THE ARCHITECTURE OF NO MEAN CITY: EPISODE ONE

A good friend of mine always says - if you want to sound like you know what you’re talking about, then say something is 80% true.

So here goes. I’m guessing that most of us spend at least 80% of our lives in and around the built environment. The number is probably closer to 95%, but whatever. The point is, we as citizens, rarely escape constructed space. It’s all around us, all the time. So much so that one could easily make the argument that shelter + human = civilization.  

Given the ubiquity of this relationship, it’s weird that we almost never talk about it. And here in Indianapolis, unquestionably, words like ‘design’ and ‘architecture’ are so relegated to the margins that they're almost invisible.  

There are several reasons for this. Primarily, Indianapolis still has a massive insecurity problem, and while this is changing and improving thanks to lots of hard work by lots of people, overall, we seem to think that we either don’t deserve good design or that it’s a waste of money.

Additionally, we also don’t have many great works of architecture in the city (nearby Columbus being a rare exemption), we don’t have many startup practices, and we don’t have a school of architecture. The net result of these perceptions and shortcomings is a public (and a developer community) that views design as a luxury, the exception, the thing that happens somewhere else. And worse, the thing that’s not for everyone.

This is not good.

But, there’s hope, and herein lies the massive success of the new Julia M. Carson Transit Center. Simply, Drew White and the Axis Architecture team killed it.

And here’s why: Everyone who spoke about this building at yesterday’s ribbon-cutting, including Representative Andre Carson, IndyGo Director Mike Terry, and Deputy Mayor Angela Smith Jones, celebrated that the design itself acknowledged the needs of everyone. That it was about dignity. I have never before heard government officials address architecture’s capacity to equalize its citizenry, providing a place that is bright, positive, safe, informative, and unequivocally about providing access to opportunity. 

Without a doubt, this building soars. It looks everyone straight in the eyes and says ‘You’re welcome here. We see you. We respect you. And we’re gonna help you out.’

This is a building, a portal rather, that presents Indianapolis as a place where people can gather, connect, and explore everything that the city has to offer. It is architecture without judgement.

This. THIS. Is the Architecture of No Mean City.

And if you don’t believe me, go stand there, where the buses and bikes and people converge, and tell me you’re not proud of our city. In so many ways, this building is decidedly Indianapolis. It just makes sense - the flow is intuitive, the color and materials are both light and sturdy, and unquestionably it feels modern without being unapproachable. Contextually, Axis’ design manages the impossible - somehow elevating the woefully blocky Artistry while making the City County Building seem both contemporary and relevant. Even the County Jail, located just to the south, is given new life as a Modernist box framed by swooping new pavilions. Just as the Transit Center embraces the people of our city, so too does it embrace the architecture that surrounds it. It's nonchalant without being indifferent. This building clearly has an opinion about our city's future, but it's not at the cost of anyone or anything else.

While the new Cummins Headquarters will likely become the jewel of the new Market East District, the Transit Center will undoubtedly be its heart.

And if I can make a somewhat sloppy connection, PUP’s work is kindred spirits with the Transit Center. Our work stands for the same things, as we believe that design is for everyone. That it can be high-quality without being luxurious. That it can embrace the future without snubbing the past. That Indianapolis deserves the best and smartest design we can think of. Simply, that design matters, that it's fundamental, and that we can't afford to keep it in the margin. 

And we’re way more than 80% sure about that.

We've got lots more to say about design and architecture in our city, so stay tuned. 

Onward, M

Michael Bricker is the  Chief Innovator + Founder of PUP and works extensively in both design and film, aiming to raise the caliber and conversation of both industries in Indianapolis.