The proposed structure to replace the Fire Station on Massachusetts Avenue has garnered a lot of divergent opinions, even within Urban Indy’s group of bloggers. Â I thought that it would be a good idea to post these opinions out and let the readers decide on how they feel about it. Â First, the renderings and site plan:
Imagine a walk through a city famous for its streetscapes, such as New York or Paris. Obviously, in these places there is plenty of iconic architecture – but how many stand out as great, lasting achievements worthy of international acclaim? Probably less than 1% of all buildings, right? And so it is with any city, because average looking buildings are a mathematical certainty. Great cities need normal buildings. In fact, the race for iconic design at any cost doomed many of our original buildings 50 years ago, resulting in a city full of melody but missing a rhythm. The problem with downtown Indy isn’t that we are missing iconic structures, it’s that we are missing normal ones. We need infill projects, and this one stands on its own as a good infill project.
Another thing that great cities do well is focus on people instead of buildings. As long as the proper aspects of urban design are present, the buildings themselves are secondary to the human drama that plays out on our streets. The beauty of the design is largely unimportant. Consider how these spaces are used: whether it is a group of friends walking to lunch or a young professional going to their first day of work – it would take an exceptionally ugly building to degrade those experiences. This project has the elements that will create the needed urban experience: hidden parking, mixed-uses, permeable and transparent storefronts, a dense footprint, articulations that break up the massing, interesting colors and materials that allow for design expression, and a bold corner that creates a sense of place. Indy will be a better city because of this project.
While some people may be quick to point out the negative qualities of the Mass Ave Fire Dept development, I want to take a moment to point out the positive. First this development will be a generous boost to density in the area providing a guiding example of what future downtown developers should be shooting for in terms of residential density. Next, it will serve to activate an entire block in the middle of one of downtown’s most thriving districts bringing together both ends of the Avenue. Furthermore, providing commercial space for this influx of residents will be key. Existing business owners may bristle at this, but more people will be travelling the avenue by foot. Additionally, immediately adjacent to the Murat will provide some special event options for commercial vendors in enticing them across New Jersey street. Next, the design of the parking leaves nothing to be desired. The majority of it will be located underneath of the development freeing up land for more valuable uses. Finally, the addition of a large digital screen will serve to activate this area beyond the ground floor. Providing a beacon for those further down the alley will be pivotal to establishing this new development as a gathering area and further promoting arts in one of Indy’s premier arts districts. While this development does’t raise the bar significantly from an architectural point of view, it surely does not lower it. In short, I like it!
I feel quite mixed about this development. Â It might be awesome, it might be tacky. Â If nothing else, it is bold. Â I fear that it could spell the end of the independent and locally-centered phase of Mass Ave and signal a more corporate-flavored influx. Â Which I think is a shame, even if it is inevitable. Â Save for Dean Johnson and a host of design firms, Mass Ave probably hasn’t been the hub of the city’s visual arts scene for at least 5 years, so perhaps that fear is overblown. Â I do think I like the design of the Blackline proposal better, which can be viewed here. Â However, despite my dislike of the architecture, what really matters is what Graeme mentioned when he referred to permeability and street activity, which this proposal appears to address.
It seems like a huge building, and I’m kind of nervous about it being a mega block of trendy blah. Â As usual, I’m upset about the parking subsidy. Â However,Â I think this project is supportable, but it is very middle of the road for indy. Shocking to see the overhang roofs, thats unique.
My first reaction to the design was definitely leaning negative, but it’s growing on me. Â If you look at the elevation below the siteplan, there is a TON of glass in the facade. Â Even though the color grabs your attention, glass is by far the dominant exterior material. Â You really don’t get a sense of that from the angled renderings.Â Â I also like that the ground level retail wraps around the points and includes about a half block of New Jersey and North.
I’m largely fine with the function of it, even if it’s not my dream of urban design for the city. BUT I hate the design – it reminds me of that 4th Street Live in Louisville, which is incredibly depressing to me. To me, it’s worse than the cruise ship, because it’s so gaudy. But maybe that’s just the mock-up. Things always look different when executed and I’m hoping it will turn out less LOOK AT ME I AM HERE FROM THE 1990S!
I’m not crazy about the design either, especially if it’s as bad as people say from the eastern vantage point.Â And a four-story LED sign devoted to overhyping Mass Ave seems to project Midwestern insecurity at not being East Coast.Â Blech.Â But I have no doubt the local NIMBYs will put the kibbosh on that one.However, if it’s any consolation, bear in mind that the “trendy” look is just a reflection of where a certain architectural style falls in the hierarchy of taste culture.Â It’s not that different from fashion.Â Something that is stylish now will inevitably seem painfully dated in 10 years, but then will be likably vintage in 20.Â Even brutalism has its advocates these days, despite the fact that virtually every brutalist structure is anti-urban.Â I’ve never been to 4th Street in Louisville, but it will probably fall out of favor soon too, if it hasn’t already (whether the retail will survive is another concern altogether).Â Most artistic movements ebb and flow like that.Â Isn’t grunge in the midst of a mini-comeback?Lots of people are probably going to gripe about this design, but the faddish quality won’t hurt it in the long run, as long as it’s built to last to that point in time when it becomes “retro”.