Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Downtown gets Some Good Design

It's easy to complain about architecture I don't like (see the preceding post). There is a fair amount of uninteresting or downright awful architecture in Indianapolis. The good news is that there are also a few, mostly smaller-scale projects in the city that are both pleasing to look at and a good fit as infill projects within historic neighborhoods.

It's probably easier to reach a consensus about what's bad than about what's good, but these are three relatively recent (within the last 5 years or so) projects that hit on all cylinders in terms of scale, proportion, context and design. I know the design firm of only one of these projects but this isn't an advertisement so I'm not mentioning them nor seeking to find out who designed the other two.

The condo development at 10th and Park is my favorite newish residential building in the city. It's been finished for just a few years, within the last 3, I believe. I love this building. For once an Indianapolis architect/builder has taken a chance with materials other than red brick and clapboard. This is also a very modern design that manages to fit perfectly into the locally designated Chatham Arch Historic District. Matching the setback of the exisitng buildings on the street, the designer also managed a building of similar proportions and scale as those already existing in the district. It doesn't hurt that this building abuts another new development, but this one also plays well off of the turn-of-the-century four-squares to the west. The dark brown and tan brick sections are juxtaposed against luminous glazed block. The material changes make the exterior interesting and modern; a flat roof also adds to the modern feel. And the huge plate glass windows lend an interesting commercial feel to the facade, which fits nicely into this mixed- use neighborhood. This is good design that, unlike the 3 Mass building, for instance, pays attention to its neighborhood and manages to fit perfectly into a historic district.

Another new residential development I like is the shed-roof building in Holy Rosary District just west of Virginia Avenue. Until the terrible Villagio building went up in front of these condos this would have been a great place to live. The shed roof and quirky color choices on the balconies make this a very modern design and even the landscaping around the building is fun and modern. At the same time, the proportions, scale, set-back and that shed-roof (a common element found on additions and outbuildings in the historic buildings of the area) help the building fit perfectly within the historic neighborhood.

Finally, the newest residential development in the Fletcher Place area is also shaping up to be a winner. This group of buildings, facing both College and Fletcher Avenue, are the most traditional of the three developments I've talked about, but given their location, right in the middle of Fletcher Place, and the lack of other new buildings around them, the choice of a more traditional gabled design seems like a good one here. And the developers have made a nod to modern in their funky orange and chartreuse siding and irregular windows openings on the College Avenue facades, while taking a more traditional approach with dark blue clapboard and double-hung windows along Fletcher Avenue. The development looks fresh and new and not just because it is. But it also fits well within a historic district that has a collection of some of the finest old homes in the city.

Kudos to the developers of these three sites who found ways to be modern without overwhelming the historic architecture that they are joining. I hope to see more of this type approach in our city, which has allowed far too much suburban type development right downtown. We don't want the suburbs in Indianapolis. A city should be a showplace of URBAN development and architecture. We don't have much to show, but these three developments are a start.

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