phase V is so simple. If you understand the building for its functionality and its proximity to the tracks you could determine there were serious design restrictions. The convention center halls which line the south side of the building are supplied by a massive truck dock. That dock, which abuts the railroad tracks, is in the only possible place it can be. In order to maximize loading and hall space, the wall is as tall and as close to the tracks as permitted. Cladding the outside with a different material would be the only way to change the aesthetics without compromising functionality. Even then, cost is a major consideration. You have to remember that Lucas Oil went a good bit over budget and its likely the convention center will too. It costs money to design, and to build it. Its not as simple as having a design competition. The construction of that design has to be reasonable. Try to make cost comparisons using Frank Gehry designs. Not only is the design cost ridiculous, but the construction costs are massive. Many architectural features of his buildings are firsts for construction professionals. Great design provides great construction challenges, all of which equals amazing amounts of money.

    Other issues to consider are right of way and ownership of the adjacent properties. In almost every situation, railroad right of way will always prevail over building function or aesthetics. The railroad is just too large, heavy, and important to move easily. Saying that, there are serious restrictions regarding how and what can be constructed around it. It took a good feat of engineering to build what is there, based on closeness of the tracks to the docks. Secondly, even if physical and political issues arent in play, money is still king. All the money in the world could get something more pleasing to the eye, but all that dough would go to quelling political and engineering issues. Certainly, compromises were made.

    To me, the real opportunity missed was the center piece. The “Cube” as its called, I think is a really weak attempt to provide an architectural statement. Look up the Phoenix Convention Center, or even the the newest phase of McCormicks place. These places have pretty dramatic, massive entrances that make a statement as far as convention center statements go.

    Ultimately, it is about priorities. For the money, the cost per square foot for ICC-Ph V is one of the best in the nation. The US is currently riding on the end of a convention center building wave. In the last 5-8 years, a huge amount of money and time was put into convention centers, stadiums, and entertainment facilities. It might even be considered unprecedented growth for these types of buildings. Comparatively speaking, ICC-Ph V is a great value and design for what our city paid. Just keep your fingers crossed that we actually see some return. ($+275million) + ($+750 million) + (interest) = a ton of money to recoup. Good luck Indy.

    • No one is saying it has to look like the Capitol Avenue facade or (God forbid) a Frank Gehry pavilion.
      If you’ve ever been to Park 100 or Plainfield, you can see that there is often thought about how the back of the building looks. The same siding can be installed in various textures, patterns, orientations and colors for little or no additional cost. And paint is cheap. The problem is that no one thought creatively about how to make the backside of a prominent downtown building look nicer when it would obviously be highly visible.

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