Friday, November 6, 2009

Slowly comes a new Skyline

Indianapolis has been and remains a small topographical blip on the landscape of Central Indiana. But a couple of new changes to the downtown landscape are expanding and lifting the urban skyline. The first one, Lucas Oil Stadium, hulks massively over the southwestern edge of downtown. That's ok. It's not a terrible building. It's conservative, like most of our buildings. Some of the details, mainly the buttressed pilasters that define its window bays, are attractive. But in general it's just another huge football stadium, and it's another stadium (like Conseco Fieldhouse)that's paying design homage to the great beauty of Butler University's Hinkle Fieldhouse.

Lucas Oil Stadium is an architecturally benign growth.

I am happier with the design of the JW Marriott, the new hotel under construction along Washington and West streets as part of the revamped Convention Center project.

The JW Marriott was designed by HOK Architects, a firm that is also responsible for the no-big-deal Indianapolis International Weir Cook Terminal (which by the way, looks a whole lot like the also no-big-deal Providence, R.I., airport terminal). HOK has designed some cool stuff, like the Edificio Malecon Office Tower in Buenos Aires and the very cool Tyson Foods Discovery Center in Springdale, Arkansas.

The JW Marriott in Indianapolis isn't in the spectrum of cool that those buildings represent. It isn't a great building. But it is a kinda-cool building. Rising 34 floors (according to Wikipedia)the curved building is clad in shimery-blue glass panels. A shorter two- to three-story section spans its facade along West Street. The design is nothing special, but the look is attractive and modern. And the panels break the smooth line of the glass wall which prevents the building from looking like a curved blue version of the negative landmark, "gold" building. Shorter buff and tan block buildngs that attach on the south side and spring up to the rear of the blue high rise are also part of the complex and are attractive in their own right, although far more pedestrian.

This isn't knock-your-socks off architecture. But it is a big asset to the downtown skyline, adding a high-rise several blocks west of Meridian Street on a corner that has been uninspiring. It's a nice juxtaposition to two buildings I like a lot on the north side of the street: the sandstone Eiteljorg and the sort-of 1950s International-ranch retro style of the Indiana State Museum. And the JWM even fits nicely with one of the city's best old buildings, the Perry K Steam Plant, whose terra cotta details make it a remarkable, industrial Art Deco beauty.

So this new good building is making nice with some existing good architecture. Along with Lucas Oil Stadium, it expands downtown to the west. But the most important asset the JW Marriott building brings to downtown Indianapolis is its addition to the skyline. This is a tall and truly urban building that's making a statement. And I like what it's saying. Feel free to weigh in with your yays or nays.

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