Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Avriel Shull and I

Avriel Shull has turned into a cigarette-smoking, blue-talking, red-haired guardian angel for me. Ever since Indiana Landmarks Modern Committee hired me to write a National Register of Historic Places nomination for her Thornhurst Addition, it seems that Avriel (the one-named Cher of Indiana architecture) shows up everywhere I go.

As an example, my new beau's ex-mother-in-law was sitting shiva and when we visited to pay our respects, one of the other attendees was Howard Wolner, an Indianapolis architect who was working at the same time as Avriel in the 1950s and 1960s (Wolner is still active). I mentioned that I had been researching and writing about Avriel Shull and he had an Avriel story about building a house right next to one she was building and hearing the bluest language he'd ever heard on a construction site coming from her. I've heard that story from several others; that's classic Avriel.

Avriel has become the Kevin Bacon of Indianapolis for me. Everyone's connected to Avriel. Either they lived in one of her houses, their parent went to Herron Art School with her, they worked for her, or, as in the case of my new friend, Keith, traced her drawings as a high school student! Everyone seems to have known Avriel. Everyone but me, that is.

But I'm getting to know her and the more I research and write about her, the better I like getting to know her. The National Register nomination is at the National Park Service waiting on confirmation to become the first Mid-Century Modern historic district in Indiana. But I'm still learning about her, researching and writing about her. So if you have an Avriel story, please share it with me. Avriel died in 1976 but her spirit definitely lives on in the many, many Avriel buildings and even more Avriel stories.

That picture up there, that's the first home Avriel built in Thornhurst Addition. Cool, huh?

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Inspirer, yes it is!

We got a long visit at the North Christian Church in Columbus today. I'm attaching a few of the host of shots I took at this Eero Saarinen-designed church which is one of the National Historic Landmarks in this town. Built in 1964, this building is sometimes affectionately called the Oil Can.
The church newsletter is called The Inspirer. Apt name for this glorious building, too. Believer or not, it's an inspiring, grand space. Here are three quick views from the Dan Kiley landscape, looking into the sanctuary, and looking into the chapel through the screen behind the baptismal pool.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Columbus bridges the gap in style

Columbus is home to extraordinary buildings. According to Wikipedia, a source I am using only because this is a quickfire post, 6 of this city's buildings are National Historic Landmarks. That's a big step up even from being listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and several of these buildings made NHL status before they have reached 50 years of age. Which means they are so exceptional, they were listed even before they reached the normal age to even be CONSIDERED for listing!

There are also extraordinarily cool bridges bringing one into the city from the blahness of the I-65 interstate interchange. Check out these two bridges, shot from my car window as I arrived on this rainy day. Both were designed by J. Muller International. And the Gateway Arch (first pic) is owned by INDOT! Why doesn't INDOT have sexy bridges everywhere? Because not everywhere is Columbus...

Stay tuned for more Columbus posts as this Bloggers' Architecture Tour gets underway. You can follow along on Twitter at #COLMCM

Discovering Columbus

(image from the Columbus Convention and Visitors Bureau webpage)

Columbus, Indiana, you sweet Midwestern hot spot of modern design, here I come. And not just me: 15 modern architecture/MCM/design bloggers are on their way to walk and talk about you! Keep your eyes posted here for updates and follow along on twitter at #COLMCM

Friday, June 4, 2010

Evans Woollen, the Minton-Capehart Federal Building, and the Circle

Last night I had the opportunity to see and hear Evans Woollen speak for the second time in just a few months. And what a pleasure that was. (See my blog post below about Woollen at New Harmony.)

The lecture at the Indianapolis Museum of Art was more formal than the panel discussion that included Woollen at New Harmony. And it was packed full of more Woollen goodness.

I took notes, but unfortunately some of the most interesting stuff came during the lights-out portion of the talk when Woollen was discussing slides of the Minton-Capehart Federal Building in Indianapolis. This is a building that is often maligned in Indianapolis but its very simple aesthetic has always pleased me. I've written about it before for the Urban Times. (You can see that article here: http://www.urbantimesonline.com/?p=822)

Woollen's insights made me appreciate it even more.

Here are some of the bits of architectural history that one rarely gets to hear straight from the horse's (architect's) mouth.

Woollen and his partners landed the federal contract from the General Services Administration, which was primarily building tall towers at the time. Woollen talked the feds into allowing his firm to basically squish a tower into a shorter, wider footprint that would help to frame the American Legion Mall and allow for use of the entire block without rising taller than the War Memorial across the street.

Thus the inverted ziggurat shape of the building. He talked about "weaving the building like a tapestry" to get the window placement just right and as minimalist as possible so that it would pay homage to the two grand buildings framing the mall on other sides, the Scottish Rite Cathedral and the War Memorial, both of which have few windows. Woollen also spoke about making sure the concrete in the Brutalism style Federal Building would match the limestone color in these two older buildings, and about his desire to design a new building that would be "subservient" to these historic edifices. His modern design was inspired by the Saarinen American Embassy building in London.

He also spoke about the Milton Glaser graphic that acts as a mural on the first story of the building. It was Woollen's idea to have a painting that "wrapped around the building." He wanted something like a "continuous Rothko" but he couldn't find anyone who could grasp the idea or who would take the assignment until he talked to Glaser. The now-famous graphic artist made that painting his own with vertical bands of vibrant colors. Those colors, which have now faded to pastels, showed up boldly and brightly in the vintage kodachromes of Woollen's slides.

What a delight to hear of the careful, thoughtful approach this man took to a building that has not been loved in this city. Earlier in his talk, Woollen said that "sometimes a building is despised at the beginning and loved at the end, or vice versa. I will abide by the end." I hope that his talk last night converts at least a few more Indianapolis residents to an appreciation of his federal building and I wonder if more of us will grow to love it over time.

Oh, Woollen answered a question about the proposed closure of the Circle to vehicles (see my recent blog post about that below). He says he was for it in 1955 and he's for it now. I cut him some slack on that opinion though. He's only human. He can't get everything right.